Deodonne Bhattarai, Resident Blogger (’12, Northeastern University School of Law)
This month marks the start of the second session of the 113th Congress — the most diverse Congress in U.S. history. My own home state of New Hampshire played a big role in this distinction having sent the only ever all female delegation to Washington, D.C. Hawaii is a close second, having sent three women as part of its four-member delegation. However, with eighty-one House members and twenty Senators, women still account for only 18.7% of Congressional members.
Despite their comparatively low numbers, women have increasingly gained recognition for their leadership on a variety of issues. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelley Ayotte (R-NH) and others garnered attention for their role in last year’s budget negotiations and are largely credited for saving our country from the dreaded fiscal cliff. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) became the voice for family unity and women’s equality during the immigration debate introducing a number of amendments including one to allocate 30,000 residency cards for traditionally female employment, employment that goes largely unrecognized in our current system.
The Shaheen amendment, passed late in 2012, and named for Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), ended the decades long ban on insurance coverage for abortion services for military rape survivors. The attention to sexual violence in the military has only grown over the past year thanks to the efforts of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Although not always in agreement – only eighteen of the twenty female Senators are pro-choice – the women serving in Congress are a force in their own right. A recent study found that regardless of their party, women are “thirty-one percent more effective than men at advancing legislation.”
As we embark on the second session of this historic Congress, it is tempered by the fact that half of all states have never elected a woman to the Senate and in the words of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), “Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.”