Women in Government: More Needed

This Opinion Editorial by Shanna Wells, director of the Rhode Island Commission on Women, has some good statistical information about the shrinking number of women in the legislature in Rhode Island, and the general lack of women in U.S. government.

Since 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed and established a women’s right to vote in the United States, the percentage of women who register and vote has steadily risen. Furthermore, the percentage of women who vote today is higher than the percentage of men who vote. This holds true in Rhode Island as well.

Unfortunately, the higher voting rates have not translated into electing women to political office. In terms of political representation, Rhode Island women have lost ground and today are not well represented in elected positions.

Nationally, women make up 46 percent of the work force and 52 percent of the electorate, but represent only 14 percent of the U.S. House and 14 percent of the Senate. And, though 52 percent of Rhode Islanders are women, only 16.8 percent of elected state officials are female, down from 26 percent in 1998. According to the Center for Women and Politics, Rhode Island ranks last in New England in female state legislators and 37th nationally.

In a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women’s presence in legislatures and other state-level elected offices is closely associated with better policy for women. Among “women-friendly” policies are those that address violence against women, child support, welfare, education and employment. The findings point to a continued need for targeted efforts to increase women’s representation.

Women’s organizations, political parties and leaders of both genders can all play a role in recruiting women to run for office, supporting women’s candidacies and encouraging both women and men to vote for women. With more Rhode Island women in political office, we will have more balanced discussions, which will lead to improved policies. The Rhode Island Commission on Women encourages women to participate fully in the political process to assure gender-specific input into public policy. The Rhode Island Commission on Women wants Rhode Island to lead the nation in legislative representation that truly reflects the constituency it serves.

For more information on running for office, visit the Secretary of State’s website at http://www.sec.state.ri.us/elections.

Shanna Wells, M.Ed. is director Rhode Island Commission on Women. The Rhode Island Commission on Women is a nonpartisan state agency whose purpose is to advance women toward full equity in all areas of life and promote rights and opportunities for all women. For more information, visit the website at http://www.ricw.ri.gov.


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