The past few years have seen several high-profile women engaged in federal politics in the United States. This would lead one to believe that men and women are equally represented in the US. This is not true, or at least not as true as the candidacies of Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin would seem to indicate. , women’s involvement in politics has remained at a steady rate for the past two decades. Though women have been influential in creating change through their involvement in NGOS and civil society, they need to be represented more equally in government to enact greater policy change.
They face several barriers to becoming more involved in politics, however, many having to do more with their own perceptions of discrimination and their individual abilities than to the reality of voting behavior. Women’s efforts, including their activism in civil society, could be used to empower other women to overcome these perceptions so that more women get involved in political office. More women need to be involved in political office in the United States, but they first need to be empowered to do so, and they need to overcome societal perceptions of inequality.
Over the past few decades, Women have found two paths to political influence. While some have worked to gain political office, others have created or worked with civil society organizations to actively promote various human rights and policy issues. Feminist civil societies have been created to focus on “undermining male domination and promoting the empowerment or status of women”, and these societies have been successful in many areas. These have become a good way for women to influence policy and societal attitudes about their gender, as well as many other topics.
To gain an equal voice in terms of politics, however, women need to be participating by gaining elected office. The problem that faces the country is that not enough women are running for political office. While women are overrepresented when it comes to the running of NGO and civil society organizations, they are underrepresented in the US government. This is a problem because, while civil society organizations and NGOOs can participate in activism, they cannot actively create those policies. Instead, they must convince those in office, mostly male, to legislate. Women’s voices are not heard enough when it comes to governmental policies because there are not enough of them in elected office.
The reason why women are not seeking elected office is that women do not think they can do as well. Women feel that they are discriminated against when campaigning, both by the media and by the public at large. Since they feel this discrimination, they feel that voters will hold their gender against them. Also, women do not feel that they are as qualified as the men against whom they would be running. Another factor which influences women not to run is that they feel they cannot raise as much money as they would need to campaign effectively. Also, women feel that their need to raise and care for their families would be detrimental to a political career, though this has proven to be no truer for politics than it is in any other industry where women have gained equality. Women do not feel that they can do as well as men when campaigning or once elected, which results in the fact that not enough women are running for political office.
Despite these factors, women are making progress politically. In recent years, women have shown that they can do as well as men when it comes to getting votes. The past two US presidential elections have shown that women have reached the point where it is at least conceivable that the country will have a female president at some point in the future, perhaps the not-too-distant future. In fact, as Lawless notes, when women choose to run for elected office in the US, they have just as much of a chance to win as do their male counterparts. Also, women seem to be participating in politics in that the proportion of female voters seems to have been higher in the past several elections than male. Women who run for office do as well as the men they are running against, and women feel empowered enough to vote in elections, but they do not feel empowered enough to run for office. This results in the fact that women do not yet have an equal voice in government.
While civil society organizations are important because they provide a platform for activism on important issues, women need to have an equal voice in the government of the country so that they can have an equal opportunity to shape policy. While women have been shown to do as well in the poles as men, they do not feel empowered enough in many ways to even begin running for office. Women’s groups and civil society organizations could help by taking steps to empower women to run for office and by showing people of both genders that women deserve an equal voice in government and are fully capable of meeting the needs of the office for which they are elected.