Uppity women are not well liked by patriarchies.
A substantial portion of men in Saudi Arabia, for example, find it ungodly and deeply threatening that women are allowed to drive cars. Even in patriarchal societies, women exert considerable power within their households, subject to spousal approval. However, in many societies any public activity by women is viewed with suspicion. Empowerment of women really means creating changes in societies that result in women being able to access the full range of opportunities a society offers. Empowering women makes for excellent propaganda and public relations. For example, Mao once said that women hold up half the sky, which motivated many women in the long Chinese revolutionary era. That didn’t prevent the large-scale selective abortion of female fetuses when China had the one-family, one-child policy, which started in 1979 and was not officially abandoned until 2015. One result is a population skew to young men in some age groups.
The concept of “empowering women” has also been taken up by a number of businesses that market to women, with the theme that buying a product shows independence of choice and therefor that a woman is fully empowered. Companies that donate to groups espousing women’s empowerment ostentatiously advertise the fact. Voicing the concept of empowering women is good political rhetoric and good business, but it may do little more than keep the idea before the public eye. Keeping the idea in the public eye is important, but self-congratulatory businesses and groups are not going to contribute much to real empowerment. So what is empowerment of women, and how can we evaluate success? Empowerment means the power to make choices, based on ability and inclination, unfettered by archaic limitations based on gender.
Empowerment necessarily means advances for women into positions of economic and political power. It means accepting that kind of success as normal and worthwhile. It means accepting women as equal talents, accepting women’s perspectives and ideas as just as valuable as men’s. The most logical measures of success are what percentage of people in economic and political power are women.
What is the percentage of women on the boards of influential corporations? What is the percentage of women in the national legislature? In those terms, there can be little doubt that empowerment of women is most advanced in Europe. A Credit Suisse study of global corporations found that worldwide, women held 14.7% of seats on the boards of the companies analyzed. In Norway the figure was 46.7%, in France 34.0% and in Sweden, 33.6%.
The lowest rates were Taiwan at 4.5%, South Korea at 4.1% and Japan at 3.5%. In terms of the percentage of women in national legislatures, it’s 45% in Sweden, 42.
5% in Finland, and 39% in the Netherlands. How can we measure empowerment of American women? In the Fortune 500 companies, women hold almost 19% of board seats, and 6.4% of those companies are run by a female CEO. That is a dramatic improvement from the past, but still shows a predominance of male power. About 57% of American women work outside the home, providing about 45% of all hours of labor.
A good measurement of empowerment will be when American women hold 45% of all board seats and women CEOs run 45% of the Fortune 500. At current rates of increase, that will not be in the lifetime of any living woman. Real empowerment is going to occur in employment and the economy.
Every woman in a powerful position becomes a living example of empowerment. In this age of social media, a powerful woman in one place becomes a potent example of the possibilities for women in other places. Oprah Winfrey became wildly popular among young Saudi Arabian women, and is scheduled to visit the kingdom twice in 2017. Winfrey will seem ungodly and deeply threatening to many Saudi men, but she shows Saudi women that there are other ways of doing things. The percentage of women in national legislatures is another measure of empowering women.
Rwanda is number one, Bolivia number two, and the United States is number one hundred. Evidently a sizable number of Americans find women in power to be deeply threatening. Maybe we can get Oprah to visit the United States.