Women’s Representation Pays Off In State Legislatures

Supermajority Education Fund

January 31, 2020

Earlier this month, Virginia became the 38th and potentially final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). On January 27, the vote was finalized by the Virginia legislature, which has 40 women presiding in both the Senate and House of Delegates —the highest number in the history of the state’s politics.

Recent research from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) shows that Virginia isn’t an anomaly in this respect. Women state legislators introduced and enacted more legislation than men in the past two legislative sessions. Per the NWLC, Quorum, a public affairs software platform, women saw an average of 5.6 of the bills they introduced enacted, compared to men, who only saw 4.6. Women were also more likely to work across the aisle to make that happen. 

This increased efficacy goes hand in hand with an upward trend in female leadership in the U.S. According to data from the Center for American Women in Politics, between 2018 and 2020, women in state legislatures increased from 25.4 to 29.1 percent. Last year, Nevada became the first women-majority legislature at 52 percent female representation. In 2019, the Colorado House of Representatives joined Nevada to become the second majority-female legislative chamber in the U.S. 

Jean Sinzdak, the associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics, told Supermajority News that Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 and Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 inspired women to get their names on the ballots of their towns and states, as did social movements including the #MeToo and Black Lives Matters movements. 

“The rise in engagement we’ve seen was primarily on the left,” Sinzdak noted. “Anger, urgency, and fear about the current political climate were big motivators for women candidates in 2018, and we saw record numbers of Democratic women run and win office.”

Before this recent rise in women’s leadership, studies showed that women chose not to run for a variety of reasons, including a “lack of opportunity, lack of recruitment (i.e., they weren’t asked to run), the challenges of juggling job and family responsibilities, and the sexism and double standards that women face on the campaign trail,” Sinzdak said. 

The nature of the legislation being promoted in women-dominated state legislatures is changing, too. The NWLC study noted that in 2018, women were more likely to introduce bills on health care, paid sick leave, sexual harassment, and the minimum wage than their male counterparts. 

As The Washington Post reported in May 2019, after Nevada became a female-majority legislature, bills concerning women’s health and safety were also prioritized. And, the Post reports, conversations among legislatures in Nevada, such as those about sexual harassment, gun safety, and prison reform, that were once dominated by men now have women’s voices in the mix. Sometimes, such as in the case of the Nevada lawmaker who resigned after reports of his past behavior of sexual harassment increased in the legislature, women’s voices were the loudest in the room.