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III. Participation of women in political and public life, in economic and social life and access to health

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III. Participation of women in political and public life, in economic and social life and access to health

A. Participation in political life

40. Despite the current administration’s commitment to advancing women’s rights, it is far from achieving adequate representation for women in political life and, indeed, only 4 out of 15 members of cabinet are women.

41. Women hold 19.4% of seats in the House of Representatives and 20% at the Senate. Between 2004 and 2015, the number of women in the Senate increased from 14 to 20, and the number of women in the House of Representatives grew from 60 to 84. This represents the highest level of legislative representation ever achieved by women in the United States. However, it still places the country at only 95 in global ranking29. Women of colour make up 7,4% (32 of 435 representatives) of the House of Representatives. There is only one woman of colour30 serving in the Senate, but not a single African American woman for instance.

42. Only six states have female Governors: New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. The share of state senate seats held by women is largest in Arizona (43, 3%) and smallest in South Carolina (2, 2%). The share of seats in the state house or assembly held by women is largest in Colorado (46, 2 %) and smallest in Oklahoma (12, 9%)31.

43. According to several interlocutors met during the Working Group’s visit, the low level of representation for women in elected political posts is partly due to the greater difficulties women face in fundraising for campaigns. The financing of political campaigns has increasingly been playing a major role in the last decades and has drastically altered the landscape for elections and political participation. The experts observed that women’s difficulty in fundraising is considered to result from complex causes. In particular, it is a result of exclusion from the predominantly male political networks that promote funding. Interlocutors also attribute women’s low rate of election to negative stereotypes and biased presentation of women in the media, which adversely affect both women’s fundraising ability and their political candidacy. The experts consider the objective difficulties women face in raising campaign funding as a serious limitation on women’s opportunities for political representation and are deeply concerned that the removal of limits on campaign funding by the Supreme Court in 2014 threatens to exacerbate this situation.

44. In this regard, the Working Group welcomes the initiatives undertaken by some states and cities which have started to use programs for public financing of campaigns. One method, which its supporters call “Clean Money, Clean Elections”, gives each candidate who chooses to participate a fixed amount of money. Some interlocutors have pointed out that, in order to effectively give women an equal chance, competing private funding would have to be restricted. The Working Group encourages the efforts deployed by some voluntary organisations, such as Emily’s List, which promote women candidates. The Working Group recalls that, in accordance with international human rights law requirements, temporary special measures have been adopted in many democratic countries to ensure more adequate representation of women in politics.

45. Furthermore, while women currently vote in higher percentages than men32, it is essential to ensure women’s continued access to the voting booth. Today, a patchwork of state laws is making it more and more difficult to exercise the right to vote. For instance, officials from Ohio to Texas and North Carolina have manipulated rules to keep part of the population out of the voting booth. The Working Group welcomes the efforts deployed by the League of Women Voters that has for instance successfully challenged the Florida state legislature for redrawing congressional districts for a particular party’s benefit.33 The Working Group is concerned that changes in voter identification laws, such as those in Alabama, which increase bureaucratic requirements for voter identification, is particularly problematic for women who changed their name after marriage and reduction of the number of voting centers, can make registration and voting less accessible for the poor, of whom a majority are women. A counter example and good practice is the state of Oregon which has facilitated voter registration and voting by mail.

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