When it comes to women holding political office, the U.S. is still way behind much of the world. American politics won't be gender equal until 2117 if progress continues at the current rate. (Yes, that's an entire century from now, and an estimate that will only hold true if the current rate of change continues.) However, organizations such as the Center for American Progress (CAP) have some suggestions for how to reach gender parity in politics sooner.
In 1997, America was ranked 52nd for women's representation in national government, and in 2017, it fell to 101st, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union's annual rankings. Congress is currently 19.4% women, and state legislatures nationwide consist of 24.9% women. As you can probably deduce, that's not even close to 50% representation.
"The 2016 elections were a historic disappointment for advocates of women’s political parity in the United States," reads CAP's latest report on gender and politics.
It continues, "Not only did the first female major party candidate for the White House fail to win the highest office in the land, but around the nation, political representation by women continued its now nearly two-decades-long stall as well."
The nonpartisan, but left-leaning organization has four recommendations for how to get more female representatives in the government. First up: changing how political parties recruit and groom candidates.
Political parties play a huge role in determining who runs for office, as they often identify and tap certain people to run at the local and national level. According to the CAP report, parties need to work more closely with organizations that recruit and train women to run for office, such as She Should Run and Emerge America.
As usual, money also poses a problem. But, unfortunately, the offered solutions just aren't realistic. According to CAP, the U.S. should reduce the role of big money in determining who runs, something people from both sides of the aisle can agree on. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump criticized the current campaign finance system in the 2016 election, but it's almost impossible to completely separate money from politics, and it certainly won't happen any time soon.
Another recommendation from CAP is giving more PAC funding to women, which would help relieve the financial burden of running for office. According to the report, PACs "systematically" underfund women (especially women of color).
The report says, "Once women are established candidates running in congressional-level races, they have the ability to fundraise as well as men. Yet a relative lack of personal wealth and lack of connections to donors with deep pockets pose a serious problem for would-be female candidates looking to get started in politics."
Again, yes this is a problem, but systemically changing how political campaigns are funded is far from an easy fix.
Lastly, CAP says the American government should pay state legislators a living wage and support them with work-family policies to make being a politician a viable job for women. Right now, just 12 states pay their legislators the same amount or more than the state's median household income. Like in the private sector, recruiting women requires offering a fair salary, flexible schedules, and more support for work-life balance — which, like campaign finance reform, will take a very long time to achieve.
"Political ambition does not exist in a vacuum; it stems from a sense of what’s possible," the CAP report says. "That’s why any discussion of political parity that focuses on women’s internal processes regarding the decision to run without taking into account the external forces weighing upon that decision will necessarily miss the mark."
This year alone, an unprecedented 11,000 women interested in running for office have contacted the women-centric political action committee Emily's List, so the ambition exists. While decreasing the role of big money in politics and making government positions more conducive to having a family sound great, grassroots efforts to get more women in office can have a more immediate impact.