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Women of Color in Congress: How We Can Do Better


By Tiffany Monzon

Currently, 105 women make up the 114th Congress, a record high number. Though this marks a relative success for women, the makeup of women in Congress lacks diversity. Out of the 105 women 34 are women of color. This was a boost from the 113th Congress, where only 24 women of color held seats. Since the election of 1964, 59 women of color have served in Congress. All have served in the House with the exception of two, one who served in the U.S. Senate and the other served in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Diverse voices are important, thus electing not only more women but more women of color is imperative.

The 2016 election revealed that although the number of women in the 115th Congress will remain static, the number of women of color jumped from 34 to 38.  Moreover, the first Latina woman, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), was elected to the U.S. Senate, which helped increased the number of women of color in the U.S. Senate from one to four. All of these women are affiliated with the Democratic Party, thus the percentage of Republican women of color for the 115th Congress has decreased.

Compared with the U.S population, women are still underrepresented in Congress. This is likely due to the fact that there are so few open seats and consequently fewer opportunities for women to be elected. Open seats are proven to present the best opportunity to increase the number of women represented in Congress. Without structural changes to open the political process to new voices, it will be difficult to achieve gender parity.  A combination of active recruitment of women for public office, electoral reforms such as ranked choice voting that facilitate women’s victories, and legislative changes that make serving in office more accessible to women like proxy voting and on-site childcare will help the U.S. add diverse female voices to Congress.

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