A Historic Year for Women – Why Representation Matters

Americans entered the 2020 election season already making history. Women had entered races at higher numbers than ever before – even higher than the record-breaking 2018 election cycle. Now that the ballots are counted, we know that we will have an increased number of women serving, especially in Congress. Yet, our rate of electing women is still not enough to reach gender parity in elected office without bold strategies and targeted action.

In Los Angeles, women now make up 100% of the Board of Supervisors – arguably the most powerful local government body in the country. New Mexico is sending a Congressional delegation composed entirely of women of color. They are the second state to elect an all-women Congressional delegation. Missouri elected their first Black woman to Congress and Washington State elected the first Korean-American woman to serve in Congress. 

Additionally, policies that are critical for women won ballot initiatives. For instance, Colorado became the first state to approve paid family and medical leave, providing 12 to 16 weeks of paid leave for those who qualify. Florida voters approved a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next few years – which will have a substantial positive impact on working-class women, especially single moms. 

Women’s political representation and gender parity in elected positions matter for many reasons. If our nation values a truly representative democracy, we must reflect the diversity of our nation. The fact that women are 51% of the overall population and have never held more than one-third of elected positions at any level of government speaks to our lack of progress in this area. There are a variety of reasons for this disparity in leadership, including the structural barriers women face. These barriers include sexism, racism, and the ways in which our elections are designed for men, particularly wealthy men, to succeed while disadvantaging women, especially those with lower incomes. 

But women’s equal representation is about more than symbolic representation. There are critical benefits to having more women – on both sides of the aisle – in elected positions. Women pass more legislation – introducing more bills that affect women – and bring more resources and support for their home districts than their male counterparts. While all issues affect women, there are concerns specific to women about which male legislators have not consistently addressed. For instance, women senators are sponsoring legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and enshrine women’s equality into the U.S. Constitution. Other bills women political leaders have sponsored are directly related to issues that disproportionately affect them. For example, women Congressional members work across the aisle to sponsor education bills and bring more families student loan relief during the pandemic. Still, others are introducing bills focused on protections for children and child care providers, small businesses, and rural communities during this challenging time. 

Women are leading while still fighting systemic inequality. Women are running businesses, households, nonprofits, and running for office more than ever before. Hence, it’s time for us to accelerate our timeline of gender parity and support them. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave some women the right to vote. We’ve come a long way but still have far further to go to build a truly representative democracy. 

Tiffany Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS, a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.

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