How structural barriers leave aspiring women, lawmakers of color at a disadvantage

The United States likes to say that it is a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world, but the truth is that our democracy has never represented all of us equally.

US relations with the Dominican Republic disappointing 72nd place In the representation of women in national government, according to IPU Parline, based in Switzerland, which collects data around the world.

For women of color, it’s even worse. only in the US Congress 9% members There are women of color, less than half of their population.

Unlike countries like India, Iceland and Mister Lanka – which elected a female prime minister in 1960 – America has never elected a woman head of state. On the judicial side, out of 115 judges of the Supreme Court so far, only five women have been, The first black woman to ascend our Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, was confirmed just last week.

Washington state is stepped up Getting more representation in the state legislature, but the percentage of women in our governing body is still only 42%despite being half the population,

This comes as no surprise to Representative Kirsten Harris-Tally, D-Seattle, who recently announced She will not contest re-election. Harris-Tally, a black queer woman, said that political bodies such as the Washington Legislature were not established to serve women and people of color. the legislature was entirely male until 1913 And almost completely white. At the time of its establishment in 1889, the largest profession for legislators was farmer after lawyer, Harris-Tally has said that history shapes the present.

“The reason we’re a quote, ‘part-time’ legislature,” Harris-Tally said, “so that you can take your horse and buggy and spend more time traveling from Spokane to Olympia to serve your term.” can take the time. And come back at the time of the harvest.”

Harris-Tally join Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, and Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, as legislators of color who are not seeking re-election.

Announcing his decision, Das cited family and financial obligations as driving factors. In a statement, he wrote, “…it has become clear that my family responsibility and financial obligations make it impossible for me to contest for re-election. I am simply not spending the time with my family that I do.” I also find it difficult to meet my financial obligations on my state senator salary.

This is no surprise either. “Our legislature consists mostly of doctors, or mostly people who have wealthy peers, because that’s not an affordable or sustainable job,” Harris-Tally said.

In Washington, legislators earn $56,881 for part-time work. But really, it doesn’t work that way.

according to National Conference of State LegislaturesIn Washington state, “part-time” legislators actually work an average of 74% of their time. Harris-Tally said the percentage varies greatly among legislators — and can be much higher. But in this scenario if 74% earned an MP $56,881, a full-time salary at that rate would be $76,866.

Harris-Tally is in the rare position of comparing the composition of the Legislature to that of another elected body, the Seattle City Council. He was appointed to the council in 2017 to fill a vacancy and served for 51 days. He said the differences were many.

Within 10 days of starting on the council, she said, she had five employees. In the legislature, he has a legislative assistant who handles a range of responsibilities – an average of 500 to 1,000 emails a day. The salary of the city council was also very high. makes a councilor today $137,432 per year, This is a full-time job and means you can not only devote your time to work, but you also don’t have to worry about finding another job that allows you to become a “part-time legislator who is actually full-time”. gives convenience. ,” Harris-Tally said.

These structural differences affect who has the resources to serve.

Emily Carmichael is the executive director of Emerge Washington, which trains democratic women to run for office. She said the organization is building a network and support system for women and non-binary people to find “the right race at the right time” so that they can represent their communities.

“All of our systems are white male dominated systems,” Carmichael said. “They weren’t for women. They weren’t for people from marginalized backgrounds, people of color, women of color.” When women and people of color are elected, there isn’t as much support for them. Washington is not alone in this, he said. “Many states have part-time legislatures that basically have stipends. The salary they pay is not really going to support a family. It’s an issue.”

Carmichael said there is no quick fix, but electing more women and people from marginalized backgrounds will help change the system. It’ll take time.

Meanwhile, a legislature that does not represent the lived experiences and challenges of all of us will continue to create policies that benefit only the few or the most powerful.

“I really sit at the crossroads of difference between equality and equity,” Harris-Tally said. “… . We’ll keep chasing our tails, we’re not going to catch up.”

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