Equal power – USA presidential election

There are national elections that grab the attention of the world, such as the first elections after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the first Russian election after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Brexit. The US presidential election has grabbed the attention of the world’s media because of the reality TV show it has turned into. With a candidate that seems to care more about media attention than the future of the country, this election has turned into a circus that keeps the world leaders (Smith) guessing as to the republican candidates (Varkiani) next move. The reason why this years American presidential election should be making headlines has fallen to the side lines. The fact that this is the first time a woman is the candidate for one of the two main parties in the USA has been overshadowed. For the first time in US history, Americans stand a real chance at electing a female president

USAID writes as their goal for women’s development: “When women participate in civil society and politics, governments are more open, democratic and responsive to citizens”. This is one of their goals for the “developing world”. Let us take a closer look at what is happening at home.

As Emma Watson pointed out in her now famous speech on gender equality at the United Nations Headquarters in 2014 “no country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality” (UN Women). The great news is that women are being educated. More women graduate collage then men in the USA. Women also make up roughly half the work force, women and men have more or less equal access to health care now that birth control is free through the affordable care act, and we are seeing a great increase in women being elected into political office (Bidwell). But we still have a long way to go.

“Despite women’s advancements […] substantial inequalities remain. Although an increasing number of women are either the sole breadwinner for their family or share the role with their partners, women in the United States are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. The pay gap is even larger for women of color. On average, African American women make 64 cents for every dollar that white men make. While 2012 was a watershed year for women in terms of getting elected to public office, women still comprise only 18.1 percent of Congress, despite making up more than half of the U.S. population.” (Chu)

Equal work =equal pay seems like such a straightforward equation. But like in many countries in the global north this is still not the case. Because of the gap in pay women with low income is much more likely to live under the poverty line than her male equivalent.

It’s not only when it comes to money that women have to make sacrifices. The US is the only developed country that does not offer women guaranteed paid maternity leave (Zadrozny). This fact alone contributes to disadvantages on all levels of the economic spectrum. It means that women in low income jobs will either have to quit their jobs when they have a baby or find an alternative after as little as two weeks at home. For women already struggling this can be disastrous for their economy. Women in careers face a different struggle. Having a baby can be detrimental to a career and women have to work extra hard to stay on the career ladder once they have had children. The work environment that has been created around high government or corporate position is one where “spending time with family” has become code for being fired (Slaughter). Time with family is seen as a hindrance and not valued. This is surprising seeing how every political campaign in the USA is run on family values.

Picture from ABC 7 Chicago

In the USA we have a long way to go until we see an equal representation of men and women in political office. Until we get more women in power, corporate as well as political, we are far from creating a society where men and women can expect to be valued for their abilities rather than their gender. If we compare the USA to Sweden where in 2006 women held 47.3% of seats in parliament, the USA is at its highest right now at 19.4%, the difference is clear. Sweden has very generous parental leave where a part has to be taken by the father or it’s lost, child care is virtually free and guaranteed and there is now a national move towards a 6 hour work day. Is this a result of a more equal parliament? We can argue for and against but what most people are willing to agree on is that when we look at people around us as equals we will have a must stronger foundation for society to develop.



Bidwell, A (2014) Women are more likely to graduate college but still earn less than men http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/10/31/women-more-likely-to-graduate-college-but-still-earn-less-than-men

Chu, A (2013) The state of women in America https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2013/09/25/74836/the-state-of-women-in-america

Slaughter, A (2012) Why women still can’t have it all http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020

Smith, D. (2016) President Trump fills the world leaders with fear https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/28/donald-trump-president-world-leaders-foreign-relations

UN Women (2014) http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/9/emma-watson-gender-equality-is-your-issue-too

USAID (2016) Gender equality and women’s empowerment https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment

Varian, A. (2016) What newspapers in 13 countries are saying about Donald Trump https://thinkprogress.org/what-newspapers-in-13-countries-are-saying-about-donald-trump-819e632616d2#.y30emi4s6

Worldbank (2016) http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS

Zadrozny, B (2015) Women won’t have equal pay until 2058 http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/12/women-won-t-have-equal-pay-until-2058.html

Picture: http://abc7chicago.com/politics/photos-clinton-trump-face-off-in-first-presidential-debate/1527965/#gallery-10


  1. Thanks for this reminder of what’s really important amongst all the weirdness of this US election! I found this article by statistician Nate Silver interesting (and alarming), especially the maps of “What 2016 would look like if just women voted” and “if just men voted”. A real gender divide.

  2. Hi Angelica, great post! I experienced Brexit first hand, and it has been something that really worried me both as a journalist and as EU expat in the UK. Recently, the High Court ruled that the UK government has not the legal right to decide about such important issue without informing the Parliament (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/03/high-court-brexit-ruling-what-does-it-all-mean) and the usual tabloids have literally put in the front page the faces of the judges that decided the case, calling them “enemies of the people”. Again, as a journalist I am all for the freedom of speech – but those headlines talk of a polarisation that has reached really worrying levels. Brexit and politics in general are very complex issues, but people tend to grasp simple concepts even when they are blatantly false (immigrants, £350m a week to the NHS and so on).

    Also, I find fascinating your point about having a female president: while it something I would really like to see, at the same time I find quite disturbing the fact that someone should be elected just because of his/her gender. In Italy, for example, we tried to have a system where you MUST vote for at least one woman in the local elections, and even if I see your points about women’s under-representation, I still feel uncomfortable about being pushed to vote someone who could be not fit for the role just because of his/her gender.

    As a final point, I don’t think that “a candidate” looks for media attention: they both do – that’s how you win elections, after all – but it is the media system itself that created such spin, following the pranks of a clown because they generated more clicks, more advertising, more engagement with the audience. Media is always a binary system, and it flourish only if there is a certain demand. Unfortunately, there is a huge demand for confirmation bias.

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