By Cynthia Richie Terrell on November 11, 2015
By Aleanna Siacon
Following the 2015 political elections, Michigan’s gender parity score dropped from 27.4 and a national rank of 8th to 25.8 at 11th place. 18 out of 50 states have gender parity scores at 15 or below, and only one state has achieved gender parity: New Hampshire with a score of 57.1.
Representation 2020, an organization that works to increase public awareness of women’s underrepresentation in politics, calculates gender parity scores for every state annually.
A gender parity score measures women’s electoral success on a scale from zero to 100, zero meaning no women in political offices, and 100 meaning all political offices are occupied by women.
As stated by the Representation 2020 website, the hope is that all states will eventually reach a score of 50, meaning both women and men are equally as likely to be elected in any state.
“Women make up 51 percent of the population and are underrepresented at every level of the government,” said Cynthia Terrell, director and founder of Representation 2020.
Terrell said women face structural barriers to getting elected and this uneven playing field is bad for women, families and the country as a whole.
“Short of a few structural solutions. We are, sadly, not on the path to gender parity,” said Terrell.
According to Terrell, New Hampshire was able to obtain gender parity because they allow multi-winner districts. She said research confirms that this makes women more likely to run and win.
New Hampshire’s large part-time state legislature and relatively low pay also make political offices more appealing to female candidates than males. Michigan adheres to a single-winner district system.
Kathleen Russo, a freshman majoring in pre-occupational therapy, co-led a group called Women in Leadership Leading our World while she was in high school. She believes that social stigmas and stereotypes continue to inhibit gender equality.
“It’s hard to be a woman trying to be accomplished in politics. People will spend more time asking women about their appearance, their children and their homes than their ideas. I think it’s more frustrating for women to run for office, especially if they’re sick of the nonsense questions,” said Russo.
Russo said that despite big social movements in terms of representation and the rise of feminism in popular culture, Michigan’s losses in gender parity proves that there is still progress to be made.
Elizabeth Orozco, a junior majoring in nursing, said that decisions made by a government in which women are underrepresented would not be made in the best interest of women.
“As a voter, I’m not just going to vote for a woman because I’m a woman,” said Orozco. “It depends on what they have to offer, but I’d definitely like to see more women running for these offices. If more men are running for office than women, I don’t think we can produce a government that is completely fair.”
Sishir Buddharaju, a sophomore majoring in economics and electrical engineering, said he was very proud to call himself a man who is a feminist.
“To the men that don’t take a stance on this: as long as there is inequality, you shouldn’t be tired of hearing about it. The issues haven’t been solved. If you want to stop hearing about it, do something about it,” said Buddharaju.
Buddharaju said he was bothered by the fact that in a state with a population as diverse as Michigan’s, people are not equally represented.
“The amount of women represented in our government should be proportionate to the amount of men. 50/50, that’s our population. How can there be a room full of 12 men and 2 women representing us? It doesn’t really make sense to me,” said Buddharaju.
Representation 2020 is currently working on the following projects: publicizing the low funding women receive from PACs across the political spectrum, encouraging political parties to set voluntary targets for the number of women candidates, college campus and community outreach to increase further engagement, building collaboration amongst pro-women’s representation groups and examining county level data to investigate a possible correlation between representation outcomes and voting rules.
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