The Underrepresentation of Women in Government

The Underrepresentation of Women in Government

The Underrepresentation of Women in Government

Which of the following groups is most underrepresented in Congress?
A) Asian Americans

B) Hispanics

C) Women

D) African Americans

E) Native Americans

As I went through the choices on a homework assignment for U.S. government class, I quickly narrowed down the answers after recalling a chart I'd seen in my textbook just a few days before. I was convinced it had to be either choice A or choice E, considering only a handful of them are in the House and Senate. After struggling to decide which is more underrepresented, I went through the textbook page again, shocked to find that I'd missed this part:

"However, women may be the most underrepresented group; females account for more than half the population but for only 18 percent of members of the House of Representatives--78 voting representatives--and for 20 senators."

While various minority groups may have a small number of delegates representing them on Capitol Hill, in relation to the proportion of these groups of the total population, women come out as the most underrepresented. Yet, the U.S. Government isn't the only country lacking female representation in positions with a good deal of political power. Of the 150 heads of state in the world, only 7 are women; and out the 192 heads of government, only 11 are women. In the national parliaments all around the world, women, on average, make up about 17% of those seats.

I highlight this particular underrepresentation because while women are making noticeable progress in many areas of society, women have not made much significant process in obtaining higher positions in government and the realm of politics as a whole. This is a stark contrast to the fact that a large percentage of women lead NGOs around the world are led by women; women who are effecting national policies, but at the same time, in those same countries, there are very few female governmental leaders.

So what are some challenges women face in gaining representation in government?

1. Traditional Gender Roles

Whether the viewpoint is primarily echoed by family, friends, or just society in general, women receive copious amounts of judgement from others on their journey to gaining greater political power. For example, women who have children are often interrogated about how they would balance governmental duties with familial responsibilities. In the case of Hillary Clinton, the birth of her first grandchild became a reason to question her political ambitions. While men are almost never asked these same questions, it seems many believe being a woman hinders one from pursuing certain goals.

2. Portrayal in the Media

The news media has a greater tendency to steer away from a female political candidates’ or leaders’ policy views and instead focus on how they dress, pick at something from their personal background, or other minute details unrelated to their political stances--what they should be criticized for, if anything. Of course, men are subject to this as well, however, the media’s portrayal has a greater impact on the public’s view of a female politician than of a male politician.

3. Incumbency

Incumbents for any political position statistically have much greater chances of winning re-elections than those new to the race for multiple reasons, including better financial support, recognizable name and publicity; and because the majority of seats in our governments are already occupied by men, women face harsher competitions when running for office against male incumbents.

Despite the difficulties that women face, we can change the flow of things-- whether through voting for that female candidate who brings effective policy ideas to the table or monetarily supporting that strong female candidate who’s running against a male incumbent. When we have issues concerning women’s rights, abortion, and birth control, women leaders’ insights are necessary in the political sphere. As we continue to continue to fight for equality in the workplace, support women in STEM-related careers, bring awareness to societal conflicts women often deal with, and progress toward a future where gender doesn't hinder anyone from becoming the person he or she desires to be, let us not neglect the importance and value of political empowerment.

Let us acknowledge how women's perspectives and voice can impact the global community. Let us not forget we have a wide gap to close.

Jenna is a high school senior who currently resides right outside Nashville, Tennessee and isn’t quite set on what she’d like to pursue in college. Recently she co-founded an outreach club to cultivate STEM interests in elementary-aged girls through fun sessions with videos, crafts, and games. Aside from sharing her love for learning about life sciences, Jenna has a deep-rooted passion for singing classical and choral music. In her free time, you can find her binging on Korean dramas, stressing out about the incomprehensibility of physics, or having an intense tennis match with her younger sister (which her sister always wins).

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