It’s difficult to believe that in the America of 2023, we still need to have a conversation about gender exclusion in politics. While other developed nations have had women heads of state for generations, we’ve yet to put a single woman in the White House.
So much for American exceptionalism.
This is why it's crucial to address the issue of gender exclusion, especially when it comes to the underrepresentation of women in politics. Exclusion refers to the systemic barriers and biases that limit women's participation and representation in the political arena.
While we've made strides in recent years, women are still significantly underrepresented in government offices across the country. What’s more, policies and rollbacks of rights that were hard-fought and allegedly settled decades ago are being stripped away.
In order to build a more inclusive and representative democracy, it's essential to effectively combat gender exclusion in politics. Read on to learn more about what gender exclusion is, how it impacts political participation, and what we can do as a society to combat this issue.
Gender exclusion in politics is a multifaceted, systemic issue that arises from a variety of societal, cultural, and structural factors. These factors manifest in various ways that include, but are not limited to:
Stereotypes and prejudices: Stereotypes often portray women as less capable or qualified than men when it comes to political leadership roles. These biases can discourage women from pursuing careers in politics.
Lack of representation: The underrepresentation of women in political offices perpetuates a cycle of gender exclusion. When women don't see others like them in positions of power, they’re less likely to consider it as a viable career option.
Unequal access to resources: Women often face barriers to accessing the financial and social resources necessary for successful political campaigns. This type of inequality makes it difficult for them to compete effectively.
Discriminatory campaign practices: Discriminatory practices, such as gender-based attacks and character assassinations, can deter women from running for office or force them out of the race.
Harassment and threats: Women in politics frequently endure harassment, threats, and intimidation, both online and in the real world. This creates a hostile environment that discourages participation.
The current state of women in politics is hopeful. But, we haven’t come far enough in terms of representation. In the 247-year history of the United States as a country, women only won the right to vote after the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920.
As of 2023, there are 25 women serving in the U.S. Senate and 124 women in the House of Representatives. In state legislatures, 29.9% of state senate seats and 33.7% of state house seats are held by women. Representation becomes much greater when it comes to city councils, school boards, and other local offices.
Of course, the political gender gap isn’t just an American problem. Although we lag behind many developed nations in terms of political participation and representation, the UN Secretary General’s 65th Commission on the Status of Women reports that:
Only 23 of the 193 member states are headed by women
25% of parliamentarians are women
36% of women are represented in local governments
21% of ministers are women
Yet, women comprise 50.47% of the U.S. population, and 49.7% of the world’s population.
Women ran for office in United States even before they were allowed to vote, including in presidential elections. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that we finally had a woman running at the top of the ticket for an establishment party in the entire history of our country.
Other firsts for women in U.S. politics include:
1866, Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the first woman to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. She ran as an independent.
1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president on the Equal Rights Party ticket.
1887, Susanna Salter was elected mayor of Argonia, Kansas, the first woman mayor of a U.S. city. The following year, Oskaloosa, Kansas, became the first U.S. city to have an all-female government.
1892, Laura Eisenhuth became the first woman elected to a statewide office. She was the superintendent of public instruction in North Dakota.
1894, Colorado became the first state to elect a woman to the state legislature. In fact, the good people of Colorado elected three that year: Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly, and Frances Klock.
1896, Martha Hughes Cannon was elected to represent Utah in the state senate.
1916, Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress.
1922, Florence Ellinwood Allen was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court.
1923, Soledad Chacon was elected Secretary of State in New Mexico. She was the first woman of color elected to a statewide office.
1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected governor of Wyoming.
1928, Minnie Buckingham Harper of West Virginia became the first African American elected to a state legislature.
1933, Frances Perkins was appointed Secretary of Labor.
1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. She also ran for president in 1972 and gained 151.25 delegate votes.
1974, Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the first member of the LGBTQ+ community to do so.
1984, Geraldine Ferraro became the first female vice-presidential nominee of a major party, as well as the first widely-recognized Italian American major party nominee at the national level.
2016, Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential candidate of a major party.
2021, Kamala Harris became the first female vice president in the United States.
Perhaps you’re wondering, “What’s the big deal? We have women representatives in government. Women are mayors, senators, and governors. There’s even a woman vice-president now.”
This is the same mindset that tried to rationalize the end of racism into existence when Barack Obama was elected president.
As with many ingrained, systemic issues that marginalize people, gender exclusion in politics has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the impact on individual women to affect society as a whole. Studies on the impact of a gender gap in U.S. politics go back decades, yet little progress has been made in the meantime.
There are four distinct ways that political gender exclusion manifests in our communities and damages our country:
Diminished Representation: The most direct consequence of gender exclusion is the underrepresentation of women in political decision-making processes. This leads to policies that inadequately address women's concerns and needs.
Narrow Policy Focus: A lack of diverse voices in politics results in a narrow focus on issues deemed "important" by the predominantly male political class, sidelining crucial concerns affecting women and marginalized communities.
Reinforced Stereotypes: Gender exclusion in politics perpetuates harmful stereotypes about women's leadership abilities. It reinforces traditional gender roles and limits societal progress toward gender equality.
Eroded Trust in Democracy: When a significant portion of the population is underrepresented, it erodes trust in the democratic process. People already feel that the system fails to truly represent their interests, and incremental progress is no longer enough.
Combating gender exclusion in politics will require a proactive and multifaceted approach. It’s a complex issue with many societal and systemic issues at the root.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. But, the following steps can encourage women to take an active role in shaping the future of our country.
Fostering political participation among women means encouraging their engagement from a young age. This can be achieved through educational programs, workshops, and mentorship opportunities that help girls and young women develop an interest in politics and see themselves in leadership roles.
We must challenge and debunk stereotypes that undermine women's credibility in politics. Media, political leaders, and citizens should actively call out and reject sexist comments, jokes, and portrayals in politics.
Some countries have successfully increased women's representation in politics through the use of gender quotas. While the idea of quotas may be controversial, it can help level the playing field and encourage political parties to field more female candidates.
In order to address the resource gap, organizations and political parties should provide financial and logistical support to female candidates. This can include mentorship, training, and access to campaign funds. For example, Good Party offers free tools and resources to help real people run for office and win.
Political campaigns should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory practices and harassment. This includes monitoring and reporting online harassment and taking steps to protect candidates from threats or intimidation.
Campaign financing reform is essential if we want to change politics, and it will help to level the playing field for women. Measures like public election financing can reduce the influence of big donors and make it easier for women to run for office without relying on establishment infrastructure or wealthy supporters.
Creating supportive networks of women in politics is empowering. These networks can provide advice, mentorship, and a sense of community while also helping women navigate the often challenging world of politics.
Gender exclusion affects women differently based on factors like race, class, and sexual orientation. It's essential to address intersectionality in policies and initiatives aimed at combating gender exclusion to ensure they benefit all women.
Men in politics can play a crucial role in combating gender exclusion. Encouraging male allies to advocate for gender equality and actively support female candidates can help shift the political landscape.
Finally, fostering civic education and awareness about the importance of gender diversity in politics is essential. All citizens should understand the benefits of having diverse voices at the decision-making table and actively support women candidates at all levels of government.
We’ve come a long way, but we still have far to go!
Gender exclusion in politics is a complex issue that hinders progress toward a more inclusive and representative democracy. Not only are we behind many other developed nations in terms of political power, recent legislation threatens to strip women of autonomy and stifle their voices.
Until that changes, it will never really be a government that’s for and by the people.
Running as independents will help women all over the country claim their place at the table and reshape their communities. By understanding the various ways in which gender exclusion manifests and working to change the dynamic, we can take significant strides toward addressing and combating the problem of gender exclusion.
It's time to break down the barriers that hold women back and ensure that our political system truly represents the diversity and strength of our society. In doing so, we can build a more equitable and just future for all.
Good Party is working to become part of the solution, and we welcome you to join us in our fight to smash the establishment stranglehold on democracy and create a government that works for all of us.