Where are the Women and Where are They Not: Why it’s Important

Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Photo Credit: Getty Images/ The Washington Post

As the world mourns the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her legacy continues to illuminate the gender disparity present throughout the United States. As the first woman to lie in state at the US Capitol,[i] and only the fourth woman to serve in the US Supreme Court,[ii] her life and death raise the question: “Where are the women in leading governmental roles?” To answer such a question, this work seeks to highlight the gender gap among global world leaders, the US military, and national defense agencies. This research then argues that increasing the percentage of women in government and security related roles is necessary to enhance the security and stability of our world.

The first metric to examine global gender equality explored by this article is the percentage of female heads of state. In 2018, only about 5-7% of world leaders and heads of state were women.[iii] Some are well known, such as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and Angela Merkel of Germany, while others receive less publicity, such as Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania and Ana Brnabic of Serbia.[iv] Each woman has faced unique circumstances and challenges to achieve the level of accomplishment and authority she has attained. Some, like Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, broke academic glass ceilings – Heine is the first person in her country to earn a doctorate degree.[v] Others, such as Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, have previously been awarded for their accomplishments – San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.[vi] These women should be celebrated for their dedication and devotion to their countries and commended for breaking barriers once thought impenetrable. Each of their stories hold immense power, serving as an inspiration for young women across the world hoping to break barriers in their own lives. Issues such as poverty, terrorism, and healthcare all affect women differently than they affect men. It is only natural that a woman would address these same issues, then, by seeing them through a different lens. Women lead differently than men not only because they see the world differently, but because the world sees them differently. Women tend to focus on global interdependence, sustainability, and collective empowerment.[vii] Women reinvest in community infrastructure and improvement, promoting economic growth.[viii] Historically, women have often been forced to work with limited resources while they are dismissed to the peripheries of government and society. From these experiences, women have learned to lead in a way that is focused on collaboration, conviction, inclusiveness, creativity, and mentorship.[ix] While quotas and imposed gender goals might be intrinsically altruistic, they are a means to an end, not the end itself. Gender equality is not a goal to aspire to simply for its own sake, but rather because women are a valuable part of society, with their own set of values, talents, and assets, and should be treated and viewed as such.[x] Similarly, gender equality is not just about women. Women will never achieve equality without the help of their male counterparts, colleagues, and friends. Promoting opportunities and advancing the status of women is not only inherently good for women, it is fundamentally good for society as a whole.

The second metric this article examines is that of the United States military. As of 2017, women made up 16% of America’s active duty force.[xi] Compared to one percent in 1970 and nine percent in 1980, the general trend is encouraging, if not tediously slow.[xii] The trend persists among commissioned officers as well, with women constituting 18% of the commissioned officer population in 2017, compared to only five percent in 1975.[xiii] While the military has been traditionally male dominated since its very inception, gender should not be a discriminating factor when determining who can and cannot serve and defend his or her country. Women have shown time and again that they are just as capable, willing, and determined to serve beside their male counterparts. Since the Army opened its prestigious Ranger school to female applicants in 2015, 12 women have successfully passed all stages of the 62-day course, a feat that only 40% of male applicants can claim.[xiv] Furthermore, aspiring to greater gender equality in our armed forces could lead to less instances of sexual violence. In 2018, more than 76% of sexual assault victims did not report their abuse.[xv] This fact is not unrelated to the ubiquitous sentiment that one in four survivors feared retaliation from their commanders or coworkers, and one in three feared the process would be unfair, or that nothing would be done.[xvi] In the long run, increasing the number of women in our armed forces could help to mitigate the number of unreported and underreported sexual assaults, as women might be more willing to confide in their female counterparts and superiors. Additionally, women offer certain advantages to the military apparatus as a whole, such as engaging with and interviewing women through the Marine Corps’ Female Engagement Team and the Army’s Cultural Support Team. In Israel, military service is compulsory for both men and women. In 2004, Israeli forces founded the Caracal Battalion with the specific purpose of giving women the chance to serve in combat roles.[xvii] The co-ed battalion is 60% female, and patrols the Israeli border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, a tumultuous hotspot in recent years.[xviii] Israel hails the Caracal as proof that women can serve in combat positions equally as well as men, braving the same conditions and fulfilling the same expectations as their male counterparts.

Finally, this article examines American national defense agencies. While women comprised 57% of law enforcement agencies in 2016 such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), they accounted for only 16% of criminal investigator positions at those same agencies.[xix] There is great discrepancy in gender equality within the different divisions of each of these agencies. For example, in 2016, these federal law enforcement agencies reported that 84% of their human resources specialists were women, while only one in five FBI Special Agents and one in ten Deputy Marshals were women.[xx] The Marshals reported having the highest percentage of women leading their field offices, while the FBI saw a decrease in the same metric, from seven in 2013 to only one in 2016.[xxi] While the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) strives to decrease the gender gap, the divide nonetheless persists. OPM reported that 44% of all federal employees were female in 2015, boasting increases in STEM career fields as well as Senior Executive positions.[xxii] But this statistic only highlights the gender norms and roles ingrained in our society. Women are traditionally seen as human resources specialists, secretaries, nurses, and mothers. They are not seen as the scientists, engineers, criminal investigators, soldiers, warriors, Supreme Court Justices and presidents that they can be. Gender roles dictate that women should be passive and submissive, leading girls to be less confident and outgoing. Similarly, these norms assume the man to be the breadwinner of the family, burdening the men of the household while also limiting a woman’s professional prospects. Simply increasing female hires across a company is not enough and can in fact exacerbate the problem. We need more women in law enforcement positions for the same reason that we need more women in roles of national leadership: women see the world differently and bring a unique set of skills with them that can help promote safety and stability. In 1972, Jo Ann Kocher became the first female ATF agent.[xxiii] After initial trepidation from her fellow male agents concerned for her wellbeing, Kocher was eventually given the chance to work undercover. This ability, strengthened by the fact that she was a woman, proved invaluable, eventually leading her to become the first ATF Resident Agent in Charge (RAC).[xxiv] Similar glass ceilings were shattered in the FBI, beginning with Jan Fedarcyk, the highest ranking woman in the FBI from 2010 – 2012. Fedarcyk worked cases that spanned the gamut from missing and exploited children, all the way to illicit drugs, gangs, and organized crime.[xxv] Her experience and merit served her well as she eventually became the head of the New York field Office and the assistant director of the bureau.[xxvi] Similarly, FBI profiler Candice DeLong applied her skills as a former psychiatric nurse to profile Ted Kaczynski,  the Unabomber.[xxvii] DeLong credits her capacity for empathic listening and her skills in the art of communication for her successful career.[xxviii]

This research seeks to argue that there is immense power in having the courage and curiosity to ask, where are the women and where are they not? Are there so few women in global leadership, military, and law enforcement roles because women don’t want to fill them, or is it because there are so few women present in these roles that others believe they wouldn’t make it simply because they are women? This question, of course, does not have a simple black and white answer. Systematic injustice and the structural patriarchy continue to play a fundamental role in the access and opportunity afforded to women. However, based on the evidence, the latter seems to be the more likely scenario. Women today have an opportunity, thanks to the women who have come before them, to continue pushing boundaries and breaking barriers for the women who will come after them. We must foster a society that encourages and celebrates women, especially those serving their country and contributing to our national defense, so that future generations of women see the unique benefits they can bring to the field of national security.    


[i] Elana Lyn Gross, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Will Be First Woman And The First Jewish Person To Lie In State At U.S. Capitol,” Forbes, September 21, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/elanagross/2020/09/21/ruth-bader-ginsburg-will-be-first-woman-to-lie-in-state-at-us-capitol/#30895a681518

[ii] Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, “Trump Selects Amy Coney Barrett to Fill Ginsburg’s Seat on the Supreme Court,” The New York Times, September 25, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/25/us/politics/amy-coney-barrett-supreme-court.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Politics.

[iii] “2018, women and political leadership – female heads of state and heads of government,” Women in International Politics, February 20, 2018, https://firstladies.international/2018/02/20/2018-women-and-political-leadership-female-heads-of-state-and-heads-of-government/.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Alyse Nelson, “How Women Lead Differently, And Why It Matters,” Fast Company, August 9, 2012, https://www.fastcompany.com/3000249/how-women-lead-differently-and-why-it-matters.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Kate Brodock, “Equality Is Great, But What About The Real Benefits of Women in Leadership?” Forbes, September 26, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/womenintech/2012/09/26/equality-is-great-but-what-about-the-real-benefits-of-women-in-leadership/#46574b6546dd.

[xi] Amanda Barroso, “The changing profile of the U.S. military: Smaller in size, more diverse, more women in leadership,” Pew Research Center, September 10, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/10/the-changing-profile-of-the-u-s-military/.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Matthew Cox, “12 Female Soldiers Have Now Graduated Army Ranger School,” Military.com, April 9, 2018, https://www.military.com/daily-news/2018/04/09/10-female-soldiers-have-now-graduated-army-ranger-school.html.

[xv] “Facts on United States Military Sexual Violence,” Protect Our Defenders, August 2020, https://www.protectourdefenders.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MSA-Fact-Sheet-2020_FINAL-2.pdf.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Larry Abramson, “Women In Combat: Some Lessons From Israel’s Military,” NPR, May 16, 2013, https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/05/16/180045066/Women-In-Combat-Lessons-From-The-Israel-Defense-Forces.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Devlin Barrett, “Women underrepresented in key jobs at FBI, DEA, ATF and Marshals Service,” The Washington Post, June 26, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/women-underrepresented-in-key-jobs-at-fbi-dea-atf-and-marshals-service/2018/06/26/ec12e41e-794a-11e8-aeee-4d04c8ac6158_story.html.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] “Women in the Federal Workforce,” Office of Personnel Management, September 2015, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-federal-workforce-infographics.pdf.

[xxiii] “ATF Pioneer: Jo Ann Kocher – First Female ATF Agent,” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, June 25, 2020, https://www.atf.gov/our-history/atf-pioneer-jo-ann-kocher-first-female-atf-agent.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] “A week of milestones for women in the FBI,” CBS News, August 24, 2012, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-week-of-milestones-for-women-in-the-fbi/.

[xxvi] “Janice K. Fedarcyk Named Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Division,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, June 24, 2010, https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/pressrel/press-releases/janice-k.-fedarcyk-named-assistant-director-in-charge-of-the-new-york-division.

[xxvii] Luaine Lee, “Candice DeLong talks days in the FBI,” The Bulletin, October 21, 2015, https://www.bendbulletin.com/lifestyle/candice-delong-talks-days-in-the-fbi/article_8706c777-4afe-5753-841e-4f04508aa43f.html.

[xxviii] Ibid.

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