Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Back to the Future--Making America Great Again for Women!

The 115th U. S. Congress (convenes 3 January 2017)

In the kick-off to a year when American women will almost surely face challenges and set-backs and hostility on a number of fronts, it is important to remember that women are still woefully under-respresented in the U. S. Congress. Only 19 percent of the members of the new Congress are women. Yup, that's right--19 percent. 

(And just in case you were wondering, 51 percent of the U. S. population is female.)

Here's one view of what the numbers look like:

Graphic from The Hill,
17 November 2016

Of the 535 members who will take their seats when the 115th U. S. Congress convenes today for the first time, only 104 of them will be women. And that's exactly the same number as in the last congress. Women made no gains at all in representation.

Numerous sources proclaim--accurately, to be sure--that this will be the most racially diverse congress ever (see, for example, Christina Marcos's piece in The Hill). And while this is a good thing, it's important also to note that these "record" numbers are still pretty lame: 49 African American members (up from 46), 38 Hispanic members (no change), 15 Asian American members (up from 11), and two Native American members (no change). (For a profile of members of the 114th U. S. Congress, click here).  

In other words, 102 men and women of color will hold seats in the 115th U. S. Congress--19 percent. For the record, racial and ethnic minorities account for 39 percent of the U. S. population. (For the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2016 figures, click here.) And, while many of those candidates of color are women, the new congress is still overwhelmingly white and male (almost 80 percent).

In addition to the number of legislators who represent racial diversity, there are 7 LGBTQ members of the 115th U. S. Congress--again, no change from the previous Congress.  

But, hey, in international rankings, when it comes to the numbers of women in our national legislature, we're tied for 100th place with Krygystan! And, while we might have lost out to Greece and Kenya (tied for 98th/99th place) by .5 of a percentage point, at least we beat out Tajikistan by .2 of a percentage point! Yay us!

Of course, Cuba ranks 3rd on this list, Nicaragua 5th, Mexico 8th, Costa Rica and Grenada tied at 31st, El Salvador 34th, Trinidad and Tobago, 42nd, the Dominican Republic 58th, Canada 63rd, Honduras 64th, and. . . Well, you get the picture. But at least we're not the lowest-ranked of the countries in North America--we rank higher than Panama, at 103, Jamaica at 109 . . . And we're definitely better than Beliz, at 180, and Haiti, at 187.  (For the Inter-Parliamentary Union rankings of women in international parliaments, click here.*)

One more fun fact. While the fall 2016 elections brought no gains for U. S. women when it comes to representation in our national legislature, the fall election in Iceland resulted in women holding nearly 48 percent of the parliamentary seats. (The top 3 countries on the Inter-Parliamentary Union list--Rwanda, Bolivia, and Cuba--mandate levels of representation for women, though women's participation exceeds the mandated minimums. But there are no constitutional requirements for women's representation in Iceland, fourth on the list of 193 countries.) 

So, as we look ahead to Making America Great Again, Women's Edition: fasten your seat belts, ladies--it's going to be a bumpy year . . .  

*Update, January 2018: I'm calling this the "shithole update"--if you check out the list of international rankings, noted above, you can see how many shithole countries in Africa beat the U.S. when it comes to representation of women in their national legislatures . . . Just sayin' . . . 

As of 2022, this link now takes you to data from 2019--where the U.S ranking shot up to 76! In that year, we were tied with Afghanistan and Cabo Verde. This particular site is now archived, but a red box at the top provides you with a new link to the Inter-Parliamentary Union numbers, a "monthly ranking of women in national parliaments." If you're hoping the U.S. has shot up to the top of the list in the years since I originally posted this link in January 2017, well . . . 

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