U.S. presidential campaign in the Humanosphere #4: On the brink of a female president, finally

(Photo Credit: Hillary Clinton/Facebook)

This is the fourth story in a running series of dispatches providing analysis on issues that come up in the U.S. presidential primaries and election that are relevant to the Humanosphere. Global poverty and inequality will get scant attention from the campaigns, but issues raised and ideas tabled during the process will have an impact on the world’s poorest people.

The Associated Press was the first to break a historic story this week. Hillary Clinton had enough delegates to defeat Bernie Sanders, making her the first-ever woman nominated by one of the leading political parties to run for the president of the United States. It was a moment celebrated across the country as a landmark achievement. There may finally be a woman leading the White House.

“Tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible,” said Clinton in a speech after clinching the nomination. “So yes, yes, there are still ceilings to break – for women and men, for all of us. But don’t let anyone tell you that great things can’t happen in America. Barriers can come down. Justice and equality can win.”

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And with that the race for the next president is on.

While it is a big deal here in the U.S., dozens of countries around the world are asking, “What took you so long?” There are currently 13 women who are either elected or appointed heads of state globally. If Clinton manages to beat Donald Trump, the U.S. will join more than 60 countries that have had women leaders.

FT_15.07.24_womenLeadersMapSirimavo Bandaranaike made the first major breakthrough when her party won the Sri Lankan elections in 1960 and she became the country’s first prime minister. It took another six years before India’s Indira Gandhi was elected as prime minister. Her time in power until her assassination in 1984 makes India one of only a few countries to have a female head of state for more than 15 years.

For the time being, the U.S. sits alongside the majority of the world. Female leaders are still a relatively rare occurrence given that there are more women than men in the world. Some 79 out of 142 countries included in the World Economic Forum‘s 2014 gender gap report have never had a female leader. It places the U.S. in the company of a variety of countries including Mexico, Russia and Kenya.

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With the Congress only 19.7 percent women, the U.S. is ranked 97th in the world for female representation. Some countries have gone as far as instituting quotas to ensure that women have a minimum number of seats in legislative bodies, helping close the gender gap. Data show that American women are less likely to be recruited to run for office and are more likely to not consider themselves qualified for office than men. It is not traditional gender roles or other outdated excuses that get in the way, it is society.

Clinton winning the Democratic nomination is a historic moment in the U.S. Winning the election would be an important step in helping the country catch up with wealthy and poor countries that already have elected female leaders.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.