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Has gender equality lost in US elections?

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If there is a country that touts gender equality is the USA. Many organisations coming from the ‘high-powered nation’ have become a mouthpiece of women. If Africa is ‘doing well’ on women empowerment is because of the USA’s support and initiative. Today, Africa has tasted to have woman president in Liberia (and former lady president of Malawi), more female government ministers in support of women empowerment. The Southern African Development Community region has even gone ‘deeper’ to entice for 50:50 campaign on gender equality.

But what is wrong with the USA, the country that is advocating gender equality? Statistics have shown that gender equality in the USA is diminishing. The recent general election in the USA has just proven that gender equality has failed in the USA. When the world was expecting the first female president of the USA to be elected, things did not go that way.

According to the News Week, on November 8, 2016 (the day of the elections), Hillary Clinton’s close friends and wider circle of supporters had been cautiously optimistic about her chances in the general election. Earlier in the day, a gaggle of friends from her high school in Park Ridge, Illinois, gathered for lunch in New York’s Harlem, where a special three-course menu by chef Marcus Samuelsson was headlined “Hillary’s Election Celebration”. Everyone took home a tiny commemorative ceramic tray embossed with Clinton’s favourite saying from Methodist theologian John Wesley, about doing all the good you can as long as ever you can. On the bottom was the phrase “To Commemorate the Presidential Election 2016 Hillary Rodham Clinton”. That nice little memento had a shelf life of maybe eight hours.

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At about 9 pm, Eastern time, those gathered to celebrate a Clinton victory — from the cavernous Javits Centre in Manhattan to private parties across the nation — turned sombre. Worry turned to shock as newscasters stood before maps of a nation turning blood red, trimmed by thin bands of blue along the coasts. By midnight, Clinton supporters had moved past disbelief to horror and grief as they realised Donald Trump was going to be the next president of the United States. At one tony Manhattan party involving some of her biggest donors, the assembled wandered through art-filled rooms with eyes as haunted and hollow as those of characters in an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Said one major donor: “I feel like all my children are in intensive care right now.” Added one long-time important supporter: “You know they’re gonna put us all in jail now.”

This was always going to be an election about gender. Clinton signalled that from the day she announced her candidacy in New York in May 2015, when she talked about her own mother, the shaming and blaming of women over abortion and how fathers should be able to tell their daughters that they too can run for president. Trump ran against all of that, glorying in unapologetic, unreconstructed macho; blaming tough questions from journalists on menstruation; fat-shaming women who angered him; saying “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who seek abortions; and even suggesting that a working wife was a bad thing. On election day, women responded accordingly, as Clinton beat Trump among women by 54 percent to 42 percent. They were voting not so much for her as against him and what he brought to the surface during his campaign: quotidian misogyny.

Men and women really did choose a presidential candidate this year based on their attitudes about what was acceptable behaviour towards women. A 700-person survey conducted in June by researchers at the University of Michigan found that hostile attitudes towards women correlated with support for Trump. Clinton super PAC pollster Geoff Garin says the 2016 gender gap — 24 points wide — was different from past years in cause as well as size.

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“Trump has, I think, for many women and for some men but mainly for women, really called into question the role of women in our society and how they ought to be treated.”

Women voted against Trump by one of the most significant gender gap margins in history but their support for Clinton was tinged with ambivalence. In fact, Trump beat Clinton among white women by 53 percent to 43 percent with white women without college degrees going for him two to one. The hoped-for “first”— and the lead-up to it — never produced the jubilation that greeted the election of the first African-American president in 2008, even though women waited much longer for this moment. The first female president, after all, would have been in the White House on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

With that “long time coming” in mind, one might have expected American women to link arms like their great-great-grandmothers, the suffragists and march in the streets to celebrate Clinton’s historic nomination. Instead, her support from women — while greater than Trump’s — lacked fervor. In many voters, it was almost dutiful.

Clinton did have ardent and joyous supporters, often those in her age group, like retired lawyer Jennifer Kimball. The 66-year-old walked into the Arizona Democrats’ headquarters in Phoenix one morning two weeks before the election and asked to be put to work. Like Clinton, Kimball had a career, working beside her husband as an entrepreneur and small-business owner. After their sons were in school, she went back to get a law degree.

Kimball and many other women in Clinton’s core of support viewed this election as a referendum on what their generation has achieved: the social transformation that saw the percentage of women who worked outside the home double, from less than 30 percent in the 1950s to more than 60 percent today.

“Hillary” says Kimball, “shares my history and my résumé. She’s the total package.”

For many women, the presidential campaign had an emotional dynamic that was more immediate and uglier. One in six American women has been sexually assaulted. One in four is a victim of domestic violence over a lifetime. One in three women has been sexually harassed at work and 40 percent of women experience street harassment.

Paired with Trump on a split screen during the first debate, Clinton maintained her high-wattage smile and confidence. But when he loomed behind her in the town hall–style second debate, women intuited her unease, which many men did not see. When Trump interrupted her repeatedly and muttered “such a nasty woman” during the third debate, women across the country turned that insult into a Clinton campaign slogan. Almost every woman has been there: navigating gracefully away from harassment and even menace is a basic female life skill.

Political scientist Susan Carroll, a senior scholar at Rutgers University’s Centre for American Women and Politics, says the “Trump factor” not only frightened women; it quieted them.

“I think a lot of people don’t want to talk about this election and get into a fight with somebody about it,” she says. “It tends to be confrontational and many women are not that confrontational and reluctant to get involved. They like to keep things smooth and on an even keel. A lot of women will maybe feel more relief than jubilation — quite in contrast to 2008, when there was much more visible enthusiasm [for Obama].”

Facing the wall of what McGill University professor and author Gil Troy calls “Clintipathy” — an irrational hatred of Clinton fuelled by years of pillorying in the far-right media — many women simply kept things “smooth” by not speaking up. Indiana cyber security executive Stacy Mill, 49, is a mother of two daughters and on her second husband and she says both her men voted for Trump. After a few arguments with her husband, they simply stopped discussing politics.

“In my house, it comes down to Benghazi and the emails,” she says. “For me, Hillary has shown such growth, maturity and thoughtful leadership, and that has nothing to do with gender.”

It seems developed countries bring new ‘theories’ and get them tested in Africa for their own benefit yet they do not practice. When they are supposed to lead by example, they choose to do the opposite. It is time for food for thought. Has gender equality made our lives any better?

Has women empowerment benefitted us a lot? Is Africa in a hurry to adopt some notions propelled by western countries? Developed nations should not push Africa into issues that need thoroughly scrutiny. Yes, it is not a matter of gender but policies that will make that individual a good leader. It is about what the citizens will benefit from such a leader; it is an issue of delivering the expected leadership – so regardless of gender, a prospective leader must show that he or she can deliver. Clinton might have lost on policies but not gender, therefore, the hypocrisy of gender equality must end!

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