- 1916, Jeannette Rankin was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
And it was a big deal.
That's because Rankin was the first woman ever elected to Congress.
In 1916, four years before all U.S. women were even given the right to vote.
(stirring orchestral music) Since Rankin was elected, the number of women in Congress has been rising steadily.
But today, even 100 years later, women still only hold 20% of the seats.
And get this, Vermont: sorry, Vermont, but this is totally true you've still never even elected a single woman to Congress!
And other states aren't much better.
Jeannette Rankin was from Montana, and yet she remains the only woman Montana has ever sent to Congress.
In your words, what is a gender quota?
- So, a gender quota is gonna be a policy that is going to require that we either select female candidates or we elect female candidates for elected office.
So, today there are more than 130 countries worldwide that have modified either their constitutions or their electoral laws or party rules to mandate that a certain proportion of women be included, as either candidates or legislators.
- [Host] According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the U.S. lags behind 102 other countries in gender equality.
And one of the possible reasons is that nearly half of all countries on the planet have some kind of gender quota system.
- Yes, the United States is well behind many other countries.
If you look at the world rankings in terms of women's share of legislative office, we're at 103 in the world rankings.
We're between Indonesia and Kurdistan.
- At this point, let me ask a cold and heartless question and I understand the irony that this is coming from a guy, but: Why does it even matter how many women serve in Congress?
Well, the answer is that percentages matter.
Many experts have calculated that women need to make up at least 30-40% of a governing body before their voices really start to gain traction.
Anything less and it's almost like they're not even there.
So, if we made America from scratch today, what if we made it a rule that 35% of Congress needs to be women?
- All of the studies that we've done that have looked at the quality of the politicians that we elect via gender quotas, suggest that the women that are elected via those policies are as or more qualified than their male counterparts.
So, my work, from Uganda and Sweden shows that, there's from Italy, from France, from Morocco, and so, quotas increase women's presence in office without degrading the quality of representation.
- So, why have so many countries adopted gender quotas?
- Pressure from the international community.
So, the United Nations and other international governing organizations strongly support gender quotas.
And so now what we see, for example, is virtually any country that's coming out of a conflict and creating a new constitution, doing constitution building, is going to be strongly encouraged to adopt a quota to ensure women's presence in politics.
- Quotas, as you can imagine, are a pretty controversial topic.
Many people say that they're anti-democratic, or even anti-equality, because they're giving preferential treatment to a certain type of person.
Some people argue that it's an un-American idea.
- So, I strongly support the election of women to legislative office, and I think that's really important for lots of reasons.
I do not support having a gender quota rule, or a gender quota law, for U.S. Congress.
In many cases, what gender quotas do is strengthen the hand of party leaders, who handpick candidates.
So, if you're in Mexico for example, now there's a parity law: 50% of candidates have to be women.
And so gender quotas actually don't challenge that system, they still allow kind of an old-school type of politics, where you have people handpicking their preferred candidates.
And so that preserves the status quo, and it means that the women who get selected, like the men who get selected, tend to be loyal to the party bosses, to the party leaders.
- [Host] Then there's representative Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American, Muslim legislator elected to office in the United States.
And even though she has said that everyone wanted to make gender an issue during her campaign, she still doesn't believe a quota is the right path to parity.
- I don't know if having a gender quota set in law is helpful but I think to have that as the people vote, to think about getting equitable representation.
And I think also it becomes a hindrance for success after election, right?
Because people just see you as being a representative of that gender or identity or whatever.
We can nudge people out of their complacency, to recognizing that our democracy really hasn't been that representative, and it really hasn't been that reflective of the communities around our country.
- [Host] Several studies have shown that a majority of U.S. women still believe they face barriers to office based on their gender.
And they say they feel discouraged from getting involved.
- Research shows that young men and women, when they see women in office, they think, "Oh, I could run for office," and it shapes their vision of what's possible in the world.
So that has a really, really powerful effect in terms of challenging stereotypes that people have about gender.
- While we believe a white person can represent everybody, people of color can only represent, or women can only represent, places where there is a majority of them.
That they can only represent their voices.
It certainly played out in my race, whether it is true or not, people still believe I am elected as person of color, as an immigrant, because I must represent a community that is a reflection of me.
Well, my community's a reflection of me, not because of my identity or my gender, because my community is 70% white, and that's not a conversation that people have.
They are often surprised because they think of my district as being a minority-majority district.
- Those who favor quotas say this is exactly the reason we need them: they can fast-track social changes that would otherwise take generations.
- You're absolutely right, it's going to take a long time for us to get to 50% men, 50% women, 150 years, sometimes, is the estimate.
And that's why a lot of countries adopted gender quotas in the first place, because the rate of change was so slow they realized if you just adopt a gender quota you can bump up to a really high level, really quickly.
And that's proven to be true in case after case.
- As you can see, there are smart people on both sides of this idea.
But to be fair, there may be one other huge reason why quotas may not work in America, and that has to do with how we vote.
Do you think that we would be able to have a gender quota based on our electoral system?
- It's difficult to imagine it, and there'd have to be kind of limits or caps on the number of men and women who can run for office in a particular primary.
Right now, the only thing you need to run for office is you have to be a citizen, you have to meet the age requirement, and you have to meet the residency requirement.
So to impose gender as a criterion there, which is what a gender quota would do, would... it's just, it's really difficult to imagine that actually working.
That said, we do have gender quotas in the United States.
Women's suffrage was expanded to women in 1920, both the Republican and Democratic parties adopted gender quotas for positions of leadership within the parties.
Just last week, the state Democratic party in the state of Pennsylvania, there was an election for the members of the Democratic committee, and the top vote-getters were all women.
But because they have a quota of 50% men, 50% women they took two men and kind of bumped them up, even though they weren't the top vote-getters because of the gender quota that existed.
So, in a political moment where you have a lot of women running for office, the gender quota could actually work as a ceiling, rather than as a floor.
- I think we're a long way from parity.
In particular, in the U.S., incumbency is really strong.
Over 90% of incumbents win re-election when they run.
And most of the incumbents are men.
And so, I think if we're just do things slowly, we're a long way from being at even a 1/3 of our legislators being women, let alone 50%.
- So let's break this down.
On one hand, there are places where quotas appear to be working.
On the other hand, they seem to present new challenges for the very people they're meant to help.
And we might have to totally rebuild our voting process to make them workable.
So what do you think?
Would a quota system be a good idea?
And how would our government change if we had it?
Let us know your thoughts.
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