Women in the Highest Office

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In next year’s Afghan presidential elections, Fawzia Koofi, a woman, will be running for the presidency. Though Afghanistan is still a developing democracy, it is great that it allows women to run for its highest office so early in its democratic development (Afghanistan held its first direct elections in 2004). While there is much progress to be made for women’s rights in Afghanistan, at the very least women are not actively barred from running for the country’s highest office. Similarly, in 1872, Victoria Woodhull gained the distinction of being the first woman to run for President of the United States, as the candidate for her own Equal Rights Party, 83 years after the country’s first presidential election. Woodhull won very few votes and Ulysses S. Grant was reelected, but her candidacy has left a mark on history. Though third parties would nominate several women over the century that followed Woodhull’s candidacy, the two major parties would only nominate men until 1984, when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate (she also happened to be the first Italian-American on a major party ticket, two firsts for the price of one!). Regardless, the enormously popular incumbent Ronald Reagan crushed the Mondale/Ferraro ticket in the election. Long story short, the U.S. has a long history of having women attempting to run for its highest office and not winning. Despite this fact, they were always allowed to run. Even Woodhull, who ran decades before women were allowed to vote in America, was not barred from running. Though they all lost, they lost because the American people chose to vote for other candidates, not because a government authority forbade their candidacy. In modern Iran, a powerful neighbor of Afghanistan, a presidential election was held last month and moderate Hassan Rouhani was elected to the office. Rouhani and the other candidates had to be vetted for candidacy by a body called the Guardian Council. The Council made the decision that women were barred from seeking the presidency. There was not even an attempt to bar the female candidates on the basis of anything but their gender. Even in the most experimental days of American democracy, when only white men were allowed to vote, the only conditions to run for president were that one is over 35 years of age and that one is a natural born citizen of the United States. In America, the candidacy of minor third-party candidates like Woodhull, who didn’t have the slightest chance of victory, had the ability to influence the policy of the major parties. By allowing women to run, even when they did not stand a chance of victory, they were allowed to campaign for women’s rights. Denying women the ability to run for the highest office in government not only denies them the ability to hold the office, which is an opportunity they should have, but it also denies them the ability to promote change and progress, regardless of victory.

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