Group’s report confirms Georgia’s low number of women in office

In 2015, most major political officeholders in the U.S. — including about 80 percent of Congress and about 75 percent of the nation’s state lawmakers — are men, a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows.

The institute ranks Georgia 49th among the 50 states for women serving in elected state and federal offices in 2015, citing its all-male congressional delegation, its 77 percent-male state Legislature and its lack of any women in statewide elected office.

PolitiFact Georgia decided to look closer at the numbers.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington-based nonprofit, tracks issues considered pertinent to women’s lives, including political participation, employment and earnings, work and family, poverty and opportunity, reproductive rights, health and well-being, and violence and safety.

On the political front, the group follows several trends, including women serving in elected office.

The new report shows upticks nationally between 2004 and 2015 in both the number and share of women serving in state legislatures, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, but declines in the number and share of women holding statewide elective office.

Nationally, as of March, women held 104 of 535 (19.4 percent) seats in the U.S. Congress, 1,786 of 7,383 (24.2 percent) seats in state legislatures and 78 of 317 (24.6 percent) statewide elective executive offices, the report states.

In Georgia, 54 women are serving in the 236-member state Legislature this year, the researchers reported. But they found the state had no women in the U.S. House, U.S. Senate or in statewide elected office.

Only Louisiana rated lower than Georgia, with women making up 10.3 percent of its state Senate and 13.3 percent of the state House but holding no seats in Congress and no statewide offices.

New Hampshire is No. 1 for 2015, up from 42nd place in 2004, with three of its four congressional seats held by women. The state has a female governor, and women fill about one-third of the state’s House and Senate seats, according to the institute.

We checked the institute’s data against information on female legislators available at the website of the National Council of State Legislatures.

The NCSL reported 1,782 female legislators, nationally, and 53 in Georgia, numbers just slightly different, as of February, from the institute’s totals. The NCSL pointed out that the data were subject to change due to resignations, appointments and special elections.

The National Women’s Political Caucus reported the number of women serving in state legislatures in 2013 was 1,779, essentially what it is today.

The institute’s report notes that women haven’t made the gains in elected offices in recent years that they did in the past couple of decades. It points out that, in the six years from 2009 to 2015, the female members of Congress grew only minimally, from 16.8 percent to 19.4 percent.

There are various theories on why more women aren’t officeholders. Some research suggests that women generally win elected office at similar rates as men but fewer women run for office.

Veteran state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, said politics is frequently a rough business and one where “men assume they are qualified and ready to be elected or appointed, women are more hesitant to take the leap.”

But when they are willing to serve and willing to compete for opportunities to lead, as well as just to be there, women can do really well, Oliver said.

“They can be a moderating influence. They are more collaborative and they can be better at identifying a variety of issues that affect real people, and that’s true of both Democratic and Republican women,” she said.

State Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Democrat from Junction City, said she believes the House lost more than the normal number of female legislators after redistricting forced some of them into the same districts with some of their legislative colleagues.

“Maybe it is ‘Southern’ manners or disdain for conflict, but there were some who chose not to run against their colleagues,” said Buckner, who was first elected to the House in 2002.

She said it is difficult for a woman to serve in the Legislature when it means juggling family, job, campaigning, fund raising, constituent concerns and legislative duties that include preparing for committee meetings and floor debates.

“My first year of service my daughter was only six,” Buckner said. “I was asked repeatedly: ‘Don’t you worry about her? How can you leave her? Or how do how do you do this with such a young child at home?’ … I have often wondered how many male legislators were asked any of those questions.”

Buckner said she believes “intelligent and thoughtful women add much to the process.”

“Their perspective is more broad and encompassing and many times more collaborative,” she said.

Our Ruling.

A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research says Georgia is 49th among the 50 states for women serving in elected state and federal offices. It cites the state’s all-male congressional delegation, its 77 percent-male Legislature and its lack of any women in statewide elected office. Other sources report similar data.

We rate the statement as True.

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