Forward Momentum in the Senate

There were two major developments for First Woman in the U.S. Senate this year. One received extensive press coverage; the other did not.

Tammy Duckworth

Tammy Duckworth, Senator from Illinois, holds many firsts:

–First Woman double amputee of the Iraq War

–First disabled Woman elected to Congress

–First Asian-American Woman to represent Illinois.

–And now, the First Woman in the U.S. Senate to give birth while in office.

Considering how many women give birth, and that this country was founded 242 years ago, this seems almost inconceivable, but Senator Duckworth was the first. While she was pregnant the Senator raised the issue of family leave with the Senate. She advocated for benefits for families with young children or other family needs. She also helped overturn the prohibition of children on the Senate floor. After her baby was born, she brought her infant with her to the Senate floor, and made the news. A woman, with a baby, in public, doing her job.

Cindy Hyde-Smith

While Tammy Duckworth has received significant press, Cindy Hyde-Smith has not. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi retired in April, for health reasons. At that time the Republican Governor of Mississippi, Dewey Phillip Bryan, appointed Cindy Hyde-Smith to fill Cochran’s term. She has indicated that she will run for the seat this November, hoping to utilize her background in agriculture and commerce to win support.

Cindy Hyde-Smith is not only the First Woman Senator from the State of Mississippi, she is, in fact, the First Woman to represent Mississippi in Congress. Perhaps, the long dry spell is not surprising, given that Mississippi did not ratify the Nineteenth Amendment that gave women the right to vote until 1984. But in Mississippi’s defense, there are still 20 states that have never sent a woman to the Senate. Do the math: 20 out of 50 states (or 40%) have never elected a woman Senator.

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Only 52 women have served in the Senate in the span of U.S. history; and only 23 are serving at this time. Once again, do the math: 23 women out of 100 (or 23%) represent more than 50% of the population. They have said that, given past progress, it will take another 100 years for women to achieve parity in Congress. Perhaps Senators Duckworth and Hyde-Smith are barrier-breakers who can speed up the trajectory for women’s success.

 

 

Senator Tammy Duckworth to Give Birth While in the Senate

Tammy Duckworth will be the First Woman in the U.S. Senate to give birth while in office. Senator Duckworth is surprised at the attention she has received since announcing her pregnancy. “It is somewhat ridiculous,” she says, “that it’s 2018 and this is such big news.”

In a recent interview Senator Duckworth explainedd that there is no maternity leave policy for the Senate, so she is “working with the administration of the Senate to set some of the ground rules and develop the policy. I guess when you’re the first one, you have the opportunity to really push to set what the rules are for everyone.” She might have added that First Women often see this opportunity as an obligation, to work for the women following them.

The fact is that Senator Duckworth will receive twelve weeks paid leave, but this is only because that is the policy in her own office. All her staffers are eligible for the paid leave. Other offices in the Senate set their own leave policies, and not all are as generous.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of leave for birth or adoption, but there is no mandate for employers to pay employees during the leave. For many employees this leave is unpaid. Each employer can decide how to support the benefit, and Senators are considered individual employers. Vicki Shabo, of National Partnership for Women and Families says, “Congressional staff are at the mercy of their employer and are really part of a boss lottery.”

Senator Duckworth is also a disabled veteran who served in Iraq, the First Woman double amputee in the armed services. She joins four other women serving in Congress who are combat veterans.

Duckworth will not be the First Woman to give birth while serving in Congress. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, the First African-American Woman elected to the House of Representatives from California, gave birth in office in 1973; but it was twenty-two years before another woman gave birth while in Congress. You can count on your fingers the number of births to women serving in the entire history of the Congress.

Although the numbers are small, it may be progress for an institution that did not even provide a restroom for women Senators until the 1960’s, and then only two stalls in a converted closet. As late as 2013, it required a public outcry from the twenty women Senators before they received upgraded facilities. Perhaps paid leave for childbirth, both in the Senate and in the nation, is another opportunity for public outcry from our legislative leaders. This is not a battle Senator Duckworth should have to wage alone.

New Congresswomen 2017

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-00-58-amCatherine Cortez Masto is the First Woman elected to the Senate from the State of Nevada. In addition she is the first Latina ever elected to the Senate. A Democrat, she replaced former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. She was sworn in this month, along with three other new women members of the Senate (all Democrats):

–Kamala Harris of California replaced outgoing Barbara Boxer;

–Tammy Duckworth of Illinois defeated Mark Kirk; and

–Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire defeated Kelly Ayotte

Another seat held by a woman, that of Barbara Mikulski of Maryland who retired, was filled by a man, bringing the net change of women in the Senate to +1. In the previous Congress 20 women served in the Senate; now the number is 21 women.

Only 50 women have ever served in the United States Senate. I realize we are late coming to the game, as we couldn’t vote for 60% of our nation’s history. But come on, we have had the vote for 96 years. We still only fill 21% of the seats in the Senate and twenty-two states have never elected a woman to the Senate.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-02-14-amThere are two new First Women in the House of Representatives: screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-01-26-amIlhan Omar of Minnesota is the first Somali-American lawmaker and Pramila Jayapal of Washington is the first East Indian-American to serve in the House.

There are 52 new members in the House of Representatives. One-half are Republicans and one-half are Democrats. A grand total of eight are women, 15% of the incoming class. Of those, two are Republicans and six are Democrats. There will be a total of 83 women in the House of Representatives, 19% of the body. This percentage means that almost half the countries of the world exceed the United States in the percentage of women represented in their governing bodies.

Although the numbers of women are discouraging, I found something encouraging among the incoming Representatives. In addition to the two First Women in the House, who represent minorities in this country, there is also a Vietnamese refugee going to Congress, Stephanie Murphy, formerly named Đặng Thị Ngọc Dung. Another newcomer, a gentleman from California, was born in Mexico and his father was a farmworker. Perhaps the congress is slowly beginning to reflect this country. Unfortunately for women, however, at the current rate of progress, it will be another century before women achieve parity in Congress.

 

First Women in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2016

TIME        Time magazine often highlights First Women in its annual list of 100 Most Influential People and this year was no exception. It is a pleasure to feature them on this blog posting, but also of interest is noting which people were selected by Time to write the profiles for the First Women. Three of these profilers hold firsts as well, two women and one man.

The one exception is the article on Angela Merkel, the first Chancellor of Germany. Honored for her work in accepting refugees, she was praised not by a First Woman but certainly by a powerful one: Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, an observant Muslim, was also featured. The First Woman to compete in the Olympic Games wearing her hijab, she will represent the United States States in the fencing competitions.

IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD

               The article on her was written by Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress.

Christine Lagarde is also featured. As Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, she coordinates 100 nations in determining financial policies and assuring financial security. She was the First Woman to attain that position. She was also the First Woman to serve as Finance Minister in France, the First Woman in any developed country to reach that position. In the United States no woman has ever served as Secretary of the Treasury.

The article on Christine Lagarde was written by Janet Yellen, the First Woman Chair of the Federal Reserve System. Two years ago, when Janet Yellen was featured as one of the top 100, it was Christine Lagarde who wrote the article about Yellen’s achievements.

Another First Woman featured is Lori Robinson. At the time of publication Time could only anticipate the four-star general’s confirmation as the First Woman combatant commander. (She assumed the position on May 13, 2016.) She had previously led U.S. air forces in the Pacific, but now is the top general for military operations in North America with added responsibility for homeland security. It is one of the most senior positions in the U.S. military.

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        The article about her was written by Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot in Iraq. Currently a U.S. Representative from Illinois, she is the first Asian American Woman elected to Congress from Illinois and the First Woman disabled veteran to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.