Congress Prepares for a Wave of Women — and the Future of Gender Equality in Politics

When the next Congress is sworn in, there will be more than 100 women in the House — the largest number ever to serve. Now that women will make up over 20 percent of the House — and nearly 20 percent of Congress overall — the lawmaking body has hit a tipping point. And that means finally adopting important measures to ensure gender equality isn’t just another talking point.

We watched the Senate toss some archaic rules in 2018 in order to make accommodations for Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, the first person to give birth as a sitting senator. Thanks to Duckworth and her newborn daughter Maile, Congress was forced to face inherent sexism, like the rule that demanded no infants or small children be on the floor when a vote is being held — which essentially banned new moms from easily casting votes.

Now, as the 116th Congress prepares to lead, even more changes are being considered to support a growing pool of Congressional moms. Unlike in the past, where women who ran for office usually waited until their children were grown — or put families on hold — this generation of Congressional-elects are single parents, mothers of toddlers or simply individuals who want to grow their families while also doing their jobs, just like their male counterparts.

Politico reports:

A record 102 women were elected in the midterms, a total that includes several moms with young children. The influx is forcing lawmakers to reassess policies to make Capitol Hill more female- and parent-friendly. Renovations are already underway to install nursing stations around the Capitol. And there’s talk among Democratic women about how to best arrange the congressional schedule so that parents can video chat with their kids over dinner, help them with their school work and make it home three days a week.

Changes had already started a year ago, when Congressional dads began pushing to make it easier to have their own small children around at the Capitol, too. Younger lawmakers meant younger children, and for some fathers that meant realizing that diaper changing tables aren’t just for coffee shops and restaurants. The U.S. Capitol Building may be great for passing laws, but it’s not so great for passing through halls with toddlers.

“If you have children that are both within toddler age, then you use twin strollers, regardless of if they’re twins or not,” California Democrat Raul Ruiz told Roll Call this summer. “If you have them double wide, it’s hard to get in certain doors, certain security guard rails …[and] restrooms.”

It’s not a shock to learn that Congress — that bastion of white male political power — isn’t exactly friendly to those who work outside the traditional patriarchal family structure. Why would you need diaper changing stations or lactation rooms when your government is almost exclusively male — or have to worry about the tens of thousands of dollars a year that infant care at a reputable D.C.-area daycare center tuition runs when there’s a stay at home spouse, usually female, at home to care for the child?

Now child care, too is being reexamined as lawmakers note the sexist assumption that all parents who are in Congress must have a partner who can stay at home with the baby — or add a second income to cover the expense.

According to Jezebel:

“Congress wasn’t built for members like me,” newly-elected California Representative Katie Porter, a single mother of three school-aged children, told Politico. “For those of us who have young children, which is a minority, there’s definitely the built-in assumption of a two-parent model… There is no template for how to do this in my situation as a single mom.”

That’s not the only assumption that has to be addressed, either. With Minnesota Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar’s win in November, the House will now welcome its first Somali-American lawmaker — and one who wears a head scarf.

The Congressional rule against any sort of head coverings — which was passed in 1837 — may not seem like an inherently sexist holdover from an era of men in power, but in reality it comes from the same “decorum” pool as all dress codes, which predominately police and impact women.

It took until 1969 for a woman to wear pants in the chamber. And, until the last session, women weren’t allowed open-toed shoes or sleeveless shirts or dresses. Now an actual rule change will have to be proposed and passed in order for Omar to continue to cover her head for religious reasons.

The new Congress will be a game changer for many reasons: a check on Trump’s power, a chance to undo the ravages of the last two years, more people of color and first-time representatives. But this new record number of women could well change the actual infrastructure of the Capitol for good — and that will make it that much easier for more women, young politicians and financially diverse candidates to be inspired to follow their lead.

Photo credit: Lorie Scholl/Flickr

40 comments

Paulo R
Paulo R6 days ago

wonderful to hear.

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Dave fleming
Past Member 7 days ago

Tfs

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Shae L
Shae Lee9 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Celine R
Celine Russo11 days ago

Wow a 100 women? How much is that on the whole Congress???

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Sue H
Sue H12 days ago

Excellent!

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Janis K
Janis K12 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Camilla V
Camilla Vaga12 days ago

thx

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Mely Lu
Mely Lu12 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Tabot T
Tabot T13 days ago

Thanks

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Toni W
Toni W13 days ago

tyfs

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