Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Gender Equality: A Long Way To Go! Why We Need More Women in the Power Elite Space

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sombo Muzata
March 13, 2023


March 8 is International Women’s Day, and the entire month of March is dedicated to commemorating women. The United Nations theme for 2023 International Women’s Day is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.” There is no better time than now to start focusing the gender equality conversation on innovation and technology. Advancements in technology happen exponentially and the impact on women will only continue to become more pronounced. Concerns have been raised regarding how artificial intelligence (AI) can perpetuate inequalities when the systems learn from historical data and pick up patterns. Positioning gender equality early as technological advancements happen could avert some biases in sectors such as healthcare and access to funding where data has previously been male-dominated. It will take deliberate effort on the part of developers and women’s involvement as active and equal participants to realize gender equality through innovation and technology.

Persistent Inequality

The quest for gender equality has come a long way and more remains to be done. Initiatives to grant women equality take time to be realized and history teaches this well. Though the 19th Amendment to the U.S. constitution, which made it illegal to deny the right to vote to any citizen based on their sex, was first introduced to Congress in 1878, it was certified 42 years later in 1920. It took another 45 years for Black women, Native American women, Asian American women and women from other ethnic and racial groups to vote after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), often described as an international bill of rights for women, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. The United States alongside Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau and Tonga are the seven countries yet to ratify CEDAW.

In many societies, women and girls are disadvantaged by discrimination rooted in sociocultural factors. For example, in low-income countries, women are likely to die from maternal complications. In 2020, the global maternal mortality rate was 430 per 100,000 live births. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 70 percent—about 202,000 maternal deaths—and Southern Asia accounted for about 16 percent i.e., 47,000. In the United States, Black women are more likely to die than any other race during pregnancy. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the maternal death rate for Black or African American women was 44.0 per 100,000 live births in 2019 and that increased to 68.9 in 2021. The White maternal mortality rates were 17.9 and 26.1 during the same time periods. It is also important to take note that the maternal mortality rate in the United States was higher compared to only 12 per 100,000 live births in other high-income countries. In addition to maternal health concerns, access to essential reproductive health services can be improved. While most countries around the world have an option for women to access family planning pills over the counter [without a prescription], in the United States, Canada and much of Europe, one needs a prescription. The cost of a family planning prescription and medicine in the United States can range from $0.00 when accessed through a Federally Qualified Health Center to over $150.00 at a private healthcare provider [after insurance]. 

Regarding economic wellbeing, women continue to lag. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research envisions that gender pay equity will not become a reality until 2059. The struggle continues and it is still time to advocate for women’s rights. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), on average, women globally are paid about 20 percent less than men. The pay gap can be explained in part by characteristics such as education, working time, occupational segregation, skills, experience and largely by discrimination based on one’s gender or sex and race. Sex and racial discrimination are more visible in the United States. A study by the GAO found that Latina women earned an estimated 58 cents, Black or African American women earned an estimated 63 cents and White women earned an estimated 79 cents for every dollar earned by White men. The pay gap also varies by education level. This 2021 pay gap data in the United States and globally makes Angela Y. Davis’s words accurate close to 40 years after they were echoed in the book Women, Culture and Politics (page 7, 1984):

‘‘We must begin to create a revolutionary multicultural women’s movement that seriously addresses the main issues affecting poor and working-class women… to tap the potential for such a movement, we must further develop those sectors of the movement that are addressing seriously issues affecting poor and working-class women such as jobs, pay equity, paid maternity leave, federally subsidized childcare…. Women of all racial and class backgrounds will greatly benefit from such an approach.’’

The call for continued action on women’s issues across different levels of society and around the world remains. Inequality affects all women regardless of their color, economic status and geographical location.

The Way Forward

To continue making gains towards equality, a lot needs to be done beyond organizing. Women need to be at the table of the power elite i.e., involvement in the decision-making process [refer to C. Wright Mills’s, The Power Elite, 1956, page 21]. The argument for the importance of women, and the value that they bring to society when they are at the decision-making table cannot be overemphasized. There is compelling evidence that shows that when more women sit at the decision-making tables, better decisions are made. Some of the decision outcomes present as: (i) companies making more profits, and (ii) peace lasting longer in the case of countries previously at war. The COVID-19 pandemic buttressed the argument for more women in decision-making. Studies suggest female political leaders coped with the pandemic differently, and often better than men by focusing on families, children and vulnerable groups with messages of compassion and social cohesion. This contrasted with men who used war analogies and fear-based tactics more often.

The question remains: should it take 132 years to attain gender equality when evidence shows that women are co-contributors to global development?


Author: Sombo Muzata is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at James Madison University. She obtained her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. Before graduate school, Sombo worked as country director in Zambia for the Swedish international nonprofit, Diakonia. She is a 2019 recipient of the Walter W. Mode Scholarship from ASPA and a 2022/2023 Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow. [email protected]; Twitter @SomboMuzata

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *