Women in Power: Being a democratic country, why does America still struggle to incorporate women into the political sphere?



bellahoust.jpg



1) Introduction
a) Thesis – When women are absent from decision-making processes that govern a country, a male-dominated set of ideals form the basis of economic and political theory and policy. This is made especially apparent when gaining a world view on female equality and their representation in parliament.

2) History/Background: In North America, women certainly play a much different role in the realms of education and employment when compared to Africa, Australia, Japan, and other Scandinavian nations.
a) How women’s status in education varies around the globe
b) What sort of careers women hold in the locations listed above

3) Theme: Although the legislature might exist for the purpose of giving men and women equal opportunities, some of it is weakly implemented. Fortunately however, the Obama administration has made an effort towards more efficient female progression.
a) Equal Pay Legislation
b) Family and Medical Leave Act

4) Theme: Women are more likely to be oppressed in places around the world where the development, enforcement, and interpretation of laws depend on a government in which the voices of women are inaccurately portrayed. Female representation is imperative because democracy and fair public policy requires the opinion and suffrage of all people.
a) Voting tendencies of men and women
b) Who holds the power in other nations compared to ours.

5) Conclusion




Since the ratification of our constitution, Americans have dropped bombs, negotiated treaties, sacrificed lives, and forced people to step out of their comfort zones as a result of their unending faith in a democratic system of government. Looking back on American history, these acts of "patriotism" have led to both progression and suffering because not only have we taken steps to ensure this system of government for our own people, but our confidence in democracy has led us to force our government on other nations. Contained within this seemingly inalienable structure of democracy are ideals of majority rule, universal suffrage, limited government, and popular sovereignty. While I am proud to live in a nation where these principles are meant to be preeminent, I can't help but be unsatisfied because true democracy is not fulfilled; for approximately half of the population is not being fairly represented in parliament. While there is no universal feminine mentality, women think and vote differently than men. Therefore, when women are absent from decision-making processes that govern a nation, a male-dominated set of ideals form the basis of economic and political theory and policy. This lack of balance is woven in gendered institutions of employment and in ill implementation of laws that were developed to benefit women. In order to gain a most efficient perspective on how female equality is almost always in direct correlation with her representation in parliament, a world analysis of women in employment, education, and politics is necessary.



1) In the United States of America, women certainly play a much different role in the realms of education and employment when compared to Africa, Australia, Japan, and Nordic countries.

Economic development is not a gender-neutral process. While the United States has the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, our ideas of a woman's place in society is still traditionally defined and therefore women don't always receive the financial and occupational benefits of living in such a developd area. This truth prevails even despite a greater female enrollment in education (Hepburn, p.15). While the gender income gap is narrowing for some countries, the Nordics in particular, women are consistently receiving a lower financial return for their education in most developed nations including Australia, southern Africa, east Asia, and most European and Latin American countries. By "lower financial return," I mean, in relativity to men, women are spending more money on attaining education than they are receiving money from employment. Bear in mid that the countries to be discussed have all passed legislature that is, in some fashion or another, meant to provide equal opportunities to employment. However, discrimination still occurs.

Considering exclusively America, women are more likely to enroll and graduate from high school, college, and many master and doctoral programs; despite this, females earn only 71% of what their male counterparts earn (Hepburn, p.10). While it can be supposed that this gap is partially created because women tend to work part time more often than men, it is also because fewer women are obtaining bonuses or getting promoted. Females are concentrated in clerical work, advertising, accounting, primary-level teaching, and social science; they are more likely to maintain an assistant position, rather than a professor position in the university teachings of science and engineering (Hepburn, p.15).

Generally, Scandinavian countries with their socialized government programs have the best ratio in the world of female to male relative pay. Sweden, for example, provides women with an 85% income relative to men after factoring education, age, and occupation (Giele, p.23). They also make up nearly half of the workforce and often hold jobs such as government executive officers, advisors, and specialists. Unfortunately however, women still generally have a lesser chance of being promoted than men even despite being amongst the top three countries for secondary and tertiary school enrollment. According to “Women’s Roles and Statuses the World Over,” by Stephanie Hepburn, Australia also illustrates a lesser pay for women, 72% to be exact, in relativity to men. Again, this is despite a higher female enrollment in secondary and tertiary education. Australian women are more likely to hold positions as professional and technical workers, but less likely to comprise the majority in administrative and managerial fields.

While there are deviants to this average, the extent to which a country is developed typically has an impact on how fairly women are employed in society. Naturally, more industrialized nations tend to allow more of a balance so far as educational and employment opportunities for men and women. However, the political result of high unemployment and poverty rates is not always an oppressive one for women, though that is usually the case in the majority of Mediterranean countries. In other non-industrialized countries such as Kenya, Africa, where the unemployment rate is 40%, women have taken a leading role in involving themselves in the labor force (Henderson, p.237). Here, women comprise 74.7% of the labor force and receive an 84% income relative to men (Hepburn, p.191). The latter statistic defines Kenya as one of the top nations in the world in terms of equality of wages between genders. In the non-agricultural employment sphere, Kenyan females are more likely to take on informal occupations rather than self-employment. Sadly, they are still, on average, promoted less and fired more. Also, females fare more poorly than men when it comes to education opportunities.

Japan, with its most patriarchal traditions of work and family roles, has the lowest ratios of male to female relative pay. While wage discrimination is legally prohibited, women earn only 46% of what their male counterparts earn (Hepburn, p.226) for doing work of equal value. Japan is blatantly discriminative towards women when it comes to educational attainment. In fact, according to “Women and Equality in the Workplace,” by Janet Zallinger, “27 out of 1,000 women are enrolled in higher education, compared with 36 out of 1,000 men."


2) Although the legislature might exist for the purpose of giving men and women equal opportunities, some of it is weakly implemented. Fortunately however, the Obama administration has made an effort towards more efficient female progression.

With a shift in the administrative ideology of the white house since President Barack Obama has taken office, more women have gained the opportunity to take positions of governmental power. Furthermore, pieces of legislature have been passed in order to improve women’s status in the career world. Though similar laws have been passed in the past, the increase of women in parliament offers hope that these will be more properly implemented.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex in America. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website, in order to succeed using this federal statue, a woman must prove that her employer pays women and men different wages for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility. She must also prove that the work is performed under the same working conditions. There are two large obstacles that have stood in the way of women winning equality via this Act. Firstly, employers are not required by law to release the earnings of individuals. Also, there have been many cases in which a woman presents all materials necessary to prove inequity in wage, yet she loses the case because she didn’t file suit within 180 days of the date that her employer paid her less than her peers. This 180-day rule is a blatant act of legal discrimination and, fortunately, has recently been overridden. According to an article in the New York Times, the first official bill President Barack Obama signed into legislature at the starting of his presidency was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This legislation expanded worker’s rights to sue by relaxing the statute of limitations, restarting the six-month clock every time the worker receives a paycheck.

In comparison to other Western European countries, American welfare is much less generous when it comes to federal support of working families. I find it reasonable to trace this difference to the America's history of being unsure whether a mother’s employment is healthy or harmful to her family and to society. Changes in the nuclear family structure in America have led to new customs and policies concerning the relationship of work time to family time. Take for example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993, which requirers employers to grant employees one 12 week period off to care for children or sick family members and to hold his or her job open upon the employee's return (Giele, p.83). While it seemed to have good intentions, this law actually is profoundly repressive for some; specifically, the the single mother population. In order to benefit from this legislature, an individual must have maintained the job for a minimum of 1 year, or 1,250 hours and be financially prepared to not receive income for a 12 week time span. Prior to last month, thousands of women in America suffered the loss on an income as a result of bearing a child. After America included more females in parliament this past election, a new door of opportunity was opened to single parents in poverty. A supplement to the act, proposed by a Democratic Representative, was passed and now provides up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave benefits annually.


3) Women are more likely to be oppressed in places around the world where the development, enforcement, and interpretation of laws depend on a government in which the voices of women are inaccurately portrayed. Female representation is imperative because democracy and fair public policy requires the opinion and suffrage of all people.

The "gender gap" in voting refers to the average differences between men and women when it comes to ideological opinion, voting tendencies, and party identification. A growing gender gap is present in our country. Research by Naraghi Anderlini (Bouta, p.52) has found that as the primary caretakers, females tend to prioritize education, health, nutrition, childcare, and human welfare needs at a greater consistency than males. They are also more likely than men to vote democratic and to identify with a political party than their male conterparts.

While it can’t be assumed that all women share the same interests in common, it is certainly fair to conclude that because the opinions of women are not being equally represented, half of the world’s population is, to a large extent, without voice. As might be predicted based on their gender equality in the labor force, politics in the Nordic countries includes a higher percentage of female participation in relation to the rest of the world. For the past 8 years in Sweden, females have held over 45.2% of the seats in parliament (Hepburn, p.95). That's almost three times the representation of women in parliament worldwide, which currently stands at a mere 16%. According to Stephanie Hepburn, women in Australia gained suffrage and were able to run for office before women in Sweden and America, yet they still only hold 27% of the seats in parliament and 12% of cabinet members in the Federal government ministry.

New Zealand was the first to grant women suffrage but sadly it has a relatively low representation of women in congress. Again, industrialized nations do tend to be more likely than under-developed countries to grant women more political power. However, power requires money and money is something that is not evenly distributed to women across the board in all countries. Most African and Middle Eastern countries are the worst at incorporating women into the "think tank" of how to run the government. In fact, many still don't have completely free and open elections. Although on average women comprise 16.5% of legislators in sub-Saharan African countries, nations such as Rwanda, Mozabique, and South Africa are deviants from this norm. In fact, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in politics than any other country.

As a point of comparison, in 2006, women in America held only 15% of house representatives and 14% of senators. This is an absolutely disgraceful truth that was just recently altered as a result of a more progressive and open minded administrative head of our government, President Obama. Currently, women hold a 17% majority in the house and a record-breaking 34% majority in the senate (http://womensissues.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm).

While I am unsure if I believe world peace is actually possible, I do think gender equality in world politics would push towards this ideal through shifting our predominant opinion of how to deal with points of contention in general. I find comfort in the new shift of American ideology that came as a result of a new leftist swing in the political pendulum. For more female involvement will allow for public policy to be more representative of what people want and need as a whole. Priorities in agenda will shift and discussion of gender issues will definitely be enhanced. Only when organizations and processes of power are held to account for women's rights will equality ever be a reality.



Bibliography

The Equal Pay Act of 1963. 17 February 2009. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 4 May 2009. <www.eeoc.gov/policy/epa.html>

Record Number of Women to Serve in the House and Senate. 10 November 2008. CAWP Election Watch. 4 May 2009.
<http://womensissues.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?
zi=1/XJ&sdn=womensissues&cdn=newsissues&tm=355&f=00&tt=2&bt=1&bts=1&zu=http%3A//www.cawp.rutgers.edu/press_room/news/documents/PressRelease_11- 05-08.pdf>


New York Times. 30 January 2009. 4 May 2009. <____http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/l/lilly_m_ledbetter/index.html?inline=nyt-____
____per____
>

Bouta, Georg, and Ian Bannon.
Gender, Conflict, and Development. Washington, D.C: The World Bank. 2005.

Zollinger Giele and Leslie Stebbins.
Women and Equality in the Workplace. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO Inc. 2003.

Henderson and Alana Jeydel.
Participation and Protest. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007.

Hepburn and Rita Simon.
Women's Roles and Statuses the World Over. Lanham, Minnesota: Lexington Books. 2006.