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Women and Power

FP Interrupted

It’s International Women’s Day, in Women’s History Month. Let’s celebrate women! Indeed. But let us also be cognizant that the celebration of women on one day should not eclipse the much-needed work of breaking down the paradigms and reforming the institutions, and mindsets, that have held women back. That is especially true today, amid the rise of strongmen across the globe; men who have shown hostility to empowered women. We’re having none of it. That’s why this is the power issue.

Women and power is primarily framed as a challenge — a problem to be solved and, among certain groups, (such as said strongmen), a problem to be crushed. It is not viewed as a reality – or a goal. Because the reality is, while women have made some gains, overall we still lack power, politically, economically, and socially. Whether in government, the private sector, or academia, women are disproportionately represented. Look at the numbers in the United States:

  • Percentage of women at Fortune 500 CEOs: 24 percent.
  • In 2018 the “Year of the Woman,” the percentage of women in the U.S,. House of Representatives went up to 23.4 percent, with a record 102 members. (There are 535 seats.)
  • In 2016, three out of 10 college presidents were women.
  • At law firms, only 19 percent of equity partners are women; and women are 29 percent less likely to reach the first level of partnership than are men.

Elsewhere, such as Scandinavia, Rwanda, Nicaragua, and New Zealand, women are better represented in government. (Kudos to Sweden and Canada for adopting a “feminist foreign policy.”) But even in these places, women struggle when it comes to economic participation, educational attainment, and health and survival. There’s no one perfect place. Sorry, Sweden.

Iliana Magra has an excellent piece on this, entitled, “Why International Women’s Day Isn’t Going Away.” In it, she points out how gender parity is out of reach for women across the globe. She notes that: The portion of female representation in national parliaments in the world stands at 23.7 percent.

At the end of last month, 30 female heads of states, former and present, penned an open letter pointing out the worrying erosion of women’s rights, particularly at the hands of “macho-type strongmen.”

        “There is a sense of the established power being threatened by women gaining respect,” Susana Malcorra, the former Argentinian foreign minister said.

Leta Hong Fincher writes about how China’s leaders are threatened by the women’s movement in her brilliant book, Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China. 

While this is something we can spend hours on, it comes down to this: There is a lot of work to be done on all fronts. If we want to see more women in power, then we have to dig deep and go beyond band-aid solutions and CSR campaigns. Giving women (and men) flex time is a great first step. Let’s face it though, when it comes to steps, there are many to climb before we can get to gender parity. (Note: there is no ladder emoji.) So let’s move beyond the question “where are the women?” and start putting forward women as a much needed answer. Let’s start admitting that there is a lot of unconscious and conscious bias toward women. So, editors, next time you get a pitch from a woman and think this is “idealistic” or “not hard hitting,” check yourself. And let’s start listening to women, especially women of color.

Here are a few reports that have come out recently that look at women in business, law, the workplace, and in national security:

  • Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform — from the World Bank. (World Bank)
  • Women’s Workplace Equality Index — from our friends at the Women’s program at the Council on Foreign Relations. (CFR)
  • The “Consensual Straitjacket”: Four Decades of Women in Nuclear Security — from our friends at New America. (New America)

And on Sweden being a “feminist” country – Maya Salam looks at what happens when you prioritize gender issues. (NYT)

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