Global leadership: Voters launch a power surge of women
Brazil's President-elect Dilma Rousseff is the latest in a power surge of women in global leadership positions.
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Moreover, female representation seems to have flat-lined the world's most powerful countries – in particular, the United States. Although pundits called this election year in the US the "Year of the Republican Woman," the reality was far less dramatic. While significantly more Republican women ran in House primaries (128), fewer won (47) than in 2004. And despite some high profile victories – Nikki Haley becoming South Carolina's first woman governor, or Kelly Ayotte taking one of New Hampshire's Senate seats – the overall number of female governors stayed the same, at six, and the number of women in Congress overall stayed about the same. The Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks the US 73rd in the world in terms of female representation, tied with Turkmenistan.Skip to next paragraph
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"There's a misconception about where we are when it comes to women and politics," says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "Because we have the Hillary Clintons, the Nancy Pelosis, the Sarah Palins, it gives the sense that these women are everywhere. But women make up a really small proportion of our elected officials."
Overall, though, the face of global power is clearly changing, scholars say. And it is looking far more feminine.
It started with a UN conference
To understand this shift, you need to go back to 1995, said Mona Lena Krook, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, when the United Nations held its Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing. Thousands of government representatives, advocates, and interested laypeople debated all sorts of topics related to women over 10 days – everything from education to reproductive rights to women's role in development. They also talked about political power.
"Women's equal participation in political life plays a pivotal role in the general process of the advancement of women," states the final report. "Women's equal participation in decisionmaking is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women's interests."
The report recommended that governments restructure their electoral and political party systems to better enable female representation. No longer should women's rights be the focus only of feminist and advocate groups, the conference concluded: It should be a mainstream goal for mainstream institutions. And one recommended way of adjusting political systems, the report said, was through gender quotas.