Women also are using the power of their purses to influence this election. On average, women earn 60 percent more than they did three decades ago, and, despite a gender gap in pay equity, tripled their giving to political candidates from 2000 to 2008. In this election alone, women have given a total of $429 million to presidential candidates.
Political candidates aren't the only ones benefiting from women's increased financial clout. According to U.S. News & World Report, in 2005 women surpassed men in their “civic generosity” by giving $21.7 billion in donations and philanthropic contributions compared with $16.8 billion given by men.
As president of the world's largest women's fund that has quadrupled in size over the past eight years, I've witnessed firsthand how women worldwide are choosing to invest in social change. At the Global Fund for Women, we hear from articulate and competent women from every continent who represent a wide political spectrum. We support women's organizations working on issues of economic development, education and health but also those crafting new definitions of power based on collaboration, community and inclusion.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, women's presence in parliaments and in ministerial positions significantly increases investments in social welfare and legal protection, as well as transparency in government and business. Last week, Rwandan women won 56 percent of contested parliamentary seats, setting a new precedent in Africa and for the world. In the United States, where women occupy a mere 16 percent of congressional seats, studies show that both Republican and Democratic women are more likely than their male counterparts to advocate for policies that champion social justice, protect the environment, advocate for children and families, and promote nonviolent conflict resolution.
What would power look like if all women – not just a handful – shared decision-making in their homes, in their lives, and in defining the political and economic futures of their countries? Imagine the transformation that could occur in U.S. economic policy, health care and foreign policy if more women held positions in Congress.
But this is not just an issue of numbers. The question for women in the United States and around the world is not whether we can be effective candidates or make a difference in terms of our votes or dollars. Rather, it is whether we are able and willing to face the world's current challenges with a new approach to power and leadership. Can we, in other words, dare to do more than simply outdo men in business as usual?
The daunting scale of world problems, from fast-moving health epidemics and climate change, to food insecurities and the current collapse of the global financial system, require major structural changes for their solution. It is not enough for women to aspire to have the same rights and access to power as men. Instead of simply demanding a place at the table, women must have the courage and imagination to chart a wholly different way of organizing economic and political systems grounded in principles of egalitarianism, human rights and ecological sustainability.
Pundits from both parties believe that women will determine the outcome of this November's election. Our task is to use our experiences and talents to envision new ways of leadership and new definitions of power in which women have voice, real choices and are able to contribute fully to the creation of a world that is secure and sustainable.
As leaders from business, media and civil society gather in San Diego this week for Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit, there is no more urgent time to reflect upon how women choose to express their power.
This piece was published in the San Diego Union Tribune on October 2nd, 2008.