Looking at Barriers to Female Political Participation

Junior Saroya Ornelas Pagnucci recently presented on her semester-long Independent Study focusing on barriers to female political participation.

Ornelas Pagnucci is keenly aware of the dearth of female politicians that look like her, so she spent the last semester engaged in examining the factors at play that limit women’s political representation and participation with the aim of determining ways to overcome these barriers.

In her presentation, Ornelas Pagnucci provided an overview of her work. She shared more about her pre-existing passion for the topic and prior work with GlobalGirl Media-Chicago and DemocraShe to advance the cause.

She shared statistics about female representation in the American political system and some notable female politicians who have helped to advance women in government, like former Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

She also spoke about one of the well-known barriers to female political participation, known as the double bind, which she described as a set of assumptions that reflect implicit biases about men, women and leadership. She said men are often perceived to possess traits associated with leadership-like strength and assertiveness, while women tend to be linked to more communal behaviors such as kindness and understanding. Women who seek political leadership must often walk a fine line between showing leadership and communal traits, which is a barrier that men do not have to overcome.

As part of her Independent Study experience, Ornelas Pagnucci spoke with a number of politicians about their experiences as women in office, including Irvine City Council member Kathleen Treseder and Mammoth Lakes Town Council member Chris Bubser, each of whom shared their personal story about choosing a life in politics.

Ornelas Pagnucci offered hope as part of her presentation, outlining a range of solutions to help break down barriers to women’s political participation, including:
  • Actively recruiting women, especially women of color, to run for office
  • Reducing the role of money in free and fair elections
  • Improving wages for public service officials
  • Improving work-family policies
  • Fostering a political culture of equity and respect
  • Creatiing a fair representation voting system, such as multi-winner ranked-choice elections and multi-winner districts
In closing, Ornelas Pagnucci offered, “This Independent Study helped me understand the true importance of female political involvement in politics and the countless obstacles that are currently prohibiting a representative democracy… Together, if we continue to fight, we will be able to achieve fair political representation for women and, in turn, keep move down the road toward gender equality.”
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.