Is social media advancing women in politics?

A new report examines the situation in 107 countries.

Hillary Clinton is the first female presidential nominee of a major party in the US. Theresa May is the second-ever female prime minister of the United Kingdom. Angela Merkel has been leading Germany for the past 11 years as the first woman chancellor. And Federica Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister, is the second woman to head the foreign policy of the European Union.

Around the world, however, women are still trying to break the so-called boys club of politics and diplomacy.

Much still needs to be done.

For example, while a lot of the news coverage of the race for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations focused around women nominees and a new, more transparent process, the UN Security Council recently announced António Guterres as its official choice to replace Ban Ki-moon at the end of the year. And among world leaders speaking at the UN General Assembly this past September only few were women.

A look at national parliaments around the world shows that less than 23% of parliamentarians are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). There are only two countries, Bolivia and Rwanda, where women make up a legislative majority.

A new report by the Women in Parliaments Global Forum (WIP), Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, and Facebook shows that “the digital age has brought with it tools that can help women to achieve greater political parity.”

The study, titled Social Media: Advancing Women in Politics?, examines the situation in 107 countries. Roughly 900 legislators responded and 531 completed the questionnaire.

Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, highlighted the importance of having more women in political office:

They serve as role models especially for younger women and girls, empowering them to make better choices about their lives. They enhance the representativeness of political institutions and society more broadly. They bring new perspectives to policy making, ones that can make government more responsive — not only to underserved populations, including the poor and children — but to all strata of society.

And to this end, social media tools can help “magnify those contributions by promoting the election of women to office.”

Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy, mentioned that “female lawmakers have utilized Facebook to break down traditional gender barriers.”

Regardless of their age, whether their party was in power or not, and many other factors, the overwhelming majority of these lawmakers saw Facebook as a key tool to connect directly with people, allowing for a dialogue that is efficient, frequent and unfiltered.

The report shows that “more than 85% of female legislators make at least some use of social media, with the level of use higher during the campaign period than during the legislative period.” Many uses digital tool personally or split tasks and posts with their staff.

Facebook is the most widely used with over 90% of users, 64% of whom uses it daily. Twitter is the third most popular digital platform with around 70% employing it at some level.

Source: Social Media: Advancing Women in Politics?

The study also gives recommendations, including better understanding of social media tool as “only about a fourth of respondents were highly knowledgeable, suggesting that social media are being underutilized by most female legislators.”

Nothing was more closely associated with level of social media use than respondents’ knowledge of social media.

Key factors are also how well politicians understand their audience, how they leverage digital tools to fundraise, and their level of engagement.