Women’s Representation: An International Comparison


We are in a unique position this year. It has been 100 years since women won the right to vote in the United States and, for many of us, this anniversary is cause for both celebration and reflection. We celebrate because the suffrage centennial coincides with record numbers of women running and entering political office. But we must leave room to reflect because, while there has been progress towards parity, this progress has been unevenly spread across the ideological, racial, and geographic spectrums of the United States.

Our research at RepresentWomen points to something that should not be a shock to our readers – to have a more representative and equal democracy, rules and systems matter. Specifically, the electoral rules and systems we follow play a major role in shaping outcomes for women. Internationally, countries that have implemented temporary special measures, such as gender quotas, or have adopted proportional voting systems have made greater strides towards gender parity than the United States.

To break this down, when it comes to women’s representation, the U.S. ranks 82nd out of 193 countries. Troublingly, the rank of the United States has decreased over the last 20 years, even with the number of women in our government reaching a record high. In the year 2000, there were 58 women in the U.S. House of Representatives, women held 13% of all seats in the national legislature, and we ranked 48th in the world. Today, even with 101 women in the U.S. House, we rank much lower than we have in the past.

Why is that? Whereas the majority of countries that rank above the United States have implemented gender quotas (76% of the top 50) or follow proportional voting systems (74% of the top 50), the United States relies on an antiquated, winner-take-all, voting system that disproportionately advantages men over women. On International Women’s Day, it becomes even more clear we must enact systems-based reforms such as Ranked Choice Voting to move the needle on electing more women. If we do not act to promote women’s representation and leadership, then we are going to watch the rest of the world pass us by.

During the suffrage centennial, we recognize the women leaders who fought for and won the right to vote. As we look to women’s representation on a global scale this International Women’s Day, we are reminded that their work is not yet complete. There would be no better way for us to honor these women than to act on the best practices modeled by other countries and push for systems-based reforms in the United States. We cannot become complacent in our progress; despite having the vote for a century, we are not even halfway to reaching gender parity for women in politics.

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