Where Are the Women Speakers on Congressional Panels?

515588510_4798ab85cc_bWe already know women are woefully underrepresented in the U.S. and state governments. We make up only 18 percent of the House, only 20 percent of the Senate and less than 25 percent of state legislative positions. Although women won more congressional seats in 2012 than ever before, at the rate we’re going it will take 500 years to reach gender parity. Since women comprise more than 50 percent of the population, these numbers are inexcusable.

The inequality runs even deeper. In congressional hearings, where pressing issues are put on a national stage, women are too-often absent. The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for accountability in government, has released a study showing that less than one quarter of the 5,000 witnesses called to testify before House committees during the 113th Congress were women. Men are not just preponderant in the halls of power, but are also the sex far more likely to be listened to by our nation’s decision-makers.

If our elected officials aren’t hearing women, that means they’re hearing less about issues that disproportionately impact women. That means less about reproductive rights, domestic violence, sexual assault, pay equity and so forth. Even when these issues are brought up, women may be left out of the discussion—remember when conservatives held an all-male congressional panel on contraceptive access?

The House committees on Agriculture, Armed Services and Transportation and Infrastructure had the lowest number of women speakers, with 13, 15 and 14 percent respectively. On the other hand, the Committee on Education and the Workforce heard from the most women, with 40 percent of the expert witnesses being female. Considering that three-quarters of public school teachers are women, that number still seems low.

Time to insist that more women be invited to the seats of power in order to influence the decisions that impact their lives and futures.

Photo courtesy of afagen via Creative Commons 2.0.



Associate editor of Ms. magazine