The Need for Women in Legislative Offices
Women may make up slightly over half of the human population, but we certainly don’t have the same representation in our government. The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) compiles statistics on women in leadership positions for the United States. Women only hold 16.8% of the seats in the 112th Congress. In US state legislatures women make up the slightly larger portion, of 23.6%. Across the globe, women make up an average of 19.4% of the members in legislative bodies. The US ranks 69th out of 188 countries for our percentage of women in a lower or single House.
The numbers for Georgia are no more encouraging than those nationwide. We are just barely above the national average, with women accounting for 23.7% of our 236 legislators. Nationally we rank 25th for our percentage of female officials. Thirty years ago, there wasn’t a single female legislator in Georgia. Obviously we’ve made tremendous progress in those thirty years, but that doesn’t mean that we stop fighting for more female representation.
You might be wondering why we are even discussing this. Some people might say that it doesn’t matter what sex a person is as long as they are elected by the people. But it does matter, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a feminist. Having female representation is essential. We cannot have a representative democracy if half the population is excluded. Women bring a unique voice and presence to the legislative chambers. Typically women are better at getting things done, being open minded, and uniting across party lines. And of course, women legislators are best able to advocate for other female citizens.
Female legislators are generally known to champion legislation to benefit women; however, Georgia State Representative Simone Bell likes to say that, “All issues are women’s issues”. And technically she’s right. Women are affected by every law and policy no matter if it’s a traditional “women’s issue” or not. It’s important that we have women legislators not just because they will represent “women’s issues” but because they can speak about how laws can affect more than half the population.
At the 21st Georgia Women’s Assembly, hosted by Georgia Women for a Change, three female legislators spoke about their experiences being women in office. Those women were State Reps Simone Bell, Kathy Ashe, and Judy Manning. They discussed the challenges that are unique to women candidates, like problems fundraising, and ways to overcome those, like taking a campaign training course. They all feel passionately about their roles in making our state a better place, and they are great examples for those considering running for office.
It simply stands to reason that if women are advancing in other areas of our society, they should advance in our government too. The CAWP has launched an initiative called the 2012 Project, aimed at getting more women elected to offices across the nation. If you are a woman, or you know a woman, who should run for office, now is the best time to do it. Redistricting makes it easier to campaign and be elected because there are districts with no incumbents. There are many organizations in Georgia devoted to increasing female political presence. The League of Women Voters of Georgia is a great resource for women who want to take a more active role in government. The CAWP provides a list of organizations and PACs in Georgia that women can use as if they want to take on a legislative role.It’s high time we gave the Gold Dome a woman’s touch.