A Woman's Place is in the House...and the Senate!
The 113th Congress, beginning its term in January 2013, will welcome a record number of women, including five new women Senators, bringing the total number of women in the U.S. Senate to an all-time high of 20, and a new all-time high of women in the House to 78. There are now nearly 100 women in the U.S. Congress!
Hawaii, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Wisconsin elected women to the U.S. Senate for the first time, and Nebraska elected its first woman to a full Senate term. Sen. Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, will be the first Asian/Pacific Islander American woman elected to the U.S. Senate and the first U.S. Senator born in Japan. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard will be the first Hindu-American in Congress.
Despite these impressive gains, important work remains to be done. The percentage of voting female representation in Congress is only 18% -- below the international average for female representation in national legislatures. Indeed, the U.S. is ranked 69th worldwide. Countries faring better include Rwanda and Andorra, which have national legislatures with a majority of women holding seats (56.3% and 53.6% respectively), and Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, and Norway, who lead the world regionally with an average 42.1% female representation in national legislatures.
State legislatures also have a higher overall percentage of women representatives (23%) than does Congress (18%). State figures range from 9% in South Carolina (which just elected its first woman to the state senate, making it so there is finally no longer any state legislative chamber without female representation) to 40% in Colorado.
California’s female representation is slightly higher than the national average at 26%. The 2012 election left California with 31 of its 120 seats held by women: 10 of the 40 State Senate seats (25%) and 21 of the 80 Assembly seats (26%) are now held by women.
While we have more work to do, it is important to celebrate the strides that have been made, as well as those candidates who made the decision to step forward and serve as public representatives. If we are to build on this movement and create legislative bodies that more accurately reflect the diverse constituencies in our communities, more women, and candidates from traditionally under-represented groups, need to put their names into the hat and run for office.
As illustrated by the women who ran in 2012 for seats in the U.S. House and State Assembly seat races in California, when women show up, they win! The figures are nothing short of astonishing: in 18 of the 21 Congressional districts in California where a woman ran for office, voters elected the female candidate (85.7%); and in 21 of the 28 state assembly districts where voters had the option to elect a female candidate, they did (75%). What this illustrates is that women are highly electable, when they run. But more women need to run for office.
Of the 53 Congressional seats up for grabs in California, women competed for only 21 of those seats. But they won 18 of those 21 seats! One wonders what would have happened if women had competed for all 53 seats. Similarly, of the 80 open seats in the California State Assembly, women candidates ran for only 28 of those seats. And they won 21 of them!
The message the electorate is sending is that voters want options. They want to be able to choose among candidates who share and will represent their views on issues of similar concern, whatever those may be. It’s time to put on our running shoes!
Paula M. Mitchell, WLALA Board of Governors Member and Chair of the Legislation Committee; and, Maya Harel, LoyolaLawSchool J.D. Candidate, 2013.