Women in state and federal office

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Women in state and federal office
The U.S. Capitol Building. (File Photo)
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By Gayle Converse and Pat Miller

The next United States Presidential Inauguration is slated to look a bit different. For the first time in the nation’s history, the vice-presidential oath will be avowed on Jan. 20, 2021 by a woman – Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

While this is historically significant, it has been a long time coming.

While the Golda Meirs, Angela Merkels and Margaret Thatchers of the world have held top leadership positions, the U.S. has not measured up. In 2019, the U.S. ranked 75 out of 193 countries in terms of gender equality in government, according to a report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. A 2018 account from the World Economic Forum predicts that political gender disparities are expected to be around for at least another 96 years.

Virginia ranks 25th out of the 50 states when it comes to the number of female state office holders. Women currently make up 29.3 percent of the Virginia General Assembly.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 2,145 women currently serve in state houses, comprising 29 percent of state legislators nationwide.

In 2017, more than 50 percent of U.S. voters were women, but only 30 percent of elected officials identified as female. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 59 percent of U.S. adults – 69 percent of women and 48 percent of men – said there were “too few women in high political offices.” In the 2018 midterms, a record number of women secured congressional seats.

Strides have been made in the past 50 years. The number of women elected to state legislatures has increased fivefold since 1971. According to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, women currently hold 521, or 26.4 percent, of the 1,972 state senate seats and 1,641, or 30.3 percent, of the 5,411 state house or assembly seats. Women representing various communities of color denote 7.5 percent of the nation’s 7,383 state legislators.

On the federal side, currently, 102 women serve in the 435-seat U.S. House of Representatives. There are currently 26 women serving in the 100-seat U.S. Senate.

A record-breaking number of women gained a place in the U.S. House in the 2020 election. Because some Congressional races remain too close to call, the exact number of seats in both the U.S. House and Senate that will be filled by women is unclear.

As of Nov. 12, 134 women have been elected to serve in both chambers, surpassing the 127 women who currently hold office. In the House, at least 109 women are expected to serve, making up more than 25 percent of all seats, according to CAWP. So far in Senate elections, 25 women are expected to serve next year, comprising about 25 percent of all Senate seats in 2021.

When the 117th Congress convenes in January, the freshman class in the House will include at least 25 non-incumbent women. The Senate will welcome four women and the House will welcome 44 women from various communities of color, respectively.

The journey to our nation’s first woman vice president-elect has been a long time coming. American women have indeed come a long way in the past 100 years but have a long way to go.

In the next Alexandria Celebrates Women column, we’ll explore women who not only broke ground, but broke the glass ceiling of American politics.

The writers are founders of Alexandria Celebrates Women, a nonprofit that is commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage and highlighting influential women throughout the city’s history. Contact them at AlexandriaCelebratesWomen@gmail.com.

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