Investing in Women for Global Growth
Pamela Reeves

Girl Power: Women Should Vote for Women

Women make up over 50% of the population, yet encompass less than 20% of the world’s political leadership. Here in the U.S., it doesn’t matter whether a woman is a Democrat or a Republican — political party is irrelevant to the fact that women are seriously underrepresented in our political system and the misogyny facing women in politics is brutally bipartisan. We need to get more women elected, regardless of party, because on both sides of the aisle, female political leaders tend to advocate for the same things. Extensive research reveals that when more women are in positions of political leadership, societies benefit from greater peace, better education, less corruption, and decreased gender based violence. It is critical to acknowledge that sexism facing women in politics pervades all political parties. Therefore, in order to increase women’s political leadership, we must rally as women, for women.

A striking example of bipartisan misogyny is exemplified by the highly gendered criticism of Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald J. Trump. Liberals may wish to bemoan everyone on Team Trump, but when Stephen K. Bannon is described as an “evil genius” for his policies and Kellyanne Conway is called a hysterical slut for sitting on a couch, there’s something wrong. Sexist criticism is clearly not unique to Republicans or Democrats. Just as Hillary Clinton was called a shrew (and every woman in history has received her share of disparagement), the attacks launched at Conway highlight the fact that society is still uncomfortable with women holding positions of power. This social anxiety manifests in attacks that are overtly gender-based, as opposed to policy-driven criticism that males overwhelmingly receive.

Now, women are not a homogenous bloc, and it would be narrow-minded to assume otherwise. However, it would likewise be ill-advised to ignore the fact that when women are political leaders, regardless of party, they overwhelmingly tend to support policy that reflects the priorities of families and women. Republican or Democrat, Sub-Saharan Africa or Western Europe, when women are elected, their policy making by and large supports education, improves economic conditions, diminishes corruption, and fights against gender based violence. And through the mere act of holding public office, women in political leadership chip away at established gender norms by demonstrating that a woman’s job can be and is in politics.

If women in office advance the goals of all women, then we need to rally against sexism and support female candidates regardless of party. But is it possible to unite women on behalf of other women on the basis of gender? Yes. There is significant evidence supporting the efforts of women uniting to elect female candidates. I ask us now to turn away from the U.S., where the false belief that we live in a post-feminist society has resulted in female politicians downplaying the significance of their gender. In a society with a serious gender gap and political underrepresentation, we don’t have that luxury. Let’s turn instead to Liberia.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the Liberian presidency in 2006, becoming the first female president on the African continent, in an election delivered by the women of Liberia. Desperate times called for desperate measures–the country had finally ended its relentless and devastating civil war and Liberian women, according to the New York Times, couldn’t fathom “putting a man back in power in a place that men had just run into the ground” — let alone George Weah, a former soccer player with zero political experience. So women rallied to get out the vote, with registered voters jumping from 15% to 51% women. And ultimately, the slogan “Vote for Woman” resulted in Sirleaf’s 59% victory. Sirleaf won her election by women, for women.

Liberia is an important model. It may seem like a distant place, with a less advanced democratic system than that of the United States and incomparable civil war conditions. But the fact to glean from Sirleaf and the women of Liberia is that when there’s a will, there’s a way — as long as women are united.

Another generation of girls cannot grow up hearing the words bossy, hysterical, and slut slung towards them, while ambitious, genius and powerful adjectives greet their male peers. Another generation of humans cannot grow up lacking basic rights to a good education, safety from violence, and equality in the workforce. When we have more women in positions of political leadership, these issues get a lot closer to being solved. But the only way achieve this is to acknowledge that, party differences aside, we all want the same thing. And by uniting as women, for women, we can get there.