Historic year for women in politics, but representation is far from equal

A historic number of women were nominated to Congress this election year. But when you look at the numbers of women serving compared to men, there is still a long way to go before women are equally represented in the US Congress, and the legislators right here in Georgia.

“When I first got elected to office there were not a lot of women,” explained Democratic State Representative Carolyn Hugley.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Election 2020]

Hugley has represented her Columbus, Georgia district for more than 27 years. She was elected in 1992, the “year of the woman.”

She was one of only 41 female state legislators, 17% of Georgia’s lawmakers.

“Even though we were elected, we still had to fight for our seat at the table and we had to fight for our voice to be heard,” Hugley said.

Although 2020 is a historic year for women running for office, female representation is only a fraction compared to elected male counterparts. 298 women were nominated to run for US Congress, the most ever for republicans and democrats.

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Currently 127 women serve in Congress but that’s only 23.7%. Here in Georgia women make up 30.5% of our state legislators.

“Women run and win at about roughly the same rates as their male counterparts, but they definitely face some obstacles along the way,” said Georgia State University political science professor Amy Steigerwalt.

She cowrote a book on why women must work harder to win elections and stay in office.

“Female candidates as well as female incumbents are much more likely to face primary challengers, they’re much more likely to face general election challengers, they must deal with a media that has a tendency to focus on their appearance as opposed to their policy positions,” Steigerwalt said.

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But her research revealed the constant challenge women face make them better candidates, and work harder to keep voters happy. “Women bring an alternative perspective to the room,” Steigerwalt said.

In the GOP, female representation is even leaner.

“We have a lot of strong conservative Republican women with a lot to say,” Republican political analyst Julianne Thompson said recruitment and messaging keep women from running. “There’s no denying the fact that there’s been a good ol' boy network in Georgia, that has held women back, not just Republican women, but has held women back when it comes to political office.”

Although Democrats have seen more women representing their party than ever, in Congress only 4.1% are female Republicans. Thompson said female candidates will do more than attract voters, they will help policy. “We might be interested in hearing more about childcare and paid time leave,” she said.

Rep. Hugley said her experience as a mother drove her fight to get financial compensation for a man wrongfully jailed nearly 12 years.

“I could not get away from the fact that this could be my child,” Hugley said. “What if that had been him, how would I have felt? And what would I have wanted my legislator to do?”