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Report: NYC Lags Behind Other Cities In Female Representation In Government

Speaker of the City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito.
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Speaker of the City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito. Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works

Despite New York City's idea of itself as a progressive capital of the planet, it lags behind cities across the country and the world as far as female representation in government goes. Even worse, according to a just-published report, the city is on pace to have fewer than 10 women on the City Council by the end of the 2021 term.

The new report from the City Council's Women's Caucus, "Not Making it Here" examines what the group of legislators say is women's underrepresentation in the City Council. With 13 out of 51 seats on the City Council currently filled by women, the number of women in government is trending the wrong way, according to the report, especially as every member of the Council gets term-limited out this year.

The report's own projections peg the number of women legislators between 9 and 12 for the next term ending in 2021, down from 18 women legislators in the terms ending in both 2001 and 2009. With that in mind, Speaker of the City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito has already launched an initiative, "21 in 21" that's working to recruit more women into politics, with the goal of having 21 women members of the City Council by 2021. The City Council's Progressive Caucus has also endorsed three women running for City Council in this year's elections.

In addition to the reduced number of women legislators on the council next year, none of the candidates for Speaker of the City Council are women, after the position was consecutively filled by Christine Quinn and Mark-Viverito. Quinn and Mark-Viverito were just the second and third women to head the city's legislative body in New York's history.

With female legislators holding just 26 percent of seats in the City Council, New York only beats out Los Angeles ad Houston in terms of proportion of women legislators in the country's ten largest cities, and lags way behind, say, Phoenix (50 percent) in that department. And while it's not one of the ten largest cities in America, the report also notes that Austin has a 70 percent female city council. Austin's city council was 90 percent women as recently as 2015, though even that ratio didn't happen without its share of sexism from the city manager's office.

The city is lagging behind Internationally as well, the report notes, as "many cities of similar size, wealth, and government structure have across the board better gender parity, with the exception of Toronto." Which in its own way makes sense when you think about it.

As laid out in this Times article, the report notes that women have an equal shot to win elections when they run, but research has shown that men are 40 percent more likely to run for political office.

The reasons for that disparity are varied. There's the fact that women are still tasked with household chores more often than men, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculating the 83 percent of women "spend time doing them" every day compared to 63 percent of men.

However, beyond the expectation that they act as the primary domestic caregivers, the report suggests that women aren't viewed as potential officeholders by party leaders and operatives. Without being prepared to run when they begin showing interest in politics, women are less likely to feel that they're qualified to run for political office and win, despite evidence to the contrary. "Successful professionals who received external support from a political actor and a friend or family member are twice as likely to consider running for office," according to the report.

The consequences of having fewer women in government include issues like reproductive rights, domestic violence and education disparities getting ignored or legislated in ways that hurt women more, to a kind of feedback loop in which young girls don't see themselves in government and don't run as they get older, to increased partisanship. In addition, the report notes research that says women introduce more legislation overall than their male peers.

To shoot for more gender parity, the report suggests a number of fixes. To provide more mentorship and training for women interested in public life, the Women's Caucus is calling for "more funding to be dedicated to not-for-profit groups that support women in public life." The caucus also is calling for a the creation of a paid staffer position like the Progressive and the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucuses have, which they say would help them work more effectively.

In addition, the report is calling for the "creation of a new program that would
fund the promotion of women’s political engagement on a collegiate level," in order to start building a pool of qualified candidates early, and give young women networking opportunities early on in their careers.

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