The 2016 election is coming up and two women have a shot at the highest political office in the United States. What exactly does this mean? Yes, a woman could potentially be breaking, in Hillary Clinton's words, "the highest, hardest glass ceiling," but in actuality, a win would mean cracks, however significant, in the political power glass ceiling. It's 2015, and the U.S. ranks 72nd out of 145 countries in terms of political empowerment for women. And research shows that things are actually only getting worse.
A new study on global gender equality from the World Economic Forum shows that while women have definitely made strides in closing the gap in education, health, and even economic parity, they are far behind in terms of representation in national government. If one woman is elected to the presidency in the United States, will this really change things, despite talks of breaking a glass ceiling? Look at other countries that have had a woman commander-in-chief like India and Great Britain. One woman managing to pull herself to the top in the current political climate and with the limitations of a male-centric political structure does not mean a glass ceiling has been broken.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Photo Credit: AP
It's also important to look at the exceptionalism of a candidate like Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Journalist Perry B. Bacon rightly points out, "If Clinton wins, her path is not easy for other women to follow, either in politics or outside of it. Clinton is exceptionally talented, having graduated from Yale Law School, gotten elected to the U.S. Senate from a state where she had never before lived and won the job of secretary of state despite a rather limited resume on foreign affairs. She also had the benefit of starting her own political career after her husband had been elected president, giving Clinton connections and access most people will never have."
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So why is the United States in the bottom half? Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden, says her research has shown that female candidates have to work twice as hard to raise the same amount of campaign money. Then take into account the not-so-masked sexism and the current political structure and it's easy to see where the gap starts widening.
Yes, progress is slow, and women like Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina are certainly trailblazers, but the fact is that it's 2015. When significantly more women are graduating from higher education than men and showing their widespread success in other fields, why are so few women leading their countries and having a say in the political structure?