Last spring when the president and vice president met with members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative male lawmakers, to determine the fate of maternity coverage in health care plans, as photos made abundantly clear, women were not at the table.
The Affordable Care Act created a list of 10 essential health benefits that all health insurance plans must cover. Pregnancy and newborn and maternity care are on the list, contrasted with pre-2010, when only 12 percent of individual market plans covered maternity care, and it was legal for insurance companies to refuse coverage to women who were pregnant or might become pregnant in the future.
And we all remember that photo of President Donald Trump in one of his first acts signing an executive order regarding funding for abortion and women’s reproductive rights worldwide, surrounded entirely by men.
In the 2016 election, despite the presence of a woman on the ticket for the presidency, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the number of women in both chambers remains unchanged, at 104, and the number of female governors fell to five from six. In the 115th Congress, there are 21 women in the Senate and 83 women in the House. In the previous congressional session, there were 20 women in the Senate and 84 in the House. This means that women make up about 19 percent of Congress overall, a figure that puts the United States near the middle of the pack compared to other countries. Prior to the 2016 elections, the United States ranked 97th out of 193 countries in terms of women’s parliamentary representation, according to figures compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, trailing such countries as Rwanda, Bolivia and Cuba, which rank first, second and third, respectively, on IPU’s latest list, compiled as of Sept. 1. For the countries at the top, quotas play a part in women’s success. No. 1 Rwanda—which has a lower house made up of nearly 64 percent women and an upper house that’s nearly 39 percent female—passed a constitution back in 2003 that said women must hold 30 percent of the seats in parliament.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center suggests that there are a number of reasons why women struggle to make it in U.S. politics. They face a double standard that makes it tougher for them to prove themselves; they deal with pushback from voters who are not ready to elect women to leadership roles; and they often fail to advance because they lack the connections and party support that men have. Lingering stereotypes don’t help; many people automatically assume that a female candidate will be better on social issues—like women’s rights or education—and a male candidate will be better on hard issues—like defense and the economy—typecasting particularly harmful to women when jobs are on everyone’s mind.
In addition to struggling with issues of male incumbency, women historically entered politics after they had children, a phenomenon that’s only recently started to change; only eight women have ever had babies while in Congress, and half of those were in the last five years. Additionally, redistricting appears to target women. See North Carolina, where 10 of 25 Democratic women lawmakers were either forced into a district with another incumbent, or redrawn into a republican district. Media coverage is skewed; according to the Daily Beast, in media reports on traditional women’s issues—like abortion and birth control—men are quoted some five times more than women.
In Connecticut, we are ahead of the curve. There are roughly 25 percent women in the Senate and 28.5 percent in the House. Gov. Dannel Malloy’s cabinet is composed of over 40 percent women commissioners who head agencies (like insurance and public safety, formally traditionally male dominated disciplines) with budgets totaling billions of dollars. A recent photo of this cabinet stands in marked contrast to the photos from Washington referenced earlier. But we should not be complacent either. Women make up 51 percent of the population and should be better represented in our legislature.
We’ve all heard the expression: “If you’re not at the table, you’re likely to be on the menu.” This variation on Al Capone’s famous statement, “You’re either at the table or on the menu,” is believed to have surfaced around 2000 in Washington, D.C., and signifies that if you are not represented at the decision-making table, you are in a financially vulnerable position, you get left out, or, worse yet, you are on the menu.