¨The religious heterosexual male majority has homogeneously denied women´s inclusion¨
For high income nations there is a correlation between the percentage of women in parliament (congress) and the standard of living in a society. According to the World Bank, a high income nation can be described as a country whose working citizens earn above $12,746 per capita (2013). Countries with high incomes have intricate and diverse economies that allocate taxes in order to provide services for the population that support it. The doctrine of ¨No Taxation Without Representation¨ was part of the English-speaking world´s Enlightenment period, but it still rings true today in that women, who represent 50% or more of the human population, are not properly represented in various governments worldwide.
¨Rich¨ countries are able to provide more social services from taxes than ¨poor¨ countries. High income nations have a focus on the family, health, education, equality, and security; while acts of aggression like war, the death penalty, and lengthy incarceration are not priority. In all these cases, the United States and Japan seems to be the outliers, but in two distinct ways.
Data provided for this opinion and social commentary come from a website that monitors women in government. Because of failure of transparency and disclosure of information, commentaries are made based only on the number of women in the lower house of parliament. For Americans, the graph represents the percentage of women in the House of Representatives, not the Senate.
Not included on this graph is the country of Rwanda, whose parliament is composed of 63.8% women. It is currently the only country in the world where women form the majority of the lower or single house. Rwanda, although it had a devastating civil war and genocide in the 1990s is beginning to recuperate and reconcile with those who had committed atrocities. Now it is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.
Andorra, a principality located between Spain and France, has a General Council that is 50% women. The country has the third highest life expectancy in the world at 82 years. Andorra, like many European nations, enjoy a free healthcare system and free higher education.
Nordic countries like Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark have a range between 39% – 45% women in their lower houses of parliament. These countries are known for their high standards of living, low crime, human rights, and gender equality. Free education and healthcare are values that have become a thing of culture, not politics.
The Romance-speaking countries like Spain, France, Italy and Portugal vary with respect to women and their representation in government. Spain has the highest number of women in their lower house (Congress of Deputies) at 39.7%; France has the lowest at 26.2%. These countries are still bastions for Catholicism, whose doctrines are opposed to women´s reproductive rights like abortion, birth control instruments like the IUD, and contraception medication, yet politics and religion do not get in the way of women´s health.
All four of these countries also have a higher life expectancy than the United States maybe because their healthcare system is subsidized by the everyone, including the government, much like the Nordic countries, to ensure that a larger portion of the population have free and easy access to a doctor. There is recognition among political leaders and citizens in these countries that contraception medication is not only for preventing pregnancy, but for preventative health against tumors, to regulate hormones, and some types of cancers. The Spanish government, currently ruled by the conservative People´s Party, decided to restrict women´s access to abortion and birth control. No one is really sure how the law works, or when it goes into effect, but it is understood that state-run hospitals (under social security) no longer provide abortions, it must be provided by a privately-run hospital with private healthcare*.
Anglophone countries like New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and Canada also have free healthcare and free higher education. They also have higher life expectancies than the United States as well. Generally, Western Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have higher life expectancies based on their social systems that have more women in government. These high income nations can afford to balance their mixed economies in order to provide for a well-educated public where political debate on whether or not citizens should be offered free health services is a ¨no brainer.¨
¨On a substantive level, studies systematically show that female politicians are more likely to concentrate on issues that matter more to women such as daycare, gender equality, reproductive rights, flex time, elderly care, children’s welfare.1 It seems pretty intuitive that there are some issues that are more important to women and affect them more. It also seems like common sense that women would be more likely to focus on these issues than men.¨ Christine Cheng
Maternity leave, which also includes paternity leave in progressive countries, is another concept foreign to the general American citizen. Although Americans would claim that they live in the richest and best country in the world, it provides about as much subsidized, ¨free¨ healthcare and maternity leave as the Democratic Republic of the Congo – zero.
The United States government does not have provisions for maternity leave. After giving birth, you basically have to get back to work in 3 days or quit your job.
The United States has a lot in common with countries that have poor records in human rights or countries that have very restrictive women´s reproductive rights. At 27.7% and 25.3%, Afghanistan and Iraq both currently have more women in their lower house than the United States. Only 18.2% of the House of Representatives is represented by women in the United States. Saudi Arabia has 19.9% in their lower house and women aren´t even allowed to drive! Qatar, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East currently has 0.0% women in their government. Apparently, they currently have no restrictions on women running for positions in an Advisory Council. Qatar is technically the richest country in the world per capita, and like Saudi Arabia, is ruled by a family monarchy.
Ireland, although lauded for its high standard of living and general health of the public, has maintained a strict anti-abortion policy. There was a fire storm in Ireland in 2012 when a woman of Indian heritage, who had severe pain and was miscarrying, was repeatedly denied an abortion. She was denied because ¨Ireland is a Catholic country and the fetus still had a heartbeat.¨ She eventually died of sepsis (septicemia). Another case involves a woman in Ireland – apparently suicidal – who was also repeatedly denied an abortion. They ¨legally¨forced her to submit to a C-section at only 25 weeks of pregnancy after her attempts at a hunger strike.
The lower house in Ireland is composed of only 15.7% women. This could be a direct correlation of how women´s health is buried beneath the apparent Catholic theocracy in Ireland.
India, the world´s largest democracy has a huge problem with women´s rights, rape, sexual assault and other indigenous beliefs that force underage women into marriages with significantly older men. In a country with more than 1 billion people, women are only 11% of the lower and upper house of parliament. The lack of representation in India has serious consequences in that male sex offenders are often not punished for violating women. In the heart of Africa, there is the problem of female genital mutilation, which is performed in countries, where women represent less than 11% of the parliament (Kenya, Nigeria, Cote d´Ivoire, Mali, Sudan, Congo etc). They are forced against their will to submit to a barbaric practice for the benefit of men who want women to remain virgins.
The main outlier in this correlation between standard of living and women in parliament is Japan, where women represent only 8.1% of their 480 seats of the house. Japan, which has one of the lowest birthrates in the world and second highest life expectancy, is struggling with internal issues that would need to be further studied by sociologist and anthropologists specializing in Japan. Recent sexist comments by Japanese parliament members like ¨ Breed, don´t lead¨ have cause a wave of protests. Low birth rates were attributed to both men and women: women, who under threat of losing their jobs after taking maternity leave, prefer to keep working in order to maintain their careers; and men, who have similar goals, have replaced physical contact with ¨digital contact.¨
In Iran, the Ayatollah called for a ¨population boost¨ effectively banning ¨permanent¨ birth control for men and women in various forms. Doctors can be imprisoned for performing vasectomies, abortions or other operations like installing an IUD. This is an example of a theocratic government controlling reproductive rights for men and women in a country where their lower house in parliament is only 3% women. Controlling the population by prohibiting birth control can be seen as an act of aggression in that more soldiers are wanted for an anticipated war.
The United States still hovers around 20% women in the House of Representatives and 20% in the Senate. In 2016, American citizens might have the opportunity to elect the first female U.S. president. Hillary Clinton is closer than any other women in history due to her popularity among Americans of all walks of life. But electing just the first female president is not enough to close the gender gap in congress. Hopefully in the midterm elections there will be a cultural shift to honor the demands of the nation´s women and promote the diversity that makes the United States unique. LBGT peoples and minorities should also be represented in all facets of life and protected by the law (the religious heterosexual male majority has homogeneously denied their inclusion). Americans have to decide whether civil rights for all people will be distributed by force or by principle. As Abraham Lincoln famously said:
¨A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.¨
By: Opton A. Martin