Suffrage centennial but wait for a female US President goes on

100 years of Women’s Equality Day in the United States

Society

August 26, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



The 19th amendment in the US Constitution was done to give voting rights to women

August 26, 2020 marks a century of voting rights for women in the United States. Yet, unlike many other developed or even developing countries, the US is yet to elect a woman as its President or even vice president. While the likelihood of getting a female vice president is still present in the form of democrat Kamala Harris, but the wait for the first-ever woman President of the world’s most ‘developed’ nation must go on at least for another four years.

After weeks of deliberations, Democrats’ presidential candidate and current front-runner for the November 3 election, Joe Biden chose California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate on August 11. With this Harris has become the first Black woman and an Indian-American to run on a major party’s presidential ticket. But more than anything else, Harris becomes a probable first female vice president for the US.

A woman has never served as President or vice president of the United States. The closest that the US ever came to electing a woman to the White House was in 2016 elections when Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton mounted a tough challenge and did get more votes than Trump in the total count but could not carry enough states with her due to key missteps in her campaign and a very dubious role played by the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding use of her personal email while serving as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

Besides Clinton, two women – Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008, were nominated as running mates on major party tickets, but their respective parties lost the general elections.

This August completes 100 years of the 19th Amendment in the Unites State Constitution. The amendment was done in order to give voting rights to women. The first celebration of Women’s Equality Day was held in 1971 as a means to commemorate the 1920 Constitutional ratification.

The chosen date also gives credit to the 1970 Women’s Strike for equality that encouraged women to take to the streets to shine a light on gender-based issues like the wage gap’s relation to maternity leave, or the lack of childcare options.

Women continue to encounter more negative perceptions from the public, the political elites and the media regarding their competence, compared to their male counterparts

Earlier this year, the 2020 Democratic nomination contest originally featured six women candidates, a record number. But the most prominent female candidates for the Democratic nomination – Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – had all dropped out by the first week of March and the focus of the Presidential race had narrowed once again to two White males, as has been the case for almost all through the history of the US.

The influential standing of the US on the world stage magnifies the absence of a woman president. However, it is not for the lack of qualified women. Record numbers of women currently serve in the White House and Senate. Currently, there are nine female governors in the US, matching previous highs in 2003 and 2007. These positions are usually important springboards to the presidential office.

However, as in most other countries in the world, women continue to encounter more negative perceptions from the public, the political elites and the mass media regarding their leadership capabilities and competence, compared to their male counterparts.

“Stereotypically masculine traits, such as the strength of leadership and quick decision-making are often prized over stereotypically feminine traits like deliberation and compromise,” says Farida Jalalzai, Professor and Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair of Political Science at Oklahoma State University.

“Women candidates are aware of this and often spend a significant amount of time implementing strategies to offset potential gender stereotypes. These include emphasising their strength and capacity to lead or images that balance masculine and feminine traits, in an effort to convince the public of their viability. Women are also less likely than men to run for office, due to perceptions of sexism, limited political recruitment and underestimation of their qualifications,” Jalalzai further adds.

That Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2016 confirms that a woman can wage a competitive presidential bid in the US. Political Science Quarterly, the journal of public and international affairs, in their study of the 2016 Presidential elections in the US, however, found that sexist attitudes contributed, in part, to some voters’ decisions to back Trump instead of Clinton.

World Economic Forum said that countries with women as heads of state or government have handled the pandemic in a much better manner than others run by males

“A woman will not be elected president of the US in 2020. But the presence and actions of female candidates have sparked critical conversations among the public, politicians and pundits about women’s political status. In my view, it is critical that public discourse about sexism does not lead to women opting out of future candidacies or further erode perceptions of women’s electability,” Jalalzai sums up.

Amid the dark clouds of the US suffering an unprecedented economic and healthcare crisis due to Covid19 pandemic, there is still a silver lining that the morning of November 3 might get the US a step closer to equal political leadership of women. The US voters may do well to remember that while Trump bungled handling of the pandemic in the worst possible manner, a country like New Zealand has emerged as a role model on handling the coronavirus pandemic with compassionate efficiency. Thanks to its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Indeed, the World Economic Forum recently said that countries with women as heads of state or government have handled the pandemic in a much better manner than others run by males. There could hardly be any other more convincing reason for the Americans to finally get their first Madame President.

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