It’s 2017 and Women Still Need a Seat at the Table

Written by Saira Bhatti

I can’t help but wonder why we’ve now had 45 presidents to lead our democracy, yet have failed one feat: electing a female president. I scream internally every time I think about this. We pride ourselves on being leaders of the “Free World,” while many lesser developed and free nations such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Pakistan and Bangladesh currently have or had female heads of state. It’s 2017, but somehow we missed the mark. However, it’s not just the presidency that has been elusive to women, but representation in Congress as well. So what gives?

We’ve had plenty of moments of positivity throughout the history of women in American politics, but we’re still WAY behind many other countries in terms of political representation. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of Sept. 1, the United States ranks at 101, just slightly behind countries like Pakistan, Lithuania, El Salvador and Saudi Arabia (yes, the same Saudi Arabia that just legally allowed women to drive).

Why does having women in the government matter at all? Because, if we are lucky enough to be regarded as equals. we sadly still live in a culture trying to equate men and women without respecting our differences. When these differences their regular impact on people’s lives are mentioned (i.e., biological things like periods, childbirth and pregnancy), they are looked down upon as weaknesses. Women are framed to be more emotional and therefore unfit for office. This is the result of men having run practically everything in our country and the lack of understanding of these differences.

It’s not just the presidency that has been elusive to women, but representation in Congress as well. So what gives?

So while we are equal, we are also different. And these differences are tainted with chauvinistic perceptions that prevent us from fairly addressing things like the gender wage gap, sexual assaults on and outside college campuses, domestic violence against women or the ability access a safe abortion or family planning resources.

It’s 2017 and America is still seriously sexist. If we had a female president and more women as local, state and congressional legislators, we probably wouldn’t have had a global gag order preventing the U.S. from providing aid to women and girls from all over the world with access to family planning resources. Perhaps Illinois Republican Representative John Shimkus wouldn’t have the audacity to ask why men should pay for insurance plans that include prenatal care if men don’t give birth.

And don’t get me started on this infamous photo of the House Freedom Caucus discussing women’s healthcare – with not one woman in sight. One of the major points of the legislation was to remove maternity care as a requirement in insurance plans. Just this past month, the Trump administration rolled back an Obamacare mandate requiring employers to offer birth control, despite the fact that 55 million American women benefitted from getting affordable birth control as a result.

Female representation is crucial to having our issues addressed because, let’s face it, they’re either being taken with a grain of salt or swept under the rug. According to Michele Swers, a political scientist from Georgetown University, female lawmakers were more likely to sponsor or co-sponsor bills relating to women’s health than male lawmakers. Some men have yet to realize that they will never experience many of the things on which they are debating and legislating, and that you can’t make fair and well thought-out decisions on behalf of women if they’re not even at the table of discussion.

The fight for representation has been a long one and we have a long way to go as a society.

I hope we see the day when a woman is elected head of state. I hope it is soon. I hope we see the day when women are respected as equals in society while having their specific needs in their careers, health and roles as mothers acknowledged and catered to. I hope we see the day when these differences are not deemed as weaknesses but accepted and respected. Where women’s rights aren’t just celebrated for a month but are a constant priority all year long. For once, maybe the issues that afflict us will be understood and not swept under the rug as us whining.