Women in Politics
A New Age of Women in Politics Policy Takeaways

Study Tour

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Washington, D.C. office hosted a distinguished international delegation of twelve female professionals working in politics, from May 4th – May 11th, 2024 in Washington, D.C., and Denver, Colorado. The group comprised of participants from: Argentina, Armenia, Bhutan, Bulgaria, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Jordan, Lithuania, Pakistan, Philippines, and Tanzania. The delegation met with experts across various political women’s institutions, non-profit organizations, political NGOs, legislative offices, and more specifically with The World Bank Group, researchers, journalists, and academics. The group discussed in detail initiatives and policies that have helped to promote gender equality as well as the persistent economic, political, legal, and social barriers for women.

Across meetings there was one consistent theme: we are far from reaching gender equality and there is much to do. However, the bleak outlook was countered with many examples of policies and tangible ways to take steps toward equality. One cannot start to draft policies without fully understanding the economic, political, legal, and social barriers that exist for women in the context of their home country. What might be feasible or encouraged somewhere, will not always work in someone else’s context. For the purposes of this policy takeaway, we will focus pointedly on the United States.

Addressing Economic Barriers and Creating Economic Mobility

Economic mobility for women was often cited as the most important aspect for boosting gender equality. Why is economic mobility important? The increased economic mobility of women will greatly help reduce inequalities and allow women to more fully participate in democracy. Financial independence, security, and mobility are vital for women to secure a seat at the table and to have their voices heard.

Of the policies and aspects of economic mobility discussed, these were the most notable.

Firstly, introducing pay transparency will do numbers in helping women to more easily achieve equal pay for equal work. Pay transparency is most commonly done by companies via job listings, or in a way that is findable to the general public on how much compensation, typically a range, the roles within the company are offered at. This is particularly helpful in increasing the economic mobility of women because women often don’t negotiate their salaries or undersell their value because of social conditioning to believe that their value is lesser than men’s. Furthermore, the policy’s efficacy is indisputable, Colorado has decreased the pay gap at a rate three times faster than the rest of the country due to this policy.

Secondly, amending the framework for pensions would greatly benefit women, as protections and the amounts accrued are still unequal between the sexes in the United States. Globally women have significantly less money in their pensions and in savings due to accumulating factors. Due to the overwhelming majority of women taking up part time work and filling in unpaid labor roles such as familial care, women earn less overall and the jobs many women take on are in the informal sector. These types of jobs don’t really have much mandated for the employee in the way of benefits like healthcare and retirement funds. Therefore, the people in these roles, predominately women, are not reaping the same benefits and protections built into the sectors that men predominately fill. The informal sector is a large part of the global economy, “given the importance of the informal economy in many areas, raising its standards from the bottom-up would affect a large proportion of the world’s poor populations.Taking steps to ensure women’s financial security through formalizing informal markets will significantly reduce the discrepancies of what men and women take home [based on how they participate in the economy]. Financial security will also allow women to more easily participate in democracy and have their voices more equally represented.

In order for women to access power and participate in the democratic process fully, financial security is a must. As both an economic and social barrier, access to the networks with the necessary funding to run a campaign is something women struggle with greatly. Women in general have less access to money and struggle to fundraise in the same capacity as men. It is seen as impolite to ask for money, so women tend to shy away or are uncomfortable in doing so, resulting in less funding for their campaigns. Additionally the networks of the potential women candidates are not usually as well off as those of their male counterparts. Women make less overall and typically associate and socialize with similar types of people. As a way to combat these compounding social and economic barriers, investing in and supporting programs that help women to fundraise and campaign is highly recommended.

The most referred to type of legislation throughout the trip that aims to create gender equality in government is the quota system. One can look to places where a quota system is already implemented to gain a better perspective of the way it works in actuality.

Why is a quota system necessary? In the context of government, a quota system can be argued to be necessary due to the extensive underlying prejudice against female candidates and the lack of party support for them. With seats automatically reserved for them, there is a base level guarantee of some representation for women. While in theory it seems like a step toward equality, there are real downsides that have reared their head in practice. What are the drawbacks of a quota? In Pakistan for example, in Parliament, male counterparts consider these specially set aside seats for women as less legitimate than their own. Their perspective is that women were handed these seats, therefore they didn’t earn them. Regardless of the women being qualified, the social perception of women not belonging at the table still persists and the underlying reason for the quota fails to be resolved. Furthermore in Tanzania, amidst the quota system still being figured out, the way in which it is currently set up allows for a great deal of nepotism. While there are women in seats of power, they do not accurately represent the interests of all women in the country. Other drawbacks in Tanzania include women being denied a normal seat and told to go for the special seat, which creates a system where people actively vote against women. Similarly to Pakistan, people in Tanzania also question the legitimacy of the reserved women’s seats and those who occupy them. The idea of a quota is a great first step for generally getting more women into seats of power, but it will not solely fix the issue of gender inequality. One must take many socio-political factors into account and the context in which it would be implemented when ideating the best strategy for instituting a quota policy. The notion of a quota is so that one day it will not be needed, or conversely if women greatly surpass the number of men being elected that it can act in favor of the marginalized group.

Another type of policy discussed is increasing women’s legal rights and protections globally. Specifically legal rights and protections for women to own property, manage money, have the right to inheritance, and run businesses. The ability for women to manage money and assets independently is a huge step toward equality and the full participation of women in the democratic process. Cited as one of the most helpful policies, the rights to property ownership is a key tool for women’s advancement.

Lastly, one other policy discussed was automatic voter registration. In 2019 Colorado passed legislation to automatically register people to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license. This policy has been remarkably successful, both in that more people have access to the democratic process and it has saved the state money and resources that can now go to other important initiatives. The more people who are able to vote, the more accurate our democratic representation will be.

The legal disparity between the rights of men and women globally still persists. In the United States specifically, there are still legal disparities in regards to pay, parenthood, and pension. Addressing these legal disparities is one tangible way in which we can a step toward gender equality.

Addressing Social Barriers & Biases and Crafting Socially Minded Policies

One of the most impactful types of policies that address the social barriers for women are those aimed at alleviating the burden of domestic and unpaid labor. The second shift[1], or the socially expected taking on of domestic labor and child care in addition to working full time is predominately assumed by women. Because of the social expectation to fulfill these roles, women’s capacity to be engaged elsewhere is significantly diminished. Policies that aim to expand access to childcare, elder care, and care for those with disabilities have proven to be extremely successful. As a case study of the policy’s efficacy, one can look at Armenia. In an effort to recruit more women to their police force, they started offering a special kindergarten open later for the children of women police officers. This access to expanded childcare increased the number of women on the force by 30%. A drastic increase of women’s participation in the workforce.

In addition to policies that help curb the social barriers one must address the reason for the barriers in the first place. The role of men in the conversations surrounding women’s issues and policies deemed to be women’s issues is vital. The stagnation of legislative progress on women’s issues stems from twofold: women’s inclination to not work on something unless they feel like they are an expert on the topic and men’s dissuasion from working on issues deemed to be women’s issues. Involving men in the conversations on policies that affect women, alongside increased attention to these topics will help to make women’s voices heard and codified in policy. Increasing men’s understanding of these key issues is also vital for the issues to be discussed and reviewed more fairly. 

Another crucial policy for advancing gender equality is paid family leave. The United States lacks any framework for providing and protecting parental or family leave. Women are penalized and scrutinized for working and wanting to be mothers, whereas men do not face repercussions to the same extent. Creating a legal standard for parental leave would greatly alleviate the disproportionate burden on women.

For women to be successful in political endeavors, one has to recognize the social barriers of bias and disparate standards women are held to in comparison to male counterparts. It is a huge task to change the societal mindset toward viewing candidates of all genders equally. However, to combat social biases, a great place to start is with investing in programs that help to advance the careers of women, and programs that help to train women candidates. The role of political parties cannot be understated in this as well. When there are more successful women in the forefront and taking up space, it demonstrates that women are capable of succeeding in powerful roles, ever so slightly shifting societal perception of powerful women.


In conclusion, there are many policy areas that can be targeted to make women’s involvement in democracy more accessible. The most effective types of policies that should be developed further are those that reduce the burden of domestic labor and those that increase women’s economic mobility. While tangible policies are a great first step toward creating a more equitable environment so more women can thrive in the political sphere, one must not forget the larger impediment of persistent social bias against women and minority groups in the equation. There is much room for improvement; however, the success of certain policies and the gradual societal mindset shift toward women in power exemplified in Colorado leaves something to be hopeful about.

Many thanks to the expertise of our participants and meeting partners!