American institutions have never been known for balanced gender ratios, but as far as politics goes, it may be improving. The latest statistics from the National Conference of State Legislatures show that women serving in state legislative bodies in the country are at an all-time high — out of 7,383 seats, 1,830 (24.8 percent) are held by women.
While nothing may seem impressive about this overwhelming imbalance, the slight increase in women serving in state legislatures lines up with the growing political engagement among women in America, spurred first by a tumultuous election campaign, then later by an election result that stunned the country.
There are more female Democratic lawmakers than there are Republican ones, though both parties have seen an increase in female representation in state legislatures. Colorado, Arizona, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. have the highest percentage of women serving in local legislatures. Wyoming, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, and West Virginia have the lowest.
Having more women in state legislatures is hugely important; local legislatures vote on issues like reproductive rights, childcare policies, and welfare programs, which particularly affect women of color.
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In reckoning with yet another white male president — one who has been subject to controversy — reports of women in America stepping up their political game may be one of the few silver linings. The day after President Trump's inauguration, a women-led demonstration took place in hundreds of cities across the world. Women led the charge in the resistance against the administration's actions in its first weeks. Women are going to town hall meetings, hounding their representatives' offices with calls, and most importantly, learning to run for office themselves.
EMILY's List, an organization that works to put pro-choice, Democratic women in office, has been training women interested in joining the next wave of female lawmakers. In the weeks following the election, EMILY's List saw an unprecedented swell in interest from women across the country getting in touch about running for office themselves.
"Since Election Day, we've heard from over 6,500 pro-choice Democratic women looking to run for office — nearly seven times the number of women who reached out to us in the 22 months prior," Alexandra De Luca of EMILY's List told A Plus. Founded 32 years ago, it seems EMILY's List's purpose has taken on even more urgency in recent times. De Luca said part of what they do is quash misconceptions many women have about running for office.
"You don't need to be a lawyer with an advanced degree or a massive network," she added. "Running for office is accessible for all women who are passionate about their communities, who have the energy and drive, and who want to make a difference. We're here to help them learn how to run for office — and how to win."
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The lack of women in politics sets America apart from other developing countries, where there are more female lawmakers, as well as heads of state. America came close to breaking that highest, hardest glass ceiling, too, but the election result dealt a huge blow to those who believed they were ready for a female president. This surge in women exploring political positions, however, should be heartening news to those who want to be represented by people who share their values and priorities — it could well signal a change in the tide.
"We aren't seeing a real increase in the number of women running every cycle. That's reflected in the number of officeholders at the end of the day," Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, told Reid Wilson at The Hill. "We need more women running. That falls somewhat on the women themselves, to run, and that falls somewhat on the gatekeepers, in the recruiting of candidates."
So it's not that women in America are disproportionately losing elections to their male counterparts. "Experts agree," wrote Wilson, "that the reason more women aren't winning elections is because few women choose to run."
The solution, it turns out, is that simple.
Cover image via Mary Lynn Strand / Shutterstock