There’s No Such Thing As Gender Equality If You’re A Women In Politics

Virginia García Beaudoux
University of Buenos Aires

March 8, 2017

In my work as a gender and communications specialist I have met – and in some cases professionally advised – female ministers, legislators, mayors, community leaders and judges across the world, from the Dominican Republic and Honduras to the Netherlands and Sweden. The Conversation

I’m Argentinean, so the struggles described to me by Latin American female leaders, who confront inter-party resistance and media double standards on a daily basis, are familiar ones. Our region’s gender gap is a disheartening 30%; Guatemala and Paraguay are among the world’s least gender-equal places.

I have been surprised, however, to hear that women in northern Europe – the most gender-equal region in the world – report the same grievances. While researching my latest book on women in power, I interviewed 18 female politicians in Sweden and The Netherlands, certain that their experience in public service would starkly contrast that of their Latin American peers. After all, in those countries, women already occupy 40% of political positions – and they didn’t need a quota system to do it. Only in a gender-equal paradise could that happen, right?

Sadly not.

The women I interviewed varied in age and ideological background. Some were already retired and others were engaged as EU parliamentarians, congresspeople, government ministers, judges and congressional commission presidents.

It turns out that although women in Sweden and the Netherlands have achieved near parity in national parliaments, they nonetheless share many challenges. Every person interviewed – conservative, progressive, junior or senior – felt that women still had a long way to go to achieve substantive equality.

“When we talk about involvement of women in politics,” one Dutch interviewee said, “it is not just a matter of numbers, but … also of their position to exert influence. How many of them are in ‘hard core’ areas like budget, for example, and really have visibility?”

In other words, equality is not just numeric.

In the Netherlands, since the 1970s “gender mainstreaming” effort, the idea of gender equality is so firmly instilled that citizens won’t vote for parties whose candidate lists aren’t roughly gender-equal, ensuring women get on the ticket. The EU first began to legislate equal pay and equal rights for women in 1979, pressuring member states to adopt such laws nationally. So a top-down cultural shift has been underway for decades.

All the women I spoke to agreed that this has helped, but only to a degree. Women are still under-represented in ministries and decisive parliamentary commissions: among developed-world nations, only 17% of government ministers are women. It’s also meaningful that in Spain only 9% of male ministers do not have children, while 45% of female ministers do not.

Neither Sweden nor the Netherlands has yet seen a female head of state – something that, for example, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Costa Rica have all achieved.

We’ve still got a long way to go

So even in the world’s most egalitarian countries, the debate on women’s rights continues.

“There are still many stereotypes that exert influence, especially on domestic task divisions,” one Dutch parliamentarian said. Yes, even Western European women confront the “can she have it all?” dilemma.

Another woman, an EU parliamentarian, told me:

When I became Member of Parliament, [the media] asked me how I managed to combine my work as a politician with motherhood or family life. Before we had kids, my husband had two jobs … He gave up one to take care of the household and our children. After eight years, he became Alderman of Amsterdam, … and then everybody turned to me and asked what I would do now. I answered ‘well, I have the same job, he is the one who has a new one, so ask him.’

Of course, in Northern Europe as in the rest of the world, stereotypes and double-standards still influence media coverage of women. Women said journalists made numerous comments about their hair or clothing, or about looking exhausted after a late-night session (men were celebrated for their stamina).

One woman with experience as both an EU parliamentarian and government minister, recounted this anecdote:

A photo journalist came to me and said ‘Madam, you have always the same suit on’. I said ‘Yes, that’s not a problem for me, is it a problem for you?’ And he answered that in fact it was … because it gave the impression that photographs were always the same one. I always wore a brooch, so I told him, ‘Ok, I will give you something new: I will change the brooches.’

Women make the road

The women interviewed shared recommendations for fixing these inequalities – again, political affiliation made no difference in these policy recommendations.

Every woman commented on the need to address gender bias in early childhood education. One congresswoman who suggested working with young boys and girls to raise awareness of gender stereotypes also commented that teachers at preschools and schools must be trained in equality as well. And indeed, some Scandanavian nations are, controversially, already mandating gender-neutral reading (goodbye, Snow White).

Although defying gender roles is everyone’s job, women have a decisive part to play. Each and every woman I interviewed, regardless of age or political position, agreed that mentorship was key to her success. Women with more experience offered advice to those with less, and gave them strength to keep fighting.

At a collective level, too, these powerful women agreed that women’s movements and women’s organisations, both within civil society and inside political parties, are fundamental to the continued struggle for political inclusion. Such groups offer women “a place where women meet [and] fight for their causes”, one interview subject said.

When Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau introduced his new cabinet, comprised of 15 men and 15 women, after his 2015 election victory, a reporter asked why it was important for him to have a gender-equal cabinet.

Trudeau’s answer was, “Because it’s 2015.”

But it’s 2017 now, and I can’t seem to find gender paradise – only more women struggling for it. Maybe in 2018?

Virginia García Beaudoux, Professor of Political Communication and Public Opinion, University of Buenos Aires

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

International Women’s Day – March 8, 2017

International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

International Women’s Day  is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has been observed since in the early 1900’s – a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. International Women’s Day is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity. No one government, NGO, charity, corporation, academic institution, women’s network or media hub is solely responsible for International Women’s Day. Many organizations declare an annual IWD theme that supports their specific agenda or cause, and some of these are adopted more widely with relevance than others.

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights,” says world-renowned feminist, journalist and social and political activist Gloria Steinem. Thus International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – whatever that looks like globally at a local level. But one thing is for sure, International Women’s Day has been occurring for well over a century – and continue’s to grow from strength to strength.

Learn about the values that underpin and guide IWD’s ethos.

How Ride-Hailing Apps Like Uber Continue Cab Industry’s History of Racial Discrimination


Yanbo Ge, University of Washington; Christopher R. Knittel, MIT Sloan School of Management; Don MacKenzie, University of Washington, and Stephen Zoepf, Stanford University

From hailing taxis that won’t stop for them to being forced to ride at the back of buses, African-Americans have long endured discrimination within the transportation industry.

Many have hoped the emergence of a technology-driven “new economy,” providing greater information and transparency and buoyed by an avowed idealism, would help us break from our history of systemic discrimination against minorities.

Unfortunately, our research shows that the new economy has brought along some old baggage, suggesting that it takes more than just new technologies to transform attitudes and behavior.

Our new paper, “Racial and Gender Discrimination in Transportation Network Companies,” found patterns of discrimination in how some drivers using ride-hailing platforms, such as Uber and Lyft, treat African-American passengers and women. Our results are based on extensive field studies in Seattle and Boston, both considered liberal-minded cities, and provide stark evidence of discrimination.

Uber and Lyft have become the new faces of the taxi industry.
Richard Vogel/AP Photo

Taxis and discrimination

Discrimination by taxi drivers has long been a social problem. As a result, most cities explicitly require drivers to pick up any passenger while on duty, something they’re reminded of, but such provisions are difficult to enforce. Our work confirmed that traditional taxis in downtown Seattle were more likely to pass black passengers without stopping than to drive by white passengers.

Advances in technology are drastically changing the cab-hailing experience, however, allowing those in need of a lift to order a car with a few taps on a smartphone. The question we wanted to answer with our research is whether this fast-growing market is treating customers of all races and genders equally.

Plainly put, is the traditional taxi driver’s decision, made in public view, not to stop for an African-American passenger being eliminated? Or is it just being replaced by a driver’s swipe on a screen, made in private but with the same effect?

The relationship between these services and discrimination is a complex one. A study funded by Uber found that its UberX service provided lower fares and shorter wait times than traditional taxis in areas of Los Angeles with below-average incomes. Similar research found that expected wait times for the service were shorter in Seattle-area neighborhoods with lower incomes, even after adjusting for several variables. On the other hand, ride-hailing apps are unavailable to customers without a credit card, who are more likely to be lower-income and a member of a minority group.

But this looks at the problem only from a systemic point of view, while the actual decision to pick up a passenger is made by individual drivers. Although drivers are required to maintain high levels of overall performance, there is no mechanism that might detect whether they’re discriminating.

For our study, we used a simple but powerful method to measure this: random field tests. We dispatched research assistants – white and black, male and female – into the field, at varying times of the day and in varying parts of Seattle and Boston, and asked them to order, wait and ride in vehicles hailed by a platform like Uber, which we term “transportation network companies,” or TNCs.

Such random field tests are conceptually simple, but they’re considered the “gold standard” in the research field – and we conducted nearly 1,500 rides in the two cities.

At all times, the research assistants carefully monitored and recorded predetermined performance metrics for every ride they took with screenshots of their smartphones: before requesting a trip (with expected wait time), just after the trip is accepted (with a new wait time), again if a driver canceled, when the driver arrives and when the vehicle stops at the destination. Using the data gathered, we evaluated wait times, travel times, cancellation rates, costs and ratings awarded.

OK, what did we find?

The taxi industry has a long history of discrimination.
Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo

The good news

First of all, there is some good news.

For one, black passengers in our study received the same level of “star ratings” from drivers that picked them up as white ones, meaning that their future trip requests will not be handicapped by poor reviews.

Second, as we noted earlier, other recent research has shown that (at least in Seattle) predicted waiting times for an Uber are actually shorter in lower-income neighborhoods than in wealthier areas, suggesting that drivers are not avoiding low-income areas altogether.

The bad news

Unfortunately, there is some bad news, too. In short, we found significant discrimination in both cities.

Studies show passengers with white-sounding names face shorter wait times.
Jeff Chiu/AP Photo

In Seattle, the data showed African-American passengers had to wait consistently longer to get picked up by an Uber – as much as 35 percent more than white passengers. The data also showed that black passengers waiting slightly longer than white passengers to have Lyft requests accepted, although this did not translate into a significantly longer wait to be picked up.

In Boston, a separate experiment that captured a wider variety of performance metrics found more frequent cancellations when a passenger used stereotypically African-American-sounding names such as Jamal or Aisha. Across all trips, the cancellation rate for black-sounding names was more than double that for stereotypically white-sounding names such as Jerry or Allison.

The effect was even stronger in low-density (more suburban) areas, where male passengers were more than three times as likely to have their trips canceled when they used an African-American-sounding name as when they used a white-sounding name. We also found evidence that in at least some cases, drivers took female passengers for longer – and potentially more expensive – rides.

We emphasize that we are not saying TNCs are better or worse than traditional taxis. In fact, our data do not allow us to make that comparison. Anecdotally, many travelers report that they can now get a ride whereas in the past they could not. But what our data do show is that differences in quality of service seem to persist.

Is there a solution?

We believe that many of the problems we have identified can be mitigated simply by changing some of the practices and policies at ride-sharing companies. Uber has already begun adopting one change – flat fares based on origin and destination – that could reduce the incentive for drivers to take passengers on longer routes.

Transportation network companies may also want to increase the direct penalties for drivers who cancel trips, including cases where they don’t officially cancel but simply never pick up the passenger – another behavior we observed. Implementing periodic or ongoing audits to detect potentially discriminatory behavior may help as well.

And more data are needed. We are sure that much more could be learned from data that are locked away inside the companies. But the companies – understandably – are reluctant to share it except when compelled to do so by regulators.

End of discrimination?

Could these and other changes eliminate racial and gender discrimination within the emerging ride-hailing industry?

Unfortunately, complete elimination is unlikely. And care should be taken to ensure that well-intentioned measures don’t simply shift the locus of discrimination. For example, making it harder for drivers to cancel might have the unintended consequence of causing drivers to give certain types of riders lower star ratings or avoid certain neighborhoods altogether, which could actually worsen the impact of discrimination.

We are confident that Uber, Lyft and other TNCs have the technological know-how to continue revolutionizing urban transportation. They also now have the evidence that they can and should make changes to their policies and practices to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits of our new economy.

The Conversation

Yanbo Ge, Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Washington; Christopher R. Knittel, Professor of Applied Economics and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, MIT Sloan School of Management; Don MacKenzie, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, and Stephen Zoepf, Executive Director of the Center for Automotive Research, Stanford University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.