Female leaders, as bright, prepared, and charismatic as it gets, cannot seem to reach the highest positions of power. Beware, this is not only an American problem: out of 193 countries, only 19 have a female head of state or government. It does not only apply to the highest office: women make up only 24% of members of national legislative bodies around the world, and only 4 countries have at least 50% of women in the national legislature. And when women stand up and fight to move the tide, they face violence: over 80% of women in politics have been victims of sexual violence or harassment.
As the founders of NOW!, a newly created transnational movement mobilizing people across borders to counter global issues, we just launched a campaign to achieve parity in politics, across the world. It’s time to stop the era of male-dominated politics. The data speaks for itself: a systematic excess of testosterone in the corridors of power is not only a clear distortion of our democracies but also a threat to our future. And guess what? Female leadership and participation correlate with more inclusive governance and better economic outcomes: gender parity benefits societies and enables progress. Demanding measures to enforce parity in legislatures around the world, NOW! has already assembled a coalition of politicians pledging to support such demand, as well as thousands of citizens. The campaign unites under the pun #RunLikeAWoman.
Fixing this democratic flaw is not only needed, but also urgent: another generation of young women leaders might be wrecked because of our inaction. Believe us, we know it first hand.
We were ourselves in politics for a few years, and ran side by side in the European elections, with a political party we co-founded. As people of two different genders, we got radically different experiences. Andrea (yes, in Italy this is a male name) was at most criticized for his ideas and sometimes young age. Colombe (yes, in France this is a name) was attacked for her looks, how she spoke, how she dressed, how she behaved, what she said, and yes, her age as well. Once, she was even mansplained that she got her own life story wrong. From journalists writing about Andrea’s ideas and Colombe’s physical appearance in the same piece to threats of physical and sexual violence on social media, there could not be more different treatment. And please remember: we are not famous, not well-known, and run a short campaign on progressive ideas, so this is only a fraction of what women normally get. Amnesty International released a report showing how “women politicians were targeted with abuse online not just for their opinions — but also for various identities, such as gender, religion, caste, and marital status.” 1 in 7 tweets was problematic or abusive.
However, this can be fixed: not only do we need better laws and measures to counter threats and harassment, but parity plays a role.During our campaign, from the moment the stage was gender-balanced, inappropriate comments slowly faded away. As soon as the town-halls had a significant female presence, Colombe’s ideas were analyzed alongside one of her co-founders, and not as an appendix to it. Seeing women in public life gave countless others hope and strength to run. Seeing how women succeeded empowered others to Run like a Woman.
In Vox last week, Emily Stewart wondered “Why have we, yet again, rejected an uber-qualified woman for the highest office in the land?”, when thinking about Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the US presidential race. Of course, sexism comes into play. Of course, women face way more scrutiny and difficulties than men. Of course, they are held to different standards. And of course, this happens systematically, often in a more dire manner, across the world. And this is exactly why we launched a campaign to achieve parity.
During the preparation of the #RunLikeAWoman campaign, we spoke with politicians from all over the world: from Brazil to the Philippines, from the Gambia to Croatia. Those calls and discussions brought us to tears, hearing about what some had to overcome: the threats, the violence. But they also gave us more hope and fuel for change than ever before. As Petra Bayr, a member of Parliament from Austria said “If a woman gets involved with politics, it will change her life. If many women get involved in politics, it will change politics.”
We realized that by bringing leaders and champions of gender equality across the world to commit to fight for parity, by uniting humans beyond borders to call parliaments to pass adequate legislation so that women are adequately represented, and by combining this with physical and digital actions, we could harness the power of the masses to demand something as simple as equal representation, as parity. So simple that any child would see the rationale for it, so powerful it could transform the world.
However, lining up the first 30 politicians was not the easiest task: from Asian Prime Ministers to U.S. Presidential candidates, 2020 still have scores of self-nominated progressives happy with the status quo, worried that parity might take away some of their power. Gender equality is often a great line for interviews and debates, but only a few are ready to put their reputation on the line for it.
Now, the long climb begins: our campaign will work relentlessly to ensure that women have their fair share of power, taking a way shorter route than the 50 years projected by the U.N. From marches to referendums, we will not stop until young girls around the world will see political leadership as a natural aspiration. We couldn’t say it better than Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
Let’s make sure it happens, let’s all #RunLikeAWoman.
By Colombe Cahen-Salvador and Andrea Venzon (12/03/2020)