“Imagining what is possible led a diverse group of American women from various races, religions, classes and circumstances to seek the votes of their communities at the local and national level. In every instance, regardless of the outcome, we have viewed an America that while honoring the principals of our nation -- equality, democracy, freedom -- still focuses on gender with peculiarity. Now, more than ever, is the time to put more effort into building out the larger vision that founder of the Women in Public Service Project, Secretary Hillary Clinton, sought to do; being female must be a strength not a weakness and women must be at the policy table.”

Farah Pandith, Architect of the Women in Public Service Project

WASHINGTON - On Tuesday, American women and men contributed their voices to the country’s politics in elections for leaders at the national, state and local levels. In an election cycle dominated by the topic of women in politics, the issue of gender parity has become a focal point of political narrative of the United States. The conversation may seem daunting, but now more than ever it is clear that it is necessary and important not only in the context of the United States, but also across the world.

Tuesday’s ballot was without a doubt an historic one. At the national level, the country saw its first woman presidential contender from a major party, the highest number of women filing to run for the U.S. Senate, and a record number of women nominees to the House. At the state level, a record 2,602 women nominees ran for legislative seats.

The historic accomplishments of this election highlight the progress of the movement toward gender parity in public service leadership. Fifteen women won seats in the 115th Congress: according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (CAWP), the number of women in the U.S. Senate will increase to 21, and the total number of women in Congress (House and Senate) will be 104 – the same level of representation seen in the 114th Congress.

However, women candidates made history beyond gender barriers in this election by significantly increasing the diversity of Senate representatives. Voters elected Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) as the first Indian-American woman, Thai-American woman, and Latina Senators. In the House, Pramila Jaypal (D-WA) became the first Indian-American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Women leaders broke impressive barriers on Tuesday, but there is still progress to be made. Globally, the U.S. ranks relatively low in representation: of September 2016, the gender imbalance in the 114th Congress put the United States at #97 of 187 for women’s representation in legislatures worldwide. With a similar level of representation anticipated in the 115th Congress, it is unlikely that this ranking will improve.

As the country transitions to a new administration, it remains to be seen whether gender parity will be achieved in the cabinet and other appointed positions. One takeaway from this historic election is clear: while there is momentum in the United States in the movement toward gender parity, now is the time to ensure even more women can find a place at the decision-making table at the local, national, and international levels.

To accomplish this, citizens of democracies including – but by no means limited to – the United States must remain actively engaged in political conversations. Political participation is not only a civic duty; it is also a powerful tool to leverage in pursuit of gender parity in political leadership around the world.

Photo: Flickr user nshepard (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) will accelerate global progress towards women’s equal participation in political and policy leadership to create more dynamic and inclusive institutions that leverage the full potential of the world’s population to change the way global solutions are forged. The WPSP is pursuing the goal of “50x50”: 50% representation of women in all elected and appointed policy and political leadership positions by 2050.