By Jolie Day
The U.S. has a severe disparity of equal and diverse representation in our government. In 2016, women still only comprise 20% of the United States 114th congress. Women of color are even more underrepresented, making up only 6.2% of congress. We had yet to even have a woman win a major party bid for the presidency until Hillary Clinton did this year. This scarcity of women in our government has lead to an uphill battle for policies and laws that concern women’s issues, such as health care, the wage gap, abortion, and paid maternity leave. Now more than ever, it is important to understand the impact that representation has in our nation and take that knowledge to the polls for the upcoming elections.
The 114th Congress is one of the most diverse in U.S. history, but is still 80% men, 80% white, and 92% Christian. As you can imagine, this does not come close to being proportional to a population that is 50% women and is ethnically and religiously diverse. Obviously, the U.S. has a long way to go in order to reach equal representation in our government.
The numbers don’t lie. Currently, the United States is ranked 97nd in the world in terms of women representing in national legislatures or parliaments. Rwanda was ranked 1st , Mexico at 7th, and Canada at 64th.
Being in the minority in your government makes it difficult to find a voice for your concerns. I recently watched a video in which a high school teacher, Nicholas Ferroni, performed an experiment that simulated the undermining that women in Congress must feel.
In the video, you can see the male students get visibly frustrated when their votes seem to fall short as they are left out of the female majority, especially if the policies were blatantly unfair against them.
In regard to equality in our laws and policies, our government still struggles with enacting and protecting laws that pertain to women’s healthcare, welfare, and safety. Planned Parenthood has is one of the largest providers for women’s reproductive healthcare, but unjustly has been under attack in recent years as lawmakers have pushed to exclude the organization from Medicaid coverage because they provide abortion services. Only 3% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides are abortions, and federal funding has been illegal to use in covering abortions for decades, except in extreme cases such as rape, incest, and endangerment of the mother’s life. Politicians, of whom were mostly male, were getting in the way of women being able to access the other services the organization provides, such as birth control, cancer screening, and STD testing, that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Women also have the right to choose, as abortion was ruled legal in Roe v. Wade in 1973. However, lawmakers have fought against this ruling and have tried to diminish a woman’s right to choose, invoking religious rhetoric.
The U.S. is also one of the only industrialized nations without mandated paid parental leave. This may cause families to have to choose between a job and their time at home with a newborn. This adds a layer to the effects of our wage gap as well, as women now make up almost half of the work force, but are still paid less to every dollar a man makes on average. In 2015, Pew Research found that compared to what an average white man earns, Asian women earned 87%, white women 82%, black women 65%, and Hispanic women 58%. The combination of the gender wage gap and our nation’s low minimum wage have severe effects, as nearly 2/3 of those in poverty are women.
It’s close to 45 years ago when Shirley Chisholm made history being the first black congresswoman in the United States. She paved the way by being the first African American person to run for president as well as being the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Chisholm was brushed off at the time and hasn’t received the household name she deserves, but her standing up against the lack of representation in our nation spoke volumes. It took almost half a century after Chisholm for Hillary Clinton to secure the Democratic Party nomination. Clinton’s platform addresses many of these issues that women are still facing today. Her opponent, on the other hand, poses an absolute threat to women’s rights and reproductive healthcare. It is terrifying is that a man with what seems like little-to-no understanding of how abortion works might be making decisions that could end up killing women. As the citizens of a democracy, we have the power to push for more equal representation in our nation, and so it is important to keep that in mind as our local and national elections are on the horizon.