In the landscape of American politics, the pursuit of gender equality has been an ongoing struggle. While progress has undeniably been made, there remains a palpable undercurrent of prejudice about women in leadership roles.

By Ashish Tiwari

Despite the growing trend of women achieving higher positions in leadership across the globe, the USA still lags behind its counterparts. According to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the US ranks 75th out of 189 elected governments worldwide in terms of female representation.

To comprehend the prejudice against women in US politics, one must explore its historical roots. The nation’s early years reflected patriarchal structures, following societal norms. Women were denied the right to vote until the early 20th century, highlighting the deeply ingrained gender biases. Even after suffrage, women faced barriers in entering political spheres, as traditional gender roles perpetuated the notion that leadership was a predominantly male domain.

Cultural perceptions play a pivotal role in shaping attitudes toward women in leadership. In the 21st century, a surprising number of people in the US still believe that women are weaker and more emotional when it comes to leadership, making them less effective as leaders. The Presidential Election of 2016 is a clear example of how many Americans seem to be hesitant to elect women to top positions of power. Despite being an experienced and charismatic leader, Hillary Clinton was defeated by an egoistic and narcissistic leader, Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton got closer than any American woman to the nation’s top job, but her loss has thrown a spotlight back on the question: Why has the United States lagged behind so many countries around the world in choosing a female leader?

Research using two national surveys, however, found that sexist attitudes contributed, in part, to some voters’ decisions to vote for Trump instead of Clinton.

From her time as First Lady to her historic 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton faced scrutiny that transcended policy disagreements. The criticism often targeted her character, appearance, and perceived likability, showcasing a double standard that many female leaders confront. An environment was created where her qualifications were overshadowed by a narrative that often reduced her to a stereotype.

Aside from Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris has not been receiving as much attention as the president. Despite being the first woman, first Black person, and first Asian American as vice president, she has faced more negative criticism, including sexist and racist language.

Kamala was selected as the vice president as the first black Asian American woman to draw more attention from people during Joe Biden’s presidential campaigning. Her spotlight has been snatched after the election. It remains a fact that the No. 2 job in the White House is inherently a diminishing one.

Numerous successful women leaders around the world have made significant contributions to their respective fields. We have seen the prowess of female leadership during crises in New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark.

It has been observed that South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh are far ahead of the United States in terms of women’s leadership. These countries have made significant progress under the women’s leadership.

Research shows women are perceived to have done a better job than their male counterparts. They rated higher in competencies valued in a crisis, including taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, and displaying integrity.

Angela Merkel, the first woman chancellor of Germany, has become a role model for women around the world. During her 16 consecutive years in power, she increased Germany’s influence and image. She has been called as the ‘Europe’s crisis manager’. Her tenaciousness, maneuvering, leadership quality, and decision-making capabilities especially in the moment of crisis have put her into the position of not only the most successful leader of Germany but also a worthy bearer of the free world.

Jacinda Ardern became the Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017. Ardern gained global acclaim for her compassionate and effective leadership, especially during the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Her empathetic and inclusive approach, often described as “leadership with kindness,” resonated with the public.

The United States could benefit from observing and learning from other countries in terms of women’s leadership.

The 2024 US presidential elections are coming. Two female candidates have already announced their bid for this presidential election, one from the Democratic party and one from the Republican party. It’s time for the US to elect a female president and join the ranks of over half the countries in the world. Having women in the highest positions can bring in more diverse viewpoints and new policy priorities.

Ashish Tiwari, M.Sc in International Relations from the University of Mysore in India.