Last month, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright hosted a party for foreign ministers with only one requirement — they must be women.
At the party of eight women, with two women unable to attend, the foreign ministers discussed the political progress of women. Worldwide, there are only four female heads of government, 10 U.N. ambassadors and 17 speakers of parliament. The number of women in parliament has declined from a high of 15% in 1988 to less than 12% today. This is an unexpected result of more countries turning from socialism and communism to democracy. As socialist ideals of gender equality and women’s social programs have been erased in many countries, women have found it difficult to get the funding necessary to run for government office, and “traditional patriarchal systems resurfaced,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The biggest setbacks for women have been in Eastern Europe and former Soviet states, where women’s representation has declined from highs of 25-35% to about 5%.
Some areas are improving, however. When India ruled in 1993 that at least one-third of all local council seats must go to women, over a million rural women entered government offices in the first election. Six other countries have instituted gender quotas, and dozens of political parties worldwide now require that 50% of their candidates be women.
The U.S. is ranked 39th out of 173 countries with national legislatures in terms of women’s political representation. Only nine senators are women, and 11.7% of House seats are made up of women. Women make up only 21.5% of state legislatures and only three governors are women.