21 February 2020
A record number of women currently serve in the United States Congress. They hold 23.5 percent of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. And 26 out of the 100 members of the Senate are women.
However, the U.S. government still has a smaller percentage of female lawmakers than many other countries, including Mexico, Tunisia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union tried to rate 193 countries by the number of women they have serving in national government positions. The United States finished in 76th place in the study.
The numbers are a little higher on the state government level; in 2019, about 29 percent of state legislators were women.
Two female members of the U.S. Senate -- Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts – are among the candidates seeking to win the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. Some observers say the two are likely to be judged more critically than men during their efforts to become commander in chief.
"Women are expected to be twice as good," says Amanda Hunter. She is director of research and communications for the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. The organization aims to make sure women are equally represented in U.S. politics.
Women who are in office often change the nature of the political debate.
Former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp says women in elected office often work on issues that are most important to families -- like paid family leave and security for retirees. They also take up issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Heitkamp added, "I think there are a whole lot of things that are in the public...dialogue right now that would not be in that public dialogue if women weren't on the podium and on that stage."
Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, served in the Senate from 2013 to 2019. During that time, she attended many dinners with female lawmakers from both major political parties. They worked together, for example, to avoid a federal government shutdown in 2013.
"A lot of women got into politics not -- I don't mean to generalize on men -- but not because they thought it was their destiny or they thought that the world couldn't survive without them," Heitkamp said. "Voters tend to believe that women are motivated not by power and ego, but women are motivated because they want to see a change in the world."
A 2015 study found that female senators worked with each other more often, were more likely to work with members of other parties and were more active legislatively than male senators.
Right now, the country needs more female leaders, says Michael Steele of Maryland. He was the first African American to chair the Republican National Committee.
"Women tackle problems differently than men do," Steele noted. "Our politics have gotten hot. Oftentimes, the cooler head is going to be the woman who comes to the table...and says, ‘You all need to grow up and start to bring things back to a rational point.'"
I'm Ashley Thompson.
Dora Mekouar wrote this story for VOA News. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
domestic - adj. relating to or involving someone's home or family
dialogue -n. conversation between two or more people
podium - n. stand with a slanted surface that holds a book, notes, etc., for someone who is reading, speaking, or teaching
shutdown - n. the act of stopping the operation or activity of a business, machine, etc., for a period of time or forever
destiny - n. what happens in the future : the things that someone or something will experience in the future
tend - v. used to describe what often happens or what someone often does or is likely to do — followed by to + verb
motivate - v. to give (someone) a reason for doing something
ego - n. the opinion that you have about yourself
tackle - v. to deal with (something difficult)
rational - adj. based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings