Gaining Momentum? Taking stock on International Women’s Day

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.” Global organizers provide this overview for the celebration’s focus: Over time and distance, the equal rights of women have progressed. We celebrate the achievements of women while remaining vigilant and tenacious for further sustainable change. There is global momentum for championing women's equality. iwd_squareWhen it comes to women’s equitable political representation, the United States needs greater momentum to catch up to most of the world. Today, the United States ranks 77th in the world for women’s parliamentary representation. Accounting for ties, 91 countries actually top the U.S. in the proportion of women in national legislative posts. And, the pace of change in women’s congressional representation in the U.S. over the past decade has been slower than the increases in women’s global parliamentary presence. Some argue that advancing gender equality at all levels will pave the way to women’s leadership at the highest echelons of power, including head of state. But, of course, the momentum for change can come from the top down: many hope that female heads of state will both champion and inspire women’s equality. Most likely, the possibilities for advancement move in both directions. Seventeen women serve as heads of state in 2013. Sixty-nine women (from 46 countries) have acted as their country’s presidents or prime ministers, and almost half of those women took office in the past decade. Unfortunately, we cannot count the United States among them. While it is too simplistic to assume female heads of state will  fix gender inequity in their respective countries, one need only watch Australian Prime Minister Gillard’s recent floor speech on sexism and misogyny to see the benefit of a woman’s voice taken seriously in governmental debates – not only on policy issues, but on institutional norms and processes. As we celebrate the “global momentum for championing women’s equality” today, we should consider how to encourage greater momentum toward women’s political equality at home and abroad. For the United States, that means rejecting complacency about our unimpressive rankings for women’s political leadership and looking to our friends throughout the globe for inspiration on how (and why) to increase women’s political representation at all levels of government. For CAWP's ideas on how to celebrate International Women's Day, click here.