Falling behind

Saturday, 8 November 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

RECENT elections in the US has resulted in the count of women in Congress increasing to more than 100 for the first time, between both the House and the Senate. Despite female representation in US politics still remaining well below population ratios, it is nonetheless significantly better than Sri Lanka where female political representation at Parliament and Cabinet level remains negligible even though 52% of the population are women. Meanwhile, the number of women in the US House of Representatives now stands at 81, according to numbers tallied by the Centre for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, which tracks the number of women in elected office. And yet, despite this milestone, the presence of women in Congress still doesn’t appear poised to grow by more than a trickle. Before the election, women held 99 seats in Congress. The post-election total stands at 101, and could at most reach 106. The number of new women elected, versus incumbents, is also a figure that sheds light on the rate of growth. And this year won’t set any records. The high water mark was 1992, when 24 new women were elected. In 2012, there were 19; and in 2010, there were 13. The 2014 count currently stands at 11 new women, though it could reach 13 depending on two races that are too close to call, reported the Washington Post. Despite this year’s modest growth in the number of women elected, the 2014 midterms did produce some notable firsts for women. Iowa’s Ernst can claim two of them: Not only will she be the first woman the state of Iowa has elected to either the House or the Senate, she will also be the Senate’s first female combat veteran. Mia Love, meanwhile, became the first African American Republican woman elected to Congress. Previously the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Love won the state’s fourth district. And Elise Stefanik, a Republican who picked up an open seat in New York, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, at just 30 years old. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka last month was ranked 79th out of 142 countries in gender equality, dropping significantly from the 59th position in 2013. Since 2006, when the Global Gender Gap Report was published, the island has slid from the overall 13th rank on reducing economic participation and political representation. Sri Lanka has been seeing mixed results, with key economic indicators still failing to impress. For example, the female adult employment rate at 6.2% is almost three times higher than its male counterpart of 2.8%, only 31% of women are employed in non-agricultural sectors and fewer women have bank accounts. Even in the private sector, only 9% of local firms have women as top managers and only 26% have female participation in ownership. The ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadership was also seen as moderately positive. Sri Lanka’s best score was seen in health and survival, showing policies have failed to push progress fast enough in other key areas such as political representation and involvement at policymaking levels. With little political interest in changing the status quo and opening the gates for women politicians, the country that produced the world’s first female prime minister is now falling further and further behind.