Only incremental political gains for women worldwide

While always important, women’s issues, particularly their representation in government, took center stage during the campaign for U.S. President. Amplifying this was the sometimes-coarse comments made by then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE, coupled with the running of America’s first female presidential candidate from a major party.

Many expected Clinton to win the White House, a first in the U.S., joining the United Kingdom’s Theresa May and Germany’s Angela Merkel. Three of the world’s most powerful nations would have been run by women.

If for no other reason, a Clinton win would have had real impact on women in government around the world. Why? In the words of my colleague Dr. Ofer Kenig: “Representation, equality and pluralism.”

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For those of us just under 40 and who have lived most of our lives in the U.S., we see nothing odd about women serving as leaders in the political, business and academic arenas. It seems women have always held these roles. However, it was only in the early ‘90s that women began to shatter the political glass ceiling.

The first time there were three women in the Senate simultaneously was in 1992. Today, there are 20. It is no less than a revolution, but it is not perfect. Twenty seems like quite a lot; and certainly 20 powerful women in U.S. Senate are role models for America’s young girls, as well as those of the world. However, 20 percent, puts the U.S. below many other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries in terms of women’s representation in politics.

Then again, in 2015, only about 20 countries – mostly parliamentary democracies – could brag that 40 percent or more of their executive cabinets were comprised of women. A few democracies hold at 30 percent and the majority are 20 percent or lower…even in some of the most developed countries.

Muslim countries – especially Arab countries, which tend to be more patriarchal – have much lower percentages of women in parliament, and in cabinet positions. There are some exceptions in the Muslim world, such as Azerbaijan, a parliamentary democracy that is not counted in the Middle East or in the Arab world.

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic, is situated on the Caspian Sea, lodged between Russia, Iran and Armenia—none of whom can be regarded as progressive in terms of women. Since its independence, Azerbaijan has placed itself on a trajectory in line with the West, including on women’s issues. Primarily an oil and gas producing nation, Azerbaijan transits its vast resources to the West, bypassing Russia and Iran.

While the Muslim-majority country has only one female cabinet member, it boasts 19 out of 122 female members of parliament, nearly 16 percent. Compare that to neighboring Russia and Azerbaijan looks even better. In Russia, only two out of 31 ministers are women.

Some countries have adopted gender quotas, which according to Kenig have resulted in a steady and significant increase in the number of women elected to parliament and other political positions. Other countries have coupled quotas with additional legislative measures to improve women’s representation in society in general.

Azerbaijan, here too, has been at the forefront.

A February 2015 report on Azerbaijan by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women found positive legislative progress made on women’s issues, including an extremely significant, near 50 percent, decrease in instances of violence against women.

Additionally, the poverty rate among women decreased from 49 percent to 5.9 percent in 2014. Further, 18 percent of Azerbaijan entrepreneurs were women. The number of women holding leading positions in the education sector increased to 41.2 percent.

In 2015, 46 percent of the leading New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) are women and following the 2014 elections, representation of women in municipalities increased from four percent in 2004 to 35 percent. A special order issued by President Ilham Aliyev led to the appointment of women as deputy heads of regional executive bodies in 76 of 86 regional councils.

Moreover, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva has her own political career; she serves as deputy chair of YAP. Unlike most presidential wives in the former Soviet Union, she is also philanthropically and culturally influential the world over.

Now that the election circus has ended and President-elect Trump is preparing for his new role, the Trump transition team has signaled a desire to maintain or even improve the status quo by including a number of qualified and talented women in the White House, as well as throughout his Administration.

“The train has already left the station in the U.S.,” says Kenig.

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman is the director of international communications at Israel Democracy Institute, an Israeli correspondent for eJewish Philanthropy and a regular freelance writer.


 

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