In November, the United States faces what could be one of its most divisive presidential campaigns in modern history: Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Leaving aside their proposals and preferences, what do they represent? One of Clinton’s stronger weapons in her campaign is her support of women’s rights and the fact that she represents strong female leadership. In 2015, women represented about 19% of the seats in the House of Representatives and 20% in the Senate. In her Democratic National Convention speech this summer supporting Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama said: “…my daughters and all of our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
If Clinton is elected, the United States will be one of the few major western nations to have a female leader. Thinking globally, in the beginning of this year there were only 22 women who were national government leaders, which represents approximately 6.9% of all political leaders. Also, there are 38 countries where female representation in the parliamentary body is less than 10%, including four countries that don’t have any women in politics. The country that has the highest number of women in parliament is Rwanda, with 63.8% of its seats occupied by women, followed by Bolivia, with 53.1%. But what is happening to those countries with minimal or zero female representation in their politics?
Tonga, a Polynesian country in the Pacific Ocean that has no female representation on its parliament, for example, doesn’t have any legislation addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and sexual tourism. Also, two out of three women claim to have suffered physical violence ever since they were 15 years old. In Yemen, considered the worst country for women by the The World Economic Forum (WEF)‘s annual Gender Gap Report, women need to have the permission of their male guardian to marry. They also don’t have equal rights in divorce, nor laws that protect them from any kind of domestic or sexual violence, as well as having a high level of child marriage. The same happens in Kuwait, where women only represent 1.5% of its parliament.
In order to overcome this lack of female representation in world politics and other issues involving women—abusive relationships, domestic and sexual violence, salary gap and others—the United Nations created UN Women. UN Women discusses and acts to include women in politics and the economy, while also fighting violence and other serious problems women suffer from around the world. However, this is a hard and slow process. Various female leaders suffer from opposition campaigns that insist on denigrating their image as women, instead of focusing in their political mistakes. This is the case for Angela Merkel in Germany, for example, as well as Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Many view a female political leader with prejudice and reluctance, but slowly this wall is being broken. It is the case of Saudi Arabia, that despite being known for its bizarre behavior laws for women, elected the first women for public office in 2015, and is, in small steps, getting better at including women in their society.
“Every country deserves to have the best possible leader and that means that women have to be given a chance to compete. If they’re never allowed to compete in the electoral process then the countries are really robbing themselves of a great deal of talent.”