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Women in the 118th Congress: Halting Progress, Storm Clouds Ahead

Women’s representation in the U.S. Congress increased slightly after the midterm elections, but the divided Congress and Republican-led House mean that gender equality issues will face strong headwinds. The new Congress will send powerful signals to the rest of the world about the United States’ direction on women’s issues—no matter whether the specific debates, actions, and inaction concern domestic or foreign policy—and could, given these hurdles, diminish the credibility of U.S. leadership on gender equality.  

How Many Women Are Now in Congress?

Thanks to a gain of 2 seats in the 2022 midterm elections, the 118th Congress includes a record number of women, with a current total of 149 women in the House and Senate. The Republican Party also set a record by seating 42 women legislators, compared to 106 Democratic Party women. The 149th is Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), who ran as a Democrat but switched her affiliation to Independent shortly after her victory. That number will likely increase to 150 in February following a special election in Virginia slated to replace a member who died in late November.

Viewed in the global context, however, those gains are modest. While 28 percent women’s representation in Congress is a U.S. record, the United States continues to fall behind in relative terms as more women are elected to parliaments and legislatures around the world. In a global review of female representation in legislative bodies, the United States now occupies seventieth place. In thirty-one countries, women hold 40 percent or more of seats. The U.S. rate of progress has slowed since the notable wave of U.S. women elected to office in 1992, despite a surge in 2020. Efforts to increase women’s representation in Congress and other elective bodies range from partisan efforts, such as those led by former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), to a host of nonpartisan organizations that recruit, train, and fund candidates. 

How Many Congresswomen are In Leadership Roles?

Women’s positions in leadership roles paint a mixed picture. Former Speaker Pelosi, the first woman to serve in that role, stepped down from the most powerful leadership position in Congress after a total of eight years as speaker. However, the Democratic Caucus has since elected Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) to its minority whip position, making her the second woman to serve in the top-two leadership positions. The new Republican majority in the House elected Stefanik as chair of the House Republican Conference, ranking third in the Republican leadership hierarchy. In the Senate, Patty Murray (D-WA) became the first woman elected president pro tempore, serving third in the line of presidential succession. 

Council on Foreign Relations

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