News Column

Women Severely Underrepresented in US Elected Offices

Nov. 2, 2012
Women Severely Underrepresented in US Elected Offices

As the Nov. 6 election day draws near, gender disparities in the U.S. political landscape have caught a great deal of voters' attention in a country with a lower-than-average female representation in its national legislature.

The League of Women Voters in California Thursday held a panel discussion on the issue, encouraging more women to run for public offices and appealing for stronger voter support for women candidates.

"Women are underrepresented ... women just don't have the courage and don't have the confidence to run for the office," Jackie Knowles from the league told Xinhua.

It took dozens of years for women to win the right to vote, and it also took time for them to think about going into politics, she said, adding that it is time for a change.

More women have engaged in politics over the years, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Three decades ago, women held a mere 10 percent of all the state legislative seats, and now the figure has risen to 24 percent.

But a report released this year by the Women & Politics Institute showed that the United States ranked 91st worldwide in terms of women representation in its national legislature, well below even some developing countries including Rwanda, South Africa, Cuba and Nepal.

A study by Jennifer L. Lawless from American University and Richard L. Fox from Loyola Marymount University also finds that women remain severely underrepresented in the U.S. political institutions.

As of the 1970s, women have held almost no major public offices, with only two elected governors throughout the decade, according to the study.

"Today, if we glance at the television screen, peruse the newspaper, listen to the radio, or scan the Internet, we might be tempted to conclude that women have made remarkable gains," the study says.

Many prominent female faces started to appear before the public eye, including Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

But these famous figures could not obscure the dearth of women who hold elective office in the United States, where 84 percent of Congress members are men in 2011.

The percentages of women office holders demonstrate that it is not only at the federal level that women are numerically underrepresented, the study says.

The study identifies seven factors contributing to the gender gap, either by directly impeding women's political ambition, or by making the decision calculus far more complicated for women than men.

Source: Copyright Xinhua News Agency - CEIS 2012

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