This, however, does not mean the gender gap in politics is disappearing as rapidly as these headlines make it seem. RepresentWomen’s Gender Parity Index (GPI), which weighs women’s representation at the national, state and local levels, shows how incremental and sporadic progress for gender balance truly is. According to this year’s index, there are no states that have reached gender parity — a basement metric if we’re to call ourselves a truly reflective 21st century democracy. A majority of states earned a “D” grade for women’s representation in government, further proving that we are not even close to fully cheering “shattered ceilings” or taking victory laps for national “broken records.”
The GPI’s ranking is on a scale of one to 100, with 50 qualifying as a “perfect score” (having achieved gender balance). Over the years, RepresentWomen’s GPI has clearly shown that progress is slow and uneven across the board.
This year, New Mexico leads the nation with a rounded score of 49/100. While this is the second year in a row that New Mexico is ranked first, it has never hit parity and remains at a “B” grade. The only state to have received an “A” grade is New Hampshire, which did so from 2015-2018 and again in 2020. This year, they have fallen to a “B” grade.
In 2020, New Hampshire ranked eighth with a rounded score of 40, reemphasizing the fact that state’s progress towards parity is uneven, even in the most promising states. Only 19 states are over halfway to parity (scores of 27 and above). This year’s median score of 24.8% women in government is only 0.2 points higher than the 2021 index.
Despite this, there is a slight momentum for change. In 2020, six states were within 10 points of parity. This year, 10 states are within 10 points (rounded). These include New Mexico, Maine, Nevada, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and New Hampshire. Many of these states have enacted systems strategies that have benefited the women running for office in their states.
On the other side of the spectrum, a majority of states (30) received a “D” grade in the 2022 index. This has more-or-less been the case since 2013, but states have also consistently shifted from “F” to “D,” and “D” to “C.” Louisiana is the only state to receive an “F” this year.
A continuing trend is the stratification between coastal states and the rest of the country. The states on the coasts of the US have tended to move up in ranks, while those in the center maintain, for the most part, “D” grades.
With the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and give states greater authority over reproductive healthcare, women holding positions in state leadership matter now more than ever.
As we turn an eye toward the midterms, with over 65 women candidates for governor (six of which are Black women) and 64 women candidates for Senate this cycle, we once again see more women running than ever before. Although we continue to celebrate important milestones for women, such as Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation onto the Supreme Court, we must recognize that working towards gender parity is far from over.
It is difficult to want to be involved in politics while being systematically excluded and facing more barriers throughout the entire electoral process. Our current rules and policies, which continue to foster slow-going and incremental progress for women’s representation, are in dire need of reform. We must try something new.
So, what can we do to create a more inclusive, representative democracy? Invest in and implement research-driven system strategies that truly address the roots of the political gender gap. Advocating for reforms like those outlined in the Fair Representation Act, which includes establishing multi-winner districts and implementing ranked-choice voting is a crucial first step in this process.
Additionally, commitments to creating gender balanced cabinets and appointments are pivotal to creating pathways for women to obtain greater positions of power, including elected positions and party leadership.
Our democracy is designed to be updated, changed and adapted as society does the same, yet we hold on to systems that no longer — and maybe never did — serve us effectively. Creating a level playing field is essential to providing women the opportunity to build our political power. To reach gender parity in our lifetimes, we must push for reforms to our electoral system.