March 2011 Policy Spotlight
Women In Government Celebrates Women’s History Month
March is Women’s History Month, and Women In Government is excited to celebrate the powerful role women have taken in government. From the day the first petition for women to vote was signed in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, women have made progress in America to have equal representation. It was not until 1920, after 72 years of struggle that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Although the goal of equal representation has yet to be reached, considering the fact that women have had the right to vote for less than a century, much progress has been made to be proud of.
In 1936, for the first time, every state in the nation had at least one elected woman in the state legislature. While every state does still have at least one woman, most states are not equal in their representation. In fact, it was not until 2008 in New hampshire that a legislature that had more women serving than men. Currently, across the nation, 1,723 women legislators are serving in 50 states, which comprise 23.4 percent of the total legislature.1
Recently, the White House released a report on the roles women play within our society, and how they have changed over time. Looking at the current legislative make-up is an important indicator of women’s representation, but looking at current education statistics may be indicative of potentially increasing roles of power in the future. As the graph below shows, women are surpassing men in their percentage of higher education attainment. “Among women age 25–64 in the labor force, 36 percent held college degrees in 2009, compared to 11 percent in 1970.”2 As these statistics show, the United States has succeeded in encouraging the education of women. The next step is for women to be even more encouraged to assume the roles of power. Women In Government furthers education for all women legislators, and encourages them to continually extend guidance and assistance to female peers looking to become more involved in government.
While increased education and a continual encouragement for women to have a strong role in politics has occurred, ideal equal representation has not been achieved in the United States and across the world. In order to force the participation of women in some legislatures, many countries have implemented quotas to encourage increased female participation. Quotas exist in a variety of forms such as mandatory reserved seats for women that are enforced by law that generally exist only in developing democracies. The more prevalent quotas in developed countries are those that enforce a certain number of women participate as candidates, either implemented by law or internally administered within political parties.4
Establishing quotas is an interesting concept that has been used to drastically shake up the gender composition of word-wide legislatures. In a study that assesses women’s role in countries that have established quotas in the past to improve the equality of representation, true equality has not been achieved. “In parties that seem to espouse equal representation for men and women, the highest level of leadership in a political party is for the most part still male.”5 This statement is true for the United States as well, which has never implemented the drastic idea of establishing quotas. Leadership is primarily dominated by men, even in states where there is high percentage of women representation. Women In Government has recognized this issue, and sought to continually provide recognition of those women who do rise to leadership positions.
Through leadership series and training, women can hopefully continue the rise in bridging the gap of legislative representation. As younger generations have surpassed their male counterparts in the education arena, perhaps it is only a matter of time before they take the lead in the political arena. Though there is disparity that will continually be addressed, Women In Government is proud to work with all the female legislators that compose the current 23.4 percent and look forward to working with the hopefully increasingly high percentages to come.
For more information, please see these resources:
• Women In Government Women In History
• Center for American Women In Politics
• Women In America
• Quota Project
1. Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/
2. White House Council on Women and Girls, Women In America, Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/Women_in_Americ...
3. White House Council on Women and Girls, Women In America, Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/Women_in_Americ...
4. Quota Project, Global Database of Quotas for Women, http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutQuotas.cfm
5. Xydias, Christina. "Women Representing Women: Examining the Effects of Gender Quotas" 2011-03-12 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p210462_index.html>