Friday, February 08, 2019

Work to do

Infographic: Trump Lauds Women In Congress But U.S. Has More Work To Do | Statista
The chart above from Statista shows the percentage of women in the lower house of various countries’ national legislatures. Ranking 75th in the world, the USA has a very long way to go to achieve better gender equity among lawmakers.

The reason for the chart is, of course, that in his “State of the Union” speech, the current occupant of the White House mentioned the record number of women elected to the US Congress in 2018 (and Statista has a chart about that, too, of course). While that was, indeed, very good news, what he neglected to mention is that at 23.7% female, the US House of Representatives is still less than 25% female and that 87% of the women serving in the US House this term are Democrats (the US Senate is slightly better: It’s 25% female, of which “only” two-thirds are Democrats).

The data comes from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and represents information provided by countries by December 1, 2018, which is why some numbers are slightly off form current data. fair’s fair, and here’s how the countries I typically write about compare to the USA, listed according to their rank from the IPU:

19. New Zealand: 38.8% female (New Zealand has no upper house of Parliament).
38. United Kingdom: 32.2% in the House of Commons, 26.3% in the House of Lords.
51. Australia: 28.7% in the House of Representatives, 40.8% in the Senate.
59. Canada: 26.9% in the House of Commons, 46.7% in the Senate.

The point of all these numbers isn’t to demonstrate how well New Zealand is doing compared to all the other countries I write about—that’s just a nice bonus. The reality is that New Zealand could and should be doing much better. It was the first country to give women the right to vote, after all. The point is that these percentages give us a common-ground way of comparing countries to each other.

Still, it’s interesting that in all but the UK, the upper house has better gender balance than does their lower house. Personally, I think the problem with the UK’s upper house is that it’s an anachronism, bound tightly to the class system that it both represents and perpetuates. Still, that’s no excuse, really.

There are some—invariably on the Right—who dismiss the importance of gender equity in representative government, the whole “the best person should win” thing. In a perfect world, that would be true, but in our societies, with endemic sexism and governmental structures designed by and for men, it was difficult for women to even put themselves forward, much less be elected.

Times and attitudes are changing, as the large wave of (mostly Democratic) women elected to the US House last year shows. There may yet come a time in which the gender of a candidate for any office—including US president—won’t matter, but we’re not there yet. Some countries are doing better: New Zealand has had three female Prime Ministers, the UK two, and Australia one. So far. Change is possible. But there are profound problems facing all the countries I’ve mentioned, and too often they seem intractable.

With so many problems festering, maybe it’s time to try something very different. I think that we should should elect more women and more younger people. It certainly couldn’t make things any worse, and it just might fix everything.

The infographic above is from Statista

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