About Blimmin’ Time
A few months ago, a dear friend of mine in New Zealand phoned to give me some exciting news: her country had just made history as female lawmakers in Parliament became the majority for the first time.
“About blimmin’ time,” one of the women legislators told reporters as the country’s legislative body tipped to 60 women and 59 men. Another lawmaker said she was “just really pleased that my daughters are growing up in a country where women being equally represented in public life is just normal. That’s a great thing.”
True. Nevertheless, women remain largely “underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide,” cautions U.N. Women. “Achieving gender parity in political life is far off.”
South Carolina is a disappointing case in point. The Palmetto State continues to rank in the Bottom 10 of the 50 states, with women holding just 14.7 percent of the seats in the legislature. (By comparison, women make up 60.3 percent of Nevada’s legislature and 51.0 percent of Colorado’s.)
Things are better in Washington – but just barely. A total of 149 women will serve in the 118th session of the U.S. Congress (2023-2025), or 27.9 percent, compared to 27.5 percent in the previous session.
Meanwhile, the research is clear: having more women in leadership changes how government works.
Over and over again, according to Vox Media, political science research has found that having more women in leadership leads to more women-friendly policies, such as increasing paid family leave and prosecuting violence against women.
What else happens when more women hold office? On average, women bring more funding back to their home districts than their male colleagues do. They focus more on family, children, and healthcare. They prioritize minority needs. They take a rehabilitative approach to crime and punishment. And, according to one American University study, women office holders “work harder for their constituents.”
Helping their constituents, securing more money for their home districts, prioritizing health, education, and family. What’s not to like?
Experience shapes how legislators govern, and women’s experiences undoubtedly are different from men’s. Women need their experiences and their viewpoints to be understood – and incorporated into policy decisions.
“It makes all the difference in the world” when more women are elected to serve, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA and president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate), told CNN. “Women at the table, making the case,” can change the agenda, agreed Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Both veterans of more than 30 years in Congress, this female duo is known for working on family issues.
It’s said that a “critical mass” of office holders – usually described as 25 percent to 35 percent – is needed in order for women to overcome their minority status.
In the U.S. Congress today, women legislators have barely edged past the minimum point. In the South Carolina Legislature, women are nowhere near attaining a critical mass, let alone a tipping point.
Jan Collins is a Columbia-South Carolina based journalist, author, and editor.