Watch the WPSP Women's Equality Day Video: 

Ninety-six years ago today, the women’s rights activists who had spent decades campaigning for women’s suffrage saw their efforts finally realized with the formal constitutional adoption of the 19th Amendment.

Women’s Equality Day honors this date as one of the women’s rights movement’s earliest successes. Today, we at the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) celebrate the progress made towards political equality in the last 96 years and want to call attention to the work still being done by women and men leaders today.

The last century has seen unprecedented advances towards gender equality.

  • The percentage of parliamentary seats held by women globally has more than doubled in the last 20 years.
  • Over 60 countries have had female heads of state.
  • The United Kingdom and Germany, Europe’s two largest economies, are led by women.
  • The United States has its first female presidential nominee from a major political party.

The momentum is there. The WPSP is committed to accelerating this momentum even further, both at home and abroad. To reach our goal of equal political representation by the year 2050 more women must be elected and appointed in both new and transitioning democracies as well as Western countries.  In honor of Women’s Equality Day, we at WPSP want to highlight three countries where women are already making much-needed moves towards political equality.


Bolivia has made incredible progress towards equal political representation over the past three decades. Thanks in part to a candidate representation quota, women have gone from holding just 9% of seats in the legislature in 1990 to 53% of seats in 2015. Indigenous women are steadily becoming more involved and represented in Bolivian politics. In the last twenty years, Bolivia has also seen the passage of laws promoting women’s political participation, condemning harassment and political violence towards women, and increasing land access for women.


Nepal’s women have made strides towards equality despite years of political uncertainty and transition. Though much of the country’s culture remains strongly patriarchal, Nepal’s new constitution includes a parliamentary quota mandating that at least ⅓ of seats be held by women. Critics of this quota initially worried that, while it gave women a seat at the table, it didn’t guarantee them a voice.  Recently, however, women’s rights activist Bidhya Devi Bhandari was elected Nepal’s first female president. While the office of the president is seen as largely ceremonial in Nepal, her election marks a subtle but important shift in Nepal’s male-dominated political culture.


Namibia’s “50/50 Zebra System” has led to unprecedented gains in increasing women’s political participation. This 2014 policy aims to encourage gender equity, not just in the legislature but in all government agencies. Named for Zebras’ alternating stripes, the policy would mandate that if a minister is a man his deputy must be a woman and vice versa. As a result, approximately 42% of parliamentarians, 44% of deputy ministers and 22% of ministers are now women. Some speculate that this may lead to the appointment of Namibia’s first female president in 2019.

 At WPSP, we know there is still so much important work to be done, both at home and abroad.  We are working to:

  • Promote the institutional transparency which is crucial to reaching gender parity in leadership participation and in cultivating truly inclusive and dynamic institutions.
  • Actively encourage and engage all women to become public servants at all levels of government.
  • Produce more and better research on the opportunities for and impact of women leaders.

WPSP is proud and ready to lend our voice and our expertise to this movement.

The momentum is growing. If our predecessors could see how their lives’ work has impacted the world one century later, they would be overcome with pride. But they would also urge us onward. They would remind us that they did not devote their entire lives to the goal of empowering all women only to stop part of the way there.

This Women’s Equality Day, we at the Women in Public Service Project look back on the last 100 years of progress with pride and look forward at the next 100 with commitment, hope, and resolve.

Further Reading:

"What do Women Leaders Have in Common?" (The Atlantic)

"Bolivia: Gender-Based Violence" (UN Women)

"Nepal's Women have a Voice in Politics but No One is Listening" (The Guardian)

"Nepal Elects First Female President: Poll Victory of Women's Rights Campaigner Bidhya Devi Bhandari Seen as Cultural Shift in Male-Dominated Politics" (Al Jazeera)

"Women's Political Participation in Bolivia: Progress and Obstacles" (The Quota Project)

"Women in Elected Office 2016" (Center for American Women in Politics)

"Improving Women's Lives: Progress and Obstacles" (World Bank)

"Sharing Success Stories on Gender Equality" (MDG Achievement Fund)

Video Credits:

"Planting Flags" by Blue Dot Sessions (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Photo Credits:
"6th Annual Women's Housing March" Flickr: Caelle_Frampton (CC BY 2.0)
13Août-2" Flickr: Tarek MRAD (CC BY-ND 2.0)
"160617 D-PB383-284" Flickr: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CC BY 2.0)
"Condoleezza Rice" Flickr: NewsHour (CC BY 2.0)
"Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inauguration" Flickr: USCapitol (Government Work)
"Iran - 5th Green Day - 3V" Flickr: Hamed Saber (CC BY 2.0)
"Loretta Lynch, US Attorney General" Flickr: Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)
"Protest Against France's Immigration Laws" Flickr: looking4poetry (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
"Proud Iraqi Women Vote in Nasiriyah" Flickr: DVIDSHUB (CC BY 2.0)
"Rede von Angela Merkel" Flickr: indeedous (CC BY 2.0)
Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文" Flickr: davidreid (CC BY-SA 2.0)
"US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Speaks at 'Evidence and Impact; closing the Gender Gap' at Gallup" Flickr: World Bank (CC BY-ND 2.0)
"HE Madeleine Albright" Flickr: Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

"California Attorney General Kamala Harris acknowledges state-federal collaboration in the lawsuit against S&P"  Lonnie Tague for the Department of Justice (Government Work)
"Korea_President_Park_Sejong_Econ_03" Flickr: Republic of Korea  (CC BY-SA 2.0)
"Sonia Sotomayor, Magistrada de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de Estados Unidos" Flickr: Alexander Bonila (CC BY 2.0)
"Yuriko Koike - World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2008" Flickr: World Economic Forum (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
"Tradition and Creation: Political Challenges for Japan" Flickr: CSIS (CC BY-ND-NC-SA)
"IMG_0326" Flickr: Al Jazeera English (CC BY-SA 2.0)
"2013 World Water Week: Opening Plenary_32" Flickr: worldwaterweek (CC BY 2.0)
"My Dress, My Choice" Flickr: RubyGoes (CC BY 2.0)