When Simone de Beauvoir wrote her seminal work “The Second Sex” back in 1949, she stated that “enough ink has been spilled in quarreling over feminism”, and wondered whether to even write the book. Nevertheless, she felt propelled to, because despite all the discussions, the unfortunate reality of women’s inferiority in society had not changed enough. Sixty-two years later, and the quarrel of whether to continue to discuss feminism is still active. Some people proclaim the end of feminism, that equality has been achieved, that we no longer need to focus on women. While at the same time vast qualitative and quantitative data shows that women are still considerably underrepresented, underpaid, and face ongoing emotional and physical violence from their partners, society, and the state (examples will be given later in the essay). The gap of understanding is astounding and shows that our fundamental ideas of gender equality are still unresolved. How can we say if the quest for gender equality has been reached if there is not even a common understanding of problems and objectives? This is disconcerting because from a close look at scholarly research as well as a myriad of accounts from members of my community, around the globe and here in the U.S., women are the “other”. This means that the majority of social and political constructions are still formed around the notion of male supremacy over women in the public sphere. Women still face limited stereotypes that constrict their abilities to progress their own lives, their families, and their society. This demonstrates to me that feminism isn’t dead, and that the deeply rooted gender prejudices in societies need to be publically discussed. A key instrument that could help women, their communities, and the global society is the advancement of women as leaders. Women need to not just have their concerns taken into consideration, but they should be making decisions as well. This will facilitate further the social reconstruction that breaks down the social, economic, and structural barriers that keep women from advancing their own security and the security of the world around them.
Women throughout the world have made great strides in the past century, finally achieving in most countries basic successes such as the ability to vote, own property, and work outside of the home. There have been many steps forward, in the effort for true gender equality, but to see these successes and deem the battle to be over shows limited vision. Gender equality means that a person is not socially, economically, or politically discriminated because of their sex. People have equal value, no matter their sex, and should be given equal treatment. It’s going to take many more years of discussions in homes and especially in the public sphere between men and women in order for us to really make firm headway in learning how to create an understanding in our societies, so that a hierarchy of sexes is erased.
What is certain is that this positive social discussion will never happen unless there are more women in the public sphere, and especially as leaders. Women should be supported as important leaders and actors in their communities, in their work, and in their countries. And while this may not be a magic bullet, it will help societies see women truly as humans and not just as ascribed roles. Women need to be leaders, and not just kept in the lower ranks or middle ranks. They don’t need to just have their voices heard, but they need to be seen as well. Not all women have to work in the public sphere or be leaders if they do not chose, but their life decisions should be based on their skills and desires, and not because of limitations because of their gender.
More women engaging on more levels of society could bring positive changes to not just the rights of women, but also to the happiness and stability of families, communities, and nations. There have been a multitude of studies that show how the advancement of women is a crucial tool in economic and political advancement. The field of international development has held gender has important, since Ester Boserup’s work showed that the omission of gender aspects leads to the failure of economic development programs.  Since then the studies have continued to show how if women are empowered, it helps the socio-economic situation of a nation. For example, the 2002 Arab Development Report, it cited the low status of women as being one of four key variables in the lows levels of growth and advancement in the region.  The simple truth can be summed up by a concise statement from UN Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro, “When women are empowered all of society benefits.” 
Why Do We Still Have to Focus on Women?
There is extensive evidence that the gender gap throughout the world is still tragically wide on a multitude of levels. Gender gap is defined as the discrepancy in opportunities, status, attitudes, etc. between men and women. Even worse than the fact that it exists is that this gap is often invisible to many people, especially policymakers.
The continual issues facing women run deep in societies, and even women in developed countries can face similar rates of emotional and physical violence as women in developing countries; discrimination and violence against women spans race, age, class, and location. It is difficult to give an exact number, but reports are alarming. A problem such as domestic violence and abuse is still a globally epidemic problem. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency found in a focus report in 2008 that, "Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.”  One report done on interpersonal and dating violence, estimated that 1 in 5 women have been physically assaulted by an intimate partner, and these rates rise significantly for African American women and Latino women.  It should also be noted that physical violence is only one form of abuse that is perpetrated against women.
These rates are similar to a country such as Cambodia. The 2000 Demographic and Health survey found that “one out of four (23 percent) of ever-married women and girls aged 15-49 reported having experienced physical violence since age 15, and one out of seven (15 percent) had experienced violence in the 12 months preceding the survey.”  In other countries, such as Afghanistan it is much higher, with over 80% of women having faced domestic abuse in their lifetime.  While there is much data available on the rates of domestic abuse and violence against women in countries, the magnitude of these issues is difficult to accurately assess as so much goes unreported. Women still view domestic violence as a taboo issue, and women still feel shame to report that they are/have been physically abused. Even in some instances women and girls feel that they deserve the abuse. In a study of young people in the UK, it was found that 45% of teenagers believe that there are some instances where it is okay for a boy to assault his girlfriend.  Nevertheless, even with this sort of global problem of abuse, the issue rarely gets discussed in high-level policy meetings.
Domestic violence is just one of the myriad of examples of how the rights and divinity of women are being threatened in society. In almost every aspect of life, from education, to healthcare accessibility, to career possibilities, to political power, women around the world feel barriers because of their sex.
Women are underpaid in their work in comparison with men and face greater poverty. In America, women make only 77 cents to every dollar that a man makes, doing the same work.  Women are poorer; they account for about 70% of the 1.3 billion absolute poor in the world, meaning there are roughly 900 million women who live on less than $1 a day.  Women are often disadvantaged in regards to employment, as their work is more insecure (unpaid family work, low-skilled farm work, etc).  Globally, women own 2% of all land even though they do up to 80% of the agricultural work.  
Women are underrepresented. Globally women make up 19.2 % of parliamentarians , and in the U.S., women are 16.6% of representatives in Congress.  This is an increase from 13.1% in 2000, but the number is still low when women are 50% of the population. Even though in the U.S. women make up half of the workforce, they only account for minimal number of leadership positions in companies. Women run only 16 companies listed in the S&P 500.  On the academic level, women represent only 31% of tenured faculty in America, even though women make up half of university graduates since 1978 and women are now earning more doctoral degrees.
There are some women who have broken through that glass ceiling of how high women can rise, but many are still stuck below it.
Barriers to Women’s Leadership
Beyond the above-mentioned issues of gender inequality, there are reoccurring social, economic, and structural variables that consistently keep women from being specifically leaders.
A fundamental factor is a society’s culture. For millennia men have controlled government, societies, and businesses. It has only been in the past 50-60 years that women have been making strides to preside in the world around them. Even women who have reached the top face severe scrutiny because of their gender. Scholar Alice Eagly in a recent study of female leadership stated that “…highly male dominate or culturally masculine (leader roles)… present particular challenges to women because of their incompatibility with people’s expectation of women.”  Often, women leaders were/are only allowed to remain if they acted with the strictness of male social constructions (i.e. Margaret Thatcher) or were daughters of national heroes (i.e. Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi). It is only recently that we are beginning to see a wider range of female executive leaders. In 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first female head of state in Africa. She has brought to the war-torn country of Liberia a leadership style of toughness and caring. Some call her “iron” and some call her “mother.” 
If a woman wants to be at the decision-making table, and not sit in the background, she will continue to face social discrimination. Various studies have shown how women are not assertive enough of themselves in and their work in competitive professional environment, and are often unaware of their own potential. For instance, Cornell University psychiatrist Ana Fels found that female ambition can be diminished because female victory is often ignored whereas male victory is celebrated.  Moreover, women can equate being ambitious or assertive with being egotistical and manipulative, this view is one that others may also impose on them. In 2006, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and his colleague, Cameron Anderson at New York University did a study on how people view ambitious men versus women. They took the story of Heidi Roizen, a successful venture capitalist in Silicon Valley and gave to the class the case study of her story. For half the class, they changed the name from Heidi to Howard. After reading the case study, both groups of students saw Heidi and Howard as equally competent; however, they ranked Heidi as being more selfish and unlikeable than Howard.
Nothing had been changed in the case study except the gender. Herminia Ibarra, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior who specializes in gender issues at Insead, the European Institute of Business Administration, said about businesses that want to keep women, “They are realizing that it’s really about changing the culture — and not just to one that is friendly to women, but to one that women would want to be a part of.”  Men have controlled the public sphere for so long that women entering the work force, especially the male-dominated worlds of politics and business, face cultural and psychological barriers that inhibit them from reaching for the top. Societies have to be ready to accept women as leaders. Women and men both must forget condemnation of women leaders. Even if there are open laws, unchanged habits can just as well limit women’s advancement.
Complex historical hierarchies, “boys clubs” as they are often known are still fervent reminders to women that the battle to be at the top is not one readily open to them. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and a major figure in Silicon Valley told a story about her experience as being the lone female head in the corporate world.
“A couple of years ago, I was in New York, and I was pitching a deal, and I was in one of those fancy New York private equity offices you can picture. And I'm in the meeting -- it's about a three-hour meeting -- and two hours in, there kind of needs to be that bio break, and everyone stands up, and the partner running the meeting starts looking really embarrassed. And I realized he doesn't know where the women's room is in his office. So I start looking around for moving boxes, figuring they just moved in, but I don't see any. And so I said, "Did you just move into this office?" And he said, "No, we've been here about a year." And I said, "Are you telling me that I am the only woman to have pitched a deal in this office in a year?" And he looked at me, and he said, "Yeah. Or maybe you're the only one who had to go to the bathroom." 
This story is an example of how the ‘boys-club’ culture that exists in many offices in America, and the barriers women face within them. In many countries political leadership is often a closed-off, centralized structure of elites and it is difficult for a woman to breach these networks. Women may enter politics at a local level, but be unable to advance because of the lack of political transparency. They can’t break the tight culture of power the male leaders have created.
There is also the persistent battle of women having to balance work and family demands in order to participate in the public sphere. In America, women are now half the workforce; yet when looking at top positions the numbers dwindle. If women are getting into the public sphere, then why are they not staying and moving upwards? What is often common is women face discrimination and a lack of support from their employers for having children, and balancing home and family becomes increasingly difficult. Globally, we do see countries implementing laws that support work and family obligations – giving mothers and fathers flexibility. This includes include paid leave for new parents, flexible scheduling, breastfeeding and pumping accommodations, paid sick days that can be used for family care, and prohibitions on workplace discrimination based on family responsibilities. In 2011, Human Rights Watch released a report stating that 178 countries now guarantee paid maternity leave under national law. There are only 3 countries that offer no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave – Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. The number of single mother households is around 19 million in the United States, and yet these women are still not seeing basic support from their government to help them. 
Furthermore, these structural barriers can coincide with economic barriers. Globally women have lower access to economic resources. They cannot pay the costs of getting a party’s nomination or running for election.  They do not have access to the wealth or property that they need to advance.
Laura Linswood, a senior adviser to Goldman Sachs and secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, says it’s not an “intake” problem, but an “upgrade” problem.  Women are entering the workforce, but for a myriad of reasons they are still struggling to make it to the top. This is a problem, because there are clear advantages to when women are allowed to be the decision makers.
Benefits of Women’s Leadership
An increase in women’s leadership would be of great benefit not just to women and proceeding generations but also to families and to the general peace and security of the globe.
Firstly, it would be of great benefit to women and girls themselves to have a culture and society that supports their achievements and goals. Women of all ages should have the mentality that there are no limitations to their efforts. They should understand that they are not just agents to be acted upon by society, but can be active agents in their society.
Some people claim that women should not be in the public sphere, or should not take on the burden of leadership that would distract them from nurturing children. However, modern technology and changes in the workplace can give families the flexibility to allow women to also be leaders. The industrial revolution has been a double-edged sword that has both separated families from the workplace, but has also given women technologies to bring efficiencies to their life and work. There are options available to women and families to help them balance, and there is no more need any to create false dichotomies of “women – home, men – work.” On the Thai-Burma border I saw strong and intelligent women leaders helping their communities achieve peace and development. These women too had families, but the effort of raising a child was shared amongst the organization and the community. A woman didn’t have to be alone. If one woman had to go to the United Nations to give an address about the current conflict situation; other women would step in and help her family. These women were finding solutions so that men could no longer give the excuse that women can’t be at the decision making table because they have to take care of children (which is an excuse I heard far too often). Women’s voices are too critical to be unheard because of reasons that are fixable.
Secondly, instead of harming families, more women in leadership positions in the public sphere could actually support families. As women are becoming significant forces in parliaments and corporations we are seeing more and more positive effects for the family, creating a society which is supportive to the needs of a family, such as increasing maternity and paternity leave. International organizations such as the International Labor Organization, United Nations, and European Union are passing more measures that address family leave benefits and rights.  Also, companies are realizing they need women in order to stay competitive, and some companies are putting in place policies that support family flexibility. As noted above, this is a growing trend throughout the world (though is by no means fully realized) for there to be flexibility in the workplace for families. The company my father worked in for decades was not supportive of families for the longest time. He was even chastised by superiors for putting his family above his job. However, this company has now drastically changed its family policies, in large part because of demands from female and male employees. Now employees are encouraged to be home with their families. Indeed market forces might fix some companies, but there are many work environments where an institutional shift must be generated to help a greater number of families. For example, in South Africa, as more women joined parliament they changed the parliamentary hours and calendar to coincide with school times and holidays to facilitate their work as mothers and leader. They also created childcare at the government offices and widely introduced gender issues into debates and legislation.  If women are in leadership positions, and in significant numbers, they can collectively work to ensure that societies not just pass laws supportive of families, but also that these laws are enforced.
Thirdly, having more women in leadership positions creates potential for more peaceful and just societies. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has made the advancement of women and children a centerpiece of her time at the State Department. In February 2010, she said, “If half of the world’s population remains vulnerable to economic, political, legal and social marginalization, our hope of advancing democracy and prosperity will remain in serious jeopardy.”  Women need to not just be protected, and need to not just be involved, but also need to have decision-making powers in their communities and countries. In a recent House of Representatives hearing on women as change agents, Kenneth Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute which works globally to help countries advance democratically said that, “Women's political participation results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and more sustainable peace.”  It has been recognized for some time that women’s participation and leadership greatly supports the success of economic development programs. Furthermore, it has been ten years since the United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 1325 which reaffirms the importance of women’s participation in conflict-resolution, peacekeeping, peace building, and post-conflict reconstruction.  The list of trends that are witnessed when women are allowed to politically participate and lead is extensive. Some examples that deserve emphasis are: developments in education, health, and infrastructure; improving responsiveness of the government; promoting less hierarchical and more collaborative work structures; supporting underrepresented groups; and promoting effective peace building.  Moreover, there has been cross-national research that shows that more women in political office results in states being less conflict prone. 
If women have limited say in public life, then they cannot provide instructions and directions regarding public priority setting and resource allocation. Women have different experiences and perspectives than men, and if women are not at the decision making table their concerns might be taken into consideration, but at the end of the day cast as unimportant. Consider the frustration women feel as they gaze at the photos of the 12-member newly appointed debt commission whose work on behalf of the US Congress will shape priorities, spending, and cuts for their country for the foreseeable future. Only one member of the commission is a woman. Only one. How can American women feel assured that their interests will be take seriously by this commission? How can the American public feel confidence this commission will make good decisions? This is not a problem of yesteryear: this is a problem as timely as today's headlines.
Why LDS Members Should Support Women’s Leadership
An LDS sister from South Africa, Julia Mavimbela says it clearly, “I do feel that little change will be accomplished until the women of the nation rise together and put their case to the leaders in one strong voice, not challenging with fists, but making the men remember that they to have children, they to live with problems that affect their families. Mothers are the key to solving most problems.”  If women can play such a positive force in society, why don’t we advance this idea and instead of women just demanding justice from the male leaders, they take up the positions of leadership themselves? If we believe that women have equal intelligence and capability as men, why not firmly support women to be leaders in bettering society if she so chooses? The excuse that women must take care of children is too limited. This denies the benefits that women could bring, especially in creating cultures where families are central.
I believe that this idea does not violate what church leaders teach. Though the proclamation to the family states that men have the duty to provide for the family and women have the duty of nurturing, it also clearly states “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” The desires and circumstances also vary from one family to another, the situation of families around the world demands flexibility. We should strive to create a society where all people are able to provide for and nurture their families as well as improve themselves and their world through their work. Elder Quentin Cook, a prominent church leader, in the April 2011 General Conference said “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.” 
There has been a recent restructuring of leadership, at least on the local level, in the LDS church. In the recent 2010 edition of the Handbook for Administering the Church, a much greater emphasis is placed on ward councils to address the needs of wards (ward being the term of a local congregation). A ward council is comprised of men and women from a variety of positions and backgrounds, and works together to deal with local issues. It states clearly that “The viewpoint of women is sometimes different than that of men, and it adds essential perspective to understanding and responding to member’s needs.”  The role of the Bishop, the local leader, is to focus more on administration, whereas the ward council, a body of approximately equal men and women will do more leadership work. Elder Cook explained more in his talk, “He [the Bishop] will delegate other important responsibilities to priesthood leaders, presidents of auxiliaries, and individual men and women. In the Church the role of women in the home is highly respected. When the mother receives a Church calling that requires significant time, the father will often be given a less-demanding calling in order to maintain balance in the lives of the family.”34 This shows how women’s role as leaders is being furthered incorporated into church structure. This is already adds to their ongoing leadership work in other branches of the church.
In the herculean effort to advances the global voices of women, there is still extensive work to be done. Women should not just be invisible supporters of society, but should be at the forefront of society, otherwise they will always be viewed as a side-thought of public consciousness, held in restricted or lesser roles. Moreover, women shouldn’t just be in the public sphere, but they need to be leaders. The strength and knowledge of women is something that shouldn’t be limited to just their household (though this is still crucial), and we should find all the possible mechanisms to allow women to be present forces at the decision making table.
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Full Citation for this Article: Young, Thelma (2011) "Ain't I a Leader? The Global Need for Women at the Decision Making Table," SquareTwo, Vol. 4 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleYoungWomenLeaders.html , accessed [give access date].
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