Just in time for Women’s History Month and the start of the Wyoming Legislature in Cheyenne, some nonpartisan voices for women have dropped an important policy brief.
On Friday the Wyoming Women’s Foundation and Equality State Policy Center released a six-page brief — researched by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming — on Wyoming women in elected roles.
Their press release reminds us, “Although women make up nearly half the population in Wyoming, they make up a far smaller percentage of elected officials — just 18% of Wyoming legislators are women.” The brief also points out that less than 20% of all county commissioners are women — and there are six Wyoming counties that have no women at all on their commissions.
The brief also explores some of the reasons women are underrepresented in elected office in Wyoming — the Equality State consistently ranks in the bottom five nationally — as well as the structural barriers women face to holding office. Even more importantly: It suggests best practices and policy solutions to make running and serving in office more accessible to women.
Fortunately there are more and more examples of what happens when women approach (or even exceed! hello, Nevada!) parity in elected bodies. There’s a recent anecdote from Rep. Pat Spearman of Nevada, reported in the 19th News, in which she explains that elected men in the Nevada Legislature expressed concern over making a year’s worth of birth control pills — rather than just a 30-day supply — available to women.
Apparently the male legislators were convinced that women would sell the excess pills and were opposed to the bill.
The women in the room begged to differ.
And the women in the Nevada Legislature have already been able to advance legislation proven to support women, families and communities. Things like paid family leave, protections for pregnant workers and stronger protections for survivors of sex trafficking and intimate partner violence.
Many of the bills the Nevada Legislature has passed in the past two years are among the policy recommendations in the new Wyoming policy brief. That reinforces the relationship between electing more women and advancing legislation that supports women.
This matters, too, because as the report points out, “When women are not well represented in politics, it discourages other women from seeking out and participating in political platforms.”
For example the report delves into the asymmetry of care work and compensation for women, two obstacles for potential candidates. If you lack both time and money due to systemic issues like lack of child care and the gender wage gap, running for office might not seem a viable option. Closing the gender wage gap and addressing the issue of unpaid care work are two ways to make it possible for more women to run for office.
Other opportunities the report identifies would benefit everyone. When Wyoming had multi-member districts (through 1992), the Equality State elected a greater diversity of candidates. As the Legislature begins its redistricting process, this is a change that we could make.
Ranked choice voting — recently adopted via ballot measure in Alaska — is another structural shift that benefits everyone thanks to cost savings, the minimization of partisan politics and its proven ability to elevate the voices of underrepresented groups, including women.
And the report recommends basic, everyday things that each of us can and should do: Encourage women you know to run. Support their campaigns with time and money. Apply for open seats on appointed boards and commissions.
The brief says, “When women [of every political persuasion)]participate in government, Wyoming wins.”
Meanwhile the 66th Wyoming Legislature has only 16 women out of 90 members. And the bills filed to date reflect that.