Friday, November 21, 2008

1907: first country let women run for office

According to Madeleine Kunin, a former governor of Vermont, 16% is the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress, a record high. Sixteen percent is also the percentage of women in top corporate positions as board members and vice presidents, despite the fact that women have comprised 50 percent of middle management positions for fifteen years.

The 16% figure emerged a third time, according to a 2007 U.N. study of the percentage of women in the lower houses of Parliaments around the world. In that same study the United States ranked 71st, out of more than 140 countries.

Even Iraq and Afghanistan have more women in their Parliaments. At the urging of the United States, their constitutions include a 25 percent quota for women - Iraq met it and Afghanistan exceeded it. The country with the highest percentage of women in its Parliament - 48.8% - is Rwanda.

Three countries have elected female presidents in recent years: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, Michele Bechelet in Chile, and Angela Merkel in Germany. None of these women were expected to win; all were a sharp contrast to the men who had preceded them.

Finland was the first country to permit women to run for political office in 1907. It has consistently ranked near the top in women's political participation and has a female president. Finland was recently lauded for having the best education test scores of 51 countries. (info from Vermont Public Radio)

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