Governance in Heels


Based on research by Katherine Phillips, Susan Perkins, and Nicholas Pearce

A mere 15 percent of parliamentary representatives around the world are women — a reflection that for all the benefits democracy may bestow upon nations, it has not yet fully delivered on social equity. There are hints of change: women in top national leadership positions — president or prime minister — have more than quadrupled between 1950 and 2004, from four to 18. Recently, women have been elected in every corner of the globe, including, Chile, Germany, Liberia, and South Korea.

Many of these leaders were elected amidst turbulent backdrops: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected as the president of Liberia in 2005, on the heels of its second civil war, for example, while in 2013 Park Geun-hye of South Korea ran on a platform that promoted peace-building with North Korea. Just last month, Catherine Samba-Panza was chosen to lead, on an interim basis, the Central African Republic, which is in the midst of a civil war.

Professor Katherine Phillips worked with Susan K. Perkins and Nicholas A. Pearce, both of Northwestern University, to look more closely at global trends in female leadership since 1950, including evidence that having a female rather than a male leader of ethnically diverse nations leads to different outcomes. “A nation’s leaders have a lot of power to shape policy, including policy that impacts economic growth,” Phillips says. “So we wanted to know: do women leaders have a different impact than their male counterparts? And are there some circumstances under which women might be more effective leaders than men?”

The focus on economic outcomes is important on its own, but also because social unrest often goes hand in hand with economic woes, and economists have shown that nations with higher ethnic fractionalization (EF) — a measure of the likelihood that a fellow citizen is from another ethnicity — experience more inequality and conflict. That makes the challenge of governing particularly complex since leaders must navigate and balance conflicts of interest between ethnic groups, including those groups that are not as well-represented in the government. And nations with a lot of ethnic diversity have historically experienced lower GDP growth: the impact of going from no diversity to full diversity is a loss of 2 percent GDP growth.

To learn the precise relationship between economic performance and national leaders, the researchers compared data for national leaders in 139 nations from 1950 to 2004 with annual Penn World Table GDP growth data. They included Gapminder measures that signal GDP health, including infrastructure investment, post-secondary schooling, and rule of law — how strong a nation’s most important institutions are.

Phillips and her co-researchers found that when troubled nations elect women to the key national leadership office their economies experience a significant rise in GDP compared with their male counterparts. (GDP was measured the year after election to ensure same-year GDP changes — which are more likely attributable to the policies of previous leaders — weren’t attributed to new leaders.) For the most ethnically diverse nations — those with high EF — having a woman in the top national leadership position was correlated with a 6.9 percent greater increase in GDP growth in comparison to nations with a male leader.

The female stereotype of motherly nurturing and compassion may not immediately elicit an image of masterful leadership. So why might people choose a woman to lead when a nation is facing enormous strife, and why do these leaders perform better under these trying conditions than their male counterparts? The team looked to other research to consider possible explanations, much of which tells a story of evolutionary psychology. Studies show women leaders tend to have a more participatory, democratic style than men; others have shown that when people perceive a threat and need to change their environment, they prefer female leaders, choosing men to lead during times of stability. In short, women may simply be seen as better at managing difficult situations that require more inclusionary or cooperative approaches.

Phillips and her co-researchers’ findings parallel those found in private sector where, mirroring their parliamentary colleagues around the world, women account for just about 15 percent of upper management in firms. There, too, the presence of women in the upper ranks is associated with better performance: firms with a greater percentage of women at the highest level of management are more innovative and more profitable. Taken together, these findings point to the need for policies that promote equity in leadership, and suggest such efforts could produce better economic outcomes while stimulating the inclusion of other under-represented groups. “Women are perceived to have qualities needed to improve the lot for everybody,” Phillips says. “And they deliver.”

By Shan-Jan Sarah Liu

In the global struggle to get more women into high political office, one of the more hopeful fronts is Asia. In 2018, Taiwan celebrated two years of its first female president, Tsai Ing-Wen, and its national legislature includes 43 women (38% of seats). Other Asian countries, such as South Korea and Thailand, have also had women heads of government. Some Asian parliaments have more women MPs than many of their Western counterparts.

These are major advances, but is Asia really making headway on gender equality? It is widely assumed that when women start to become political leaders, gender equality benefits, but my own research on the political representation and participation of women in Asia calls that assumption into question. To achieve real equality, Asian countries will need to do a lot more than just get more women representatives and leaders elected.

It is true that women’s political presence has serious implications. Female MPs are generally imagined to act in the interests of women at large, and they also signal to the public that they are as capable of leadership as men. Their example can motivate other women to actively engage in politics, too. In many parts of the world, female MPs are crucial role models for other women and girls, inspiring them to envision themselves as equal to men and by extension to enter political life.

But in much of Asia, these positive effects are hard to see.

In my research, I looked at 13 countries sampled by the Asian Barometer (a public opinion survey in East and Southeast Asia). They were Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. In these places, women’s legislative presence is not met with an increase in women’s political engagement; in fact, it seems to trigger a backlash.

In these countries, the rise of women politicians is actually discouraging women in general from engaging in politics. As the presence of women MPs increases, Asian women are less likely to discuss politics with family and friends, to turn out to vote, to campaign for candidates, or to protest. And even as women’s political representation increases, the gender gap in these various political activities persists.

Given the usual optimistic assumptions about the effect of having women enter politics, why should this be?

Setting examples

One explanation could be that when female politicians take the helm but gender equality does not improve, their presence may be seen as tokenistic.

In many of the Asian countries I have studied, the advancement of women in politics is strikingly disconnected from women’s economic and social lives more generally. Parts of Sub-Saharan Africa aside, East and Southeast Asia are marked by a greater discrepancy between women’s political rights and their social rights than any other part of the world. As long as this disparity persists, there is little reason for women to suddenly get inspired to engage in politics.

More than that, where women politicians decline to use their power to advocate for women’s rights, female voters will hardly be thrilled. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen, is known for a thin agenda when it comes to women’s issues, and her cabinet includes only four women – notably fewer than sat in previous male-led cabinets. Should she run for a second term in 2020, that record will not exactly inspire female voters.

And then there are the less edifying examples. In South Korea, former president Park Geun-hye ended up impeached and jailed for corruption. When other women campaign and are nominated for the presidency, or indeed other high offices, her bad example will loom large.

Clearly, having women in government is a good end in itself. But in an era when women’s political representation is on the rise, albeit slowly, it is crucial to ensure that gender equality in political institutions is not just a matter of numbers. The measure of its impact is not just the number of women occupying positions of power, but visible changes that benefit women outside political institutions.

As the clock ticks towards the 2020 US Election six women amongst others, have declared their candidacies for the Democratic nomination in 2020. It’s the most women who’ve ever run for a major-party nomination in history.

Until this cycle, there had been, at most, two women who had ever competed in a major party primary, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. Now, that number has already been far surpassed, as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar, along with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Oprah’s spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson, have all announced presidential runs.

Political science tells us that the surge of women this cycle is in large part due to the inroads Hillary Clinton made in 2016, along with the outrage women across the country have experienced since Donald Trump, an alleged sexual harasser, has taken office. The historic 2018 midterms, which saw the election of more than 100 women Congress members, also demonstrated that women could, overwhelmingly, win.

“Did Hillary inspire many women to run? Absolutely,” says political strategist Maria Cardona, though she adds that the visceral response to Trump’s presidency is likely an even more powerful motivating factor. “I think the anger and fear of what we’re becoming after Trump really lit a fire in women’s bellies.”

But there could be another explanation — one that many women running for office themselves have cited: If Donald Trump can be president, why can’t I run for office? Whether it’s a Clinton effect or a Trump effect is a matter of debate, but it has opened the floodgates for women, especially Democratic women, around the country.

What it takes to get women to run for office

A record number of women ran — and won — in the 2018 midterms, and the same dynamics that led to this boost could be contributing to the increase in women presidential candidates as well.

Clinton, the first woman to secure a major-party nomination for the presidency, carved out a path that other women could follow. Research has found that women in leadership positions can serve as key role models for younger women in their field, and help improve their performance. Additionally, one person’s efforts to break a barrier can make a position seem more accessible to others in the future.

“I think that Hillary did help, but also I think the victories in 2018 helped. It proved that women can mobilize women voters,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who runs Lake Research Partners.

Thus far, however, Democratic women candidates are still polling far behind other men expected in the field including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, though much of their leads could be driven by name recognition.

According to a Monday poll from Monmouth University, Biden is leading the Democratic field with 28 percent of voter support, and Sanders is coming in at 25 percent. Harris currently has 10 percent of voter support.

As much as Clinton can claim credit here, outrage directed at Trump has also been a major mobilization factor for women. Trump is unpopular with women — historically so. Sixty-five percent of women disapprove of his handling of the presidency, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, compared to 45 percent of men.

Trump also completely shifted the expectation on a candidate’s qualifications, Lake notes.

“Trump definitely mobilized women. Women used to ask, ‘Am I qualified enough?’ Donald Trump is such an unusual candidate and also, from a Democratic perspective, such a flawed candidate, it was liberating,” she says.

It’s also worth noting that women, historically, have been more likely to lean to the left than the right, with a higher proportion of women voting Democratic and running for political seats as Democrats. Fifty-six percent of women lean Democratic, compared to 44 percent of men, according to a Pew Research Center study.

The surge in Democratic women candidates can also be attributed, in part, to longtime investments the party has made in building a bench.

“The filling of the pipeline was a 35-year project or longer,” says Lake, who adds that Barbara Mikulski, one of the first women to join the Senate, used to joke that she was a 30-year overnight success. Emily’s List, one of the organizations that have led recruitment for women and training for women candidates, most recently heard from more than 42,000 women interested in running during the 2018 midterms.

As the New York Times’s Susan Chira noted in a story following the 2018 elections, the degree of funding Emily’s List has brought to the table for Democratic women far outpaces that of some of its Republican counterparts — a dynamic that illustrates just how much Democrats have committed to this effort compared to the GOP:

Emily’s List, which endorses and finances Democratic women who support abortion rights, said it raised $110 million this election cycle and has raised more than $600 million since it was founded in 1985. Value in Electing Women, one of the analogues for Republican women, has raised $4.5 million since it was founded in 1997, according to its website.

More women running is normalizing the presence of female presidential candidates

There are many positive effects of more women running for the presidential nomination, including the fact that gender is no longer solely being used as the differentiating factor among candidates.

“I think that any time we have more women running, and greater diversity among those women, it just challenges those monolithic conceptions of what it means to be a woman candidate,” Kelly Dittmar, an assistant political science professor and CAWP scholar, told CBS News.

Unlike 2016, when Clinton was notably the only woman in the race, this cycle’s Democratic primary and the diverse slate of women candidates competing in it makes it much tougher for voters to simply say they can’t find a woman whose policies appeal to them.

The women candidates this cycle also span the Democratic ideological spectrum, so there are fewer generalizations that can be made about their policy positions and strategies. Warren specializes in regulation of the financial sector, and Harris brings an expansive background as a California prosecutor, for example.

“In order to distinguish between them, voters would have to evaluate them on their policies beyond their gender,” says Mirya Holman, a political science professor at Tulane who studies the intersection of gender and elections.

All these female candidates could normalize even more women running in the future.

Source: Vox

In this moment, millions of lives are threatened by poverty, food insecurity, and climate change, sounding an urgent call to action to global leaders. But this year has the potential to be a turning point, as more than 150 world leaders are gathered at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Summit agenda will serve as a plan of action by the international community and by national governments to improve human lives and promote well-being for all over the next 15 years.

Each of the 17 SDGs focuses on a different aspect of development, including goals to address eliminating poverty, promoting good health, ensuring peace and justice, guaranteeing the access to clean water, and more. While the goals touch these specific areas, their success is contingent on a comprehensive integration reflecting the way they are experienced in an individual’s life.

Women, especially those who live in the developing world, are disproportionately affected by development challenges. For example, climate change has serious ramifications for agriculture, and women farmers currently account for 45 to 80 percent of all food production in developing countries. In the developing world, about 60 percent of the women’s labor force is engaged in agricultural work. This proportion can be up to 90 percent in African countries. In the context of climate change, traditional food sources become scarce and unpredictable, meaning women, and the households that depend on them, must cope with a lack of both food and income.

As leaders around the globe set the path to transform our world through sustainable development, they must not miss the opportunity to put women at the center of their efforts. One major aspect of that is to include women in political participation.

There are already a number of internationally agreed norms and standards that reinforce the need for women’s leadership and political participation, such as the 1990 Beijing Platform for Action, the 2003 and 2011 UN General Assembly resolutions on women’s political participation,  and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

These norms and standards stress the critical importance of women’s political participation in all contexts, and call on UN Member States to take actions that promote women’s participation in governance and remove barriers that marginalize women. However, according to UN Women, as of this year, only 11 women have served as head of state, only 22 percent of all national parliamentarians are female, and there are still 37 countries in which women account for less than 10 percent of parliamentarians.

The need to increase the participation of women in governance remains a priority. This is evident in the Sustainable Development Goals, in which goal 5.5 is to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.”

Not only is this a goal in and of itself, but also women’s participation in governance is central to achieving other global development priorities. For example, Sustainable Development Goal 6 is to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” Research on local councils in India showed that in areas with female-led councils, there were 62 percent more drinking water projects than in those with male-led councils. This causal relationship is likely due to the fact that around the world, women are more likely than men to be responsible for tasks such as providing water for the family, and using the water to cook and clean and for agricultural work. Women therefore often have the greatest understanding of the deficiencies that exist, and can offer essential knowledge of how to advance their own rights by driving progress in development.

As the programs, policies, and funding take shape to achieve the momentous Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical for global leaders to encourage women’s participation in governance, amend policies that discriminate against women’s participation, and involve women’s groups in policymaking. Sustainable development will be reached if women are included as full partners in the effort.


In November 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formed the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history. In announcing his cabinet, he ensured that half of his closest advisers (15 out of a total of 30) were women. Canada’s gender-equal cabinet vaulted the country from 20th to fifth place in the world in terms of percentage of women in ministerial positions.

When reporters asked Trudeau about why gender parity was important to him, he retorted: “Because it’s 2015.” His simple yet momentous response resonated with those committed to equity, diversity and inclusion.

As public health researchers, this got us thinking — if increasing the number of women in positions of power promotes gender equity, could it also promote population health and well-being?

Our findings, published recently in the journal SSM – Population Health, support the argument that yes, women in government do in fact advance population health.

More Women in Power, Fewer Deaths

We first dug into the research literature to see how male and female politicians might differ from each other. Compared to their male counterparts, female politicians are more likely to hold left-wing attitudes (with regard to issues such as civil rights, social equality and egalitarianism) and substantively advance women’s rights in areas such as pay equity, violence against women, health care and family policy.

Also, research has shown that women in government tend to work in more collaborative and bipartisan ways and employ a more democratic leadership style compared to men’s more autocratic style. Women are also more effective at building coalitions and reaching consensus.

Next, we examined whether there’s a historical association between women in government and population health among Canada’s 10 provinces. Between 1976 and 2009, the percentage of women in provincial government increased six-fold from 4.2 per cent to 25.9 per cent, while mortality from all causes declined by 37.5 per cent (from 8.85 to 5.53 deaths per 1000 people).

Using data from provincial election offices and Statistics Canada, we found that as the average percentage of women in government has historically risen, total mortality rates have declined.

Women Spend More on Health and Education

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses Parliament in Wellington, N.Z., in May 2018 while pregnant with her first child. Many hope the 37-year-old will become a role model for combining motherhood with political leadership. (AP Photo/Nick Perry, File)

This link does not of course mean that the increase of women in government has directly caused the decline in mortality.

To assess this, we regressed mortality rates on women in government while controlling for several potential confounders. Our findings support the hypothesis that women in government do in fact advance population health.

Interestingly, women in government in Canada have had a bigger effect on male mortality rates than on female rates (1.00 vs 0.44 deaths per 1,000 people).

We also found a pathway that connects women in government, population health and the potential role of partisan politics. In an earlier study, we found that four types of provincial government spending are predictive of lower mortality rates: medical care, preventive care, other social services and post-secondary education.

When we tested government spending as a mediating factor, we found that women in government in Canada have reduced mortality rates by triggering these specific types of health-promoting expenditures.

Women work in more collaborative ways

Image source: AP Photo/Emmanuel Dunand, Pool Photo via AP

We also found that there was no relationship between the political leanings of women in government — whether they belonged to left-wing, centrist or right-wing parties — and mortality rates.

Ideological differences among social democratic (e.g., NDP), centrist (e.g., Liberal), and fiscal conservative (e.g., Conservative) political parties seem to be less important to mortality rates than increasing the actual number of women elected to government. This finding supports the idea that women in government tend to work in more collaborative and bipartisan ways than their male counterparts.

It’s now 2019 and leading public health scholars still tend to downplay the potential effects of political determinants such as gender politics on population health. Instead, they opt to focus almost exclusively on individual and social determinants of health.

We believe gender politics matters in public health because it helps to determine “who gets what, when and how.” We believe that electing more women in government not only promotes gender equality and strengthens democratic institutions but also makes real and substantive contributions to government spending and population health. Given that women in government can bring about desirable changes in population health, let’s figure out how we can genuinely level the political playing field for women.



In a more than half-hour address to the Human Rights Council, Michelle Bachelet highlighted concerns around the world, while also welcoming several firsts, such as the record number of women now serving in the United States Congress, where they make up nearly a quarter of the representation.

The new wave of women representatives taking up their seats in January indicated several “important steps for diversity,” she said. “They included the first Muslim American Congresswoman, the first Native American Congresswoman, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. I hail all powerful women around the world and the model they present to the next generation.”

UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Moving on to the wider state of social justice around the world, the rights chief said that overcoming “gross inequalities” was key to achieving the 2030 Agenda, referring to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which Member States signed up to in 2015.

Hailing reforms in Ethiopia – where gender parity has been achieved in government; and Tunisia – where a woman was elected Mayor of the capital Tunis last year, the High Commissioner nonetheless warned that women human rights defenders globally faced a rising number of attacks. These include “physical and sexual violence, public shaming – including on the internet – and attacks on their families and children”, she said.

‘Precarious’ migration proves development gains aren’t universal

Turning to the issue of “involuntary and precarious” migration that affected young people in particular, Ms. Bachelet explained that it too was driven by inequality in the form of poverty, discrimination, oppression, violence, poor governance, climate change – and violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

“The continuing movement of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the United States is a result of failure to ensure that development reaches everyone, with persistent violations of rights leading to profound inequalities,” she said.

The High Commissioner also welcomed efforts in Mexico to move from detaining and deporting migrants to a new rights-based approach that focused on “opportunities for regularization and alternatives to detention”.

‘Thousands’ more migrant children separated from families in US

Staying with US-bound migration, Ms. Bachelet cautioned against new restrictions that simply “push migrants back across the border”, while also expressing concern that “thousands more migrant children have been separated from their families than had been previously reported”.

In Europe, the issue of migration was no less dramatic, Ms. Bachelet explained, before welcoming efforts by Germany, Finland, Portugal and Spain to help those fleeing war and persecution.

Continuing reports of migrants leaving the North African coast on unsuitable vessels – and regularly drowning in the Mediterranean Sea – were evidence of the need to extend the scope of regular migration channels, as the European Union had indicated, the High Commissioner said.

“Another 226 deaths were recorded in the first two months of this year,” she said. “With several NGO vessels forced to suspend operations by measures that essentially criminalize solidarity, the ancient responsibility of rescue at sea is increasingly falling on merchant vessels – which are often ill-suited to such a task.”

Philippines war on drugs ‘no model’ for other States

Turning to the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on narcotics, Ms. Bachelet insisted that State policy “should not be more of a threat to their lives than the drugs they are abusing”.

Up to 27,000 people may have been killed in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs since mid-2016, the High Commissioner said. Despite “serious allegations of extra-judicial killings, only one case – the widely reported killing of a teenage boy – has been subject to investigation and prosecution,” she added.

The country’s drug policies were not a model for any country, the High Commissioner maintained, before adding that she was also extremely concerned that Philippino lawmakers were considering “measures to reintroduce the death penalty for drug related crimes and reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 – or even nine-years old.”

Saudi Arabian female activists ‘must be freed’

In a speech covering more than 30 countries, the High Commissioner also appealed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to set free “several” female activists allegedly subject to ill-treatment or torture in jail. “The persecution of peaceful activists would clearly contradict the spirit of the country’s proclaimed new reforms,” she said. “So, we urge that these women be released.”

Yemen conflict will ‘scar’ generations to come

On the huge scale of suffering in Yemen, where fighting between forces loyal to the Government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Houthi militia has claimed thousands of lives since 2015, Ms. Bachelet said that it would “scar the country’s future for generations”.

The conflict has not killed and injured thousands of civilians, bringing famine, “debilitating” airstrikes, shelling, landmines and acute malnutrition – especially for children.

Syrians fleeing ISIL must be given assistance

On Syria, the High Commissioner called on all warring parties to provide information about all those who have gone missing during the conflict, which began in 2011.

“I remain particularly concerned about the rising toll of civilian deaths in Idlib Governorate,” Ms. Bachelet said. “All parties must ensure that the thousands of civilians fleeing formerly ISIL-held territory receive adequate protection and assistance. And I join the Special Envoy’s call for a comprehensive political solution.”

Returning to the need to tackle “gross inequalities”, the High Commissioner insisted that it was possible for all countries – “not always the richest, in income or resources” – to adopt principled and more effective policies, grounded in the full range of human rights.

“By taking steps to advance civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights as mutually reinforcing, they can count on building a strong basis for sustainable development and social harmony,” she said.

Source: UN News

Women spend 90 percent of their income on their families, economy and education, hence the increase in the number of women entrepreneurs contributing to the social development of the country, according to Turkey’s Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan.

“We need to produce more technology and innovative projects,” Pekcan said on March 9 at an event in the southern province of Antalya.

“We have young women working as engineers, software designers, and graphic designers. We need to direct them, use our resources correctly. We need more female entrepreneurs both for Turkey and to give the women their desired place in society.”

The minister pointed out that female entrepreneurship in Turkey has increased to 34 percent from 23 percent over the last 10 years.

“Indeed, the momentum has been growing rapidly in the last 10 years, but still the OECD average is 51.3 percent. It’s far behind,” said Pekcan.

“I see this as a chance to say that we have a potential of 15-20 percent. Men’s participation in business life is 72 percent. However, there are 130,000 women entrepreneurs and around 820,000 women who have their own businesses. We have 953,000 women managers. In companies where women work in decision-making positions, companies have higher profitability and efficiency. When you look at the rich north European countries, you see that women’s participation in business life reaches 60 and 70 percent. In other words, as the number of women in business life increases, the rate of national income increases in direct proportion.”

Women and young entrepreneurs will be informed on exports incentives, she added.

“We will inform women and young entrepreneurs about how they can benefit from export support. We will try to direct them to the sectors where our women will be successful,” the minister said.

Pekcan said her ministry is open to any kind of demand and suggestions from women, adding: “In addition, in cooperation with women’s NGOs, we have initiated a project to open up to the international market and compete in the market. In this direction, we are ready to provide all kinds of support as our ministry. We will provide export financing support to our companies, which are 51 percent owned by women. For this project, Turk Eximbank has already allocated $200 million dollars and 100 million Turkish Liras. We’re ready, are you?”

Source: Hurriyet Daily news