The future for women in politics is looking brighter following this week’s midterm elections.
At least 118 women will serve in the 116th Congress, bringing the share of women legislators to at least 22 percent. This far exceeds the previously held record of 105 women in 2016, according to Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics, and will be largely driven by Democrats.
There were also several historic milestones in the midterm results: the first ever Muslim congresswoman, the first two Native American congresswomen, Massachusetts’ and Connecticut’s first black congresswomen, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and more.
“The midterm elections have delivered some really nice gains…these things are really energizing for people to see,” Layna Mosley, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Know Your Value.
“The real standouts are women of color,” Nichole Bauer, assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University, wrote in an email. According to Axios, there will be at least 40 women of color headed to the House.
“Women of color have long been unrecognized background players in the Democratic Party and these women are only now moving to the foreground of Democratic Party politics.” Bauer added, “This election could be a change year for women of color in the party opening up more doors and pathways for other marginalized groups to pursue political office.”
Here’s a breakdown of this week’s historic wins for women:
- • Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Iham Omar of Minnesota became the first and second Muslim women elected to Congress. Both women are Democrats.
- • Deb Haaland of Arizona and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Both women are Democrats. Davids also made history as the first openly LGBT woman of color in Congress.
- • Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts' first black congresswoman. A video of the Democrat’s emotional win went viral on Twitter.
- • New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old progressive won in a shocking upset over Rep. Joe Crowley. Abby Finkenauer joined her as one of the youngest women ever elected to Congress.
- • Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia became Texas's first two Latina congresswomen. Both women are Democrats.
- • Lou Leon Guerrero, a Democrat, became the first woman governor of Guam.
- • Angie Craig, a Democrat, became the first openly lesbian mother in Congress and the first openly LGBT member of Congress from Minnesota.
- • Jahana Hayes, a former schoolteacher and Democrat, became Connecticut’s first black congresswomen.
- • Republican Young Kim of California became the first Korean American woman in Congress.
While there was an increase in the number of women and minorities in Congress, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a big partisan divide for gender. Of the 118 women in Congress, only 6 percent are Republican. In fact, women Republicans lost 11 seats in the House.
“There’s a big difference in what the Democratic Caucus will look like in terms of gender versus the Republican,” Mosley said. “Having a voice on both sides of the aisle is very important.” And while the next congressional term will be between 22 and 23 percent female, this is still far below other democracies, and far below parity with the status of women in the U.S. population.
“The Democratic women’s candidacies and wins in 2018 – and their historic firsts, including many women of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQ women – move the Democratic party much closer to looking like the coalition that routinely elects them to office,” Mirya Holman, associate professor of political science at Tulane University, wrote in an email.
“The same is true, though, for Republicans – that the Republican party’s candidates and winners are overwhelmingly white, male, and older is also reflected in the voting base of the party.” She added, “the national attention on many of these ‘first’ women will certainly help the Democratic Party make the case that it represents women better than the Republican Party.”
What will the future hold? “In order to continue increasing the percentage of women in Congress, it’s going to take winning candidacies from minority women to make the difference,” said Kathryn DePalo, who teaches political science at Florida International University. “Ocasio-Cortez, now the youngest female elected to Congress, will inspire other young women that age is no barrier to making their voices heard…”
“We will have the most diverse set of women in Congress ever,” DePalo added. “With these barriers broken, more women of diverse religious faiths and backgrounds will find the courage to walk in the footsteps of these path-breaking women.”