Social Inclusion & Human Rights

Will More Women in Government Dictate New Directions in Policy?

While pundits continue to debate whether or not there was a “blue wave” through Congress in the 2018 midterm elections, it’s impossible to deny that there are more women in government now than there were before the election. Voters elected a slew of candidates from diverse backgrounds, including more than 100 women in the House of Representatives alone.

Among them are the first two Muslim women—Ilhan Omar, D-MN, and Rashida Tlaib, D-MI—and the first two Native American women—Deb Haaland, D-NM, and Sharice Davids, D-KS—ever to serve in Congress. Those diverse voices could bring discussions about topics such as climate change, health and wellness, labor, and overall inclusivity more to the fore, although the split Congress means that certain policies could face strong opposition. And as the New York Times points out, though women make up over half of the US population, roughly four-fifths of the 116th Congress will still be male.

Here’s a look at some of the issues that might be on the docket.

Climate Change

Much recent attention has been devoted to the “Green New Deal,” an ambitious program that would move to introduce 100% renewable energy, eliminate greenhouse gases, and guarantee jobs for people who want to work in those fields. Estimated to cost at least $2 trillion, as of February 2019 the plan’s latest iteration has only attracted about 60 House-member cosponsors. But the push has the potential to further increase public awareness of climate change and may make it more of a campaign issue in 2020.

Healthcare

Now that Democrats have taken control of the House, Republican efforts to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act may see new challenges, since any repeal would require passage in both the House and the Senate. One area that might see some movement is prescription drug pricing, a major driver of healthcare costs, and one that both parties support addressing. Both president Donald Trump and house minority leader Nancy Pelosi said in separate statements following the election that they’d make controlling the price of prescription drugs a priority in the coming year.

Paid Leave

Another area that has received bipartisan support in the past is paid family leave. The issue has been gaining support from policymakers for several years, and advocates believe that this Congress may be able to pass a national policy that would pay workers a portion of their wages if they need to take time off for their own illness or to care for a sick family member. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have offered proposals aimed at offering paid leave to individuals in the past few years, and polls show broad support for such initiatives. Will having more women in government give paid family leave the final push it would need to pass? Research by Julie Kashen, a fellow at the Century Foundation, showed that having more women in state legislature was one factor influencing whether those states adopted a maternity leave policy. In a recent article citing that research, Krashen wrote: “If my analysis still holds, with another record-breaking number of women in Congress . . . circumstances suggest that the 2019-2020 House of Representatives is in a strong position to pass a paid family and medical leave bill.”

Gender Diversity

The mere presence of more women in Congress indicates that women have a growing voice in politics. This year, more women ran for elected office than ever before, more women donated to their campaigns, and more women won the positions for which they were vying. Just as bringing more women into the boardrooms of companies has the potential to incorporate diverse perspectives that can lead to better decisions, so, too, does the presence of more women in Congress.

“For the first time, we will see more than 100 women from diverse backgrounds represented in the halls of Congress, bringing more power to perspectives that have been left out of decision-making for far too long,” Kimberly Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women, said in a statement.

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