(WOMENSENEWS)– Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently summed up the importance of gender parity: "Because it’s 2015."
Trudeau has now assembled a cabinet that truly represents gender equality with 50 percent of the cabinet seats held by women. In stark contrast, only 19 percent of U.S. congressional seats are held by women, giving us the unimpressive rank of 98th in the world.
Globally, the U.S. is a leader in many areas, but gender equality is not one of them. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap of 2015, published Nov. 16, puts the U.S. in 28th position out of 142, a slippage of several rungs from last year, when the ranking was No. 20. This ranking is partly based on our gender disparities in wage earnings, managerial positions and political empowerment.
At the top of this report are four Scandinavian countries: Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden. These countries have long been known for their gender egalitarian practices. So what are they doing differently?
For starters, they have extensive gender equality legislation that spans all areas of society, including government, industry and education. They even have parliamentary positions charged with the promotion of gender equality.
The "gender mainstreaming" approach in these countries involves the integration of the gender equality perspective into all initiatives, decisions and policies.
Woven through the fabric of these societies is an attitude that women have equal worth and abilities.
Restrictions Still Apply
Earlier this year, Cheryl Rios, CEO of Go Ape Marketing in Dallas, stirred controversy for saying that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be president because she is a woman. She defended her position by saying she is old-fashioned and traditional.
What does it say about the challenges to gender equality in this country when someone not only still thinks that but says it?
Gender stereotypes and beliefs in male superiority are transmitted to our children to the extent that young girls begin to doubt their abilities in math and science already in elementary school.
These early biases then lead girls to show less interest in careers in the science and engineering fields, and by college women have considerably less political ambition compared to men.
So in order for us to alleviate the gender gap in Washington, we need more women to run for office. But in order for that to happen, we need to eliminate the biases and discrimination that lead to gendered career paths.
That means we have to implement legislation that truly supports gender equality, and we have to start teaching our daughters that they are just as important and just as capable as our sons. But in that, we face an uphill battle with the media.
Women are still underrepresented in lead roles on television, and they are often presented as sensitive, dependent, passive and irrational. In music videos and videogames they are often presented as submissive and highly sexualized.
However, television and videogame producers have an opportunity – and I believe an ethical responsibility – to eliminate the stereotyped portrayals of both men and women.
Similarly, toy makers and stores should refrain from the dichotomous division of "girl toys" and "boy toys," something Target stores should be applauded for beginning to implement.
The University of Texas System is making some progress too. It is now going to require that at least one woman or minority candidate be interviewed for every high level position at their 14 universities and medical schools.
It should then follow that all U.S. companies implement hiring and pay scale practices that are truly egalitarian so that women can be equally represented in "traditionally male" occupations and receive comparable wages.
Parents and teachers can contribute as well. Interject when children make gender biased comments. De-emphasize gender differences and focus on similarities and equal abilities. Present children with lots of non-stereotyped books, toys and clothing. No more dolls vs. trucks or pink vs. blue. Encourage girls to pursue math and science, and let boys know that it is okay to be a nurse, a teacher or a hair stylist.
If we all pitch in, then maybe one day we can move up in the global rankings of gender equality and once again be a leader. It is, after all, 2015.
Brigitte Vittrup is an associate professor of child development at Texas Woman’s University and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from The University of Texas at Austin, and her research focuses on parent socialization practices and media influences on children.