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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Kakar Aseya
March 20, 2015
As I celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, I reflected on my past. Growing up in a developing and a war-torn country, Afghanistan, I am aware of the challenges women face in their daily lives. As a young professional and graduate student I continue to stress my interest on gender equality. My previous public and private jobs were under the supervision of female directors or team leaders. Although women are gaining share in the job market, as they deserve to, there is still inequality when it comes to women leadership roles.
Where are the women?
Since 1995, the status of women and girls has improved around the world. In 2014, according to World Development Indicators, 18 percent of women hold seats in the national parliaments of United States. Organizations such as the United Nations imposed policies to increase women’s participation in various sectors including local, state and federal government. Historically in Western societies, women have been underrepresented as compared to men in politics. Although imposed policies in developed countries have a greater impact, in developing countries polices are yet to be imposed and practiced to empower women.
Gender gaps and inequality not only impact communities over the years, but also created economic instability. Policy makers and scientists have accepted the fact that there is a two-way relation between gender equality and economic growth. First, economic growth can empower women and create gender equality, while removing the gap in the private and public sectors. Second, gender equality and women empowerment can accelerate development. According to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, achieving gender equity is a “prerequisite” for economic development.
While women still make the least of the overall workplace, in the local government it is the opposite. In the local government, women make up the majority of the workforce, nearly three quarters. Although the local government workforce is predominantly female, most of the women are working in “junior or middle management” roles.
The gap of gender equality might have decreased in the workforce, but the gap of hierarchy still remains the same. Women in local government are heavily concentrated in jobs that require “soft” skills, such as community social care, children’s social care and occupational therapy. As of 2012, 90 percent of women in the United States worked as occupational therapists as compared to 10 percent of the men. On the other hand, regulatory and inspection services are heavily occupied by men as 94 percent of men work as building control. After many years of revolution and the imposed policies to create gender equality in developed countries, women have yet to reach the same level as men.
Women in state government are historically the newcomers among state elected. Entering the state level offices in the 1920s opened the door; however, significant growth in the number of women in office only occurred in the 1960s and 1970s after the women’s movement. Women have been notably underrepresented and since the founding of U.S., only 29 women have served as governors. Only one female served as a governor of a U.S. territory (Puerto Rico), Sila Maria Calderon.
The U.S. policies to provide equal job opportunities and equal rights to all genders still cause the distance between the local and state level positions. Women have served as the chief executive in the majority of the sates and only 28 states have never had a women chief executive. This indicates that legislative leaders, public officials, party leaders and advocacy organizations need to increase the number of women recruitment.
The American societies are emerging and the federal government has been actively working to increase the number of women in the federal workforce. At the federal level, the significance and value of women in decision-making and administrative positions are acknowledged. Women have only 27.1 percent of shares as compared to men with 72.9 percent, leaving a big gap.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, the United States is ranked only 22nd best. Given that the current female population is 51 percent, and only 27 percent are working in the federal level, is disappointing. Let alone in countries such as Afghanistan, women are still not given the chance to speak their rights.
With all that said, lets add one more to the list. The U.S. is 1 of 9 countries worldwide that doesn’t provide for paid maternity leave. Are the children of today the future of tomorrow? Did we forget to measure the future with the well-being of women and children?
While factors of development such as women empowerment are improving everyday in developed countries, in developing countries such as Afghanistan the voice of a woman is yet to be heard. As a women myself and being from Afghanistan, I knew I had to work harder and fight longer to achieve what everyone should be able to have access to—education.