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NOTEBOOK: Will the pandemic have an effect on women’s political participation?


When talking with Karen Kedrowski for my pieces about women’s representation in Iowa politics for Fearless, I asked what kind of effect she thinks the pandemic is going to have on women’s involvement in politics in the future. 
Kedrowski is the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, and is a resident expert on the prevalence and impact of women in the political realm. 
During our conversation, she explained that many times, thanks to barriers like imposter syndrome, women don’t think of themselves as capable and don’t regard themselves as candidate material. Often, it’s not until they are motivated by an issue that they’ll throw their hat into the ring.
“You will hear a woman candidate say over and over again, ‘I never thought I would run for [blank]. But then something happened and I got mad and I decided that I needed to do something about it.’”
Kedrowski thinks COVID could be that motivation. Women have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in terms of job losses and have shouldered the majority of the child care duties. 
As a side note, countries led by women, like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan are said to have had some of the best responses to the pandemic. All of these women were honest about the virus and were quick to implement restrictions and testing protocols. Perhaps this will set an example that women are capable of being excellent leaders. 
But, on the flip side, COVID could also be the preventing factor. 
I found an analysis by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that lists four risks to women’s political inclusion across the world as the pandemic continues:  

  • Increasing economic precarity and a return to traditional gender roles. 
  • Greater reliance on informal practices that reinforce male political dominance.
  • Inequities in access to online platforms.
  • Decreased public visibility of women.

“I think it could go either way,” Kedrowski said. “It could be for some women the issue that drives them to enter public life and run for office. But it could also be another set of barriers that keeps women from running for office because of the extraordinary amount of extra work that they do.” 
So, in summary, I think the answer is no one really knows what the effect will be. Only time will tell, but it’s certainly something to watch. 


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