IS 1992 going to be the year in which women candidates in the
United States make dramatic advances in their long quest for
greater political power? A strange constellation of events has
generated more interest for women candidates seeking national
office, with some pundits predicting a "landslide" for women on
The key primary victories by women in Illinois, Pennsylvania,
and California, the independent challenge offered by billionaire
Ross Perot, the symbolism of male dominance over women during the
Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, and the absence of cold-war
security issues seem to have opened the door for more women to gain
power in the political system.
In a recent study of power in the US, Thomas Dye found that
women comprised less than 5 percent of those who run America. At
present, only two of 100 US senators are women, and 27 women serve
in the 435-member House of Representatives.
Yet women have made some headway in the past decade. In 1981,
President Reagan appointed the first woman to serve on the Supreme
Court - Sandra Day O'Connor - and in 1984, the Democratic Party
chose the first woman - Geraldine Ferraro - to run on a national
ticket. There is growing pressure on Gov. Bill Clinton and Mr.
Perot to choose a woman as a running mate.
In contrast to the political power of women in northern European
countries, however, American women have had a difficult time
reaching anything like parity with men when it comes to running the
Three Scandinavian countries - Sweden, Norway, and Denmark - all
have legislatures that are more than one-third female. Norway has a
woman prime minister with almost 50 percent of her Cabinet made up
of women. Women make up 31 percent of Denmark's parliament and 25
percent of Holland's. Although both Britain and France have had
female executives (Margaret Thatcher and Edith Cresson) recently,
women account for less than 7 percent of Britain's House of Commons
or the France's National Assembly.
What is the reason for women being so successful in gaining
political power in some political systems and not in others?
The single most important element for women to gain entry into
national politics is proportional representation (and quotas)
instead of the single-member legislative districts so common in
Britain and the US. In the American electoral system, the
congressional candidate with the most votes (an absolute majority
is not required) is declared the winner and represents the whole
An electoral system based on proportional representation
traditionally allots seats in parliament according to the
proportion of votes received. …