In 2021, women hold a record 143 seats in Congress. Despite major gains in the past decade, women are still significantly underrepresented in federal policymaking. By some estimates, it could take a century at our current rate for our legislature to achieve equal representation.
Statistics conveyed by organizations like the Center for American Women in Politics and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research highlight this disparity: women comprise roughly 51 percent of the population and 53 percent of the electorate but only 27 percent of Congress. Women are not the only constituency impacted by unequal representation – our entire policymaking process suffers.
Since 2000, Rachel’s Network has made the case that gender disparity in government not only stymies equality, it has serious implications for environmental policy as well.
Research in the European Journal of Political Economy found that female representation in national legislatures leads countries to adopt more stringent climate change policies. 91 countries were included in the study.
Similarly, a 2019 study in the Journal of Environmental Politics and a 2019 study in the Review of Policy Research both found that women in Western parliaments were more likely to support environmental legislation than men.
In previous iterations of our report When Women Lead (in 2003 and 2011), we analyzed the voting records of federal legislators going back to 1983 using League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Environmental Scorecard data. We found that women in Congress vote for legislation supporting clean air, clean water, renewable energy, climate action, and public health much more often than their male counterparts (and similarly vote more often against legislation that would roll back these protections).
This update brings our analysis up to the present and looks further into the past. After comparing annual LCV scores each year from 1972-2020, we again found that women legislators vote for environmental protections more often than their male counterparts in both the House and Senate.
Climate change, pollution, food and energy insecurity, chemical safety, and biodiversity loss have become urgent global concerns that threaten lives and livelihoods in the US. If we want to make progress on protecting the environment and public health, we should help elect more women to public office, and support them during their tenure.
Women with Perfect Environmental Scores in Congress in 2020
Nanette Barragán (CA), Karen Bass (CA), Suzanne Bonamici (OR), Julia Brownley (CA), Cheri Bustos (IL), Kathy Castor (FL), Judy Chu (CA), Katherine Clark (MA), Yvette Clarke (NY), Angela Craig (MN), Madeleine Dean (PA), Diana Degette (CO), Rosa Delauro (CT), Suzan Delbene (WA), Val Demings (FL), Debbie Dingell (MI), Anna Eshoo (CA), Lizzie Fletcher (TX), Lois Frankel (FL), Sylvia Garcia (TX), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Debra Haaland (NM), Jahana Hayes (CT), Christina Houlahan (PA), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Robin Kelly (IL), Ann Kuster (NH), Brenda Lawrence (MI), Barbara Lee (CA), Nita Lowey (NY), Carolyn Maloney (NY), Doris Matsui (CA), Betty McCollum (MN), Grace Meng (NY), Gwen Moore (WI), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Nancy Pelosi (CA), Chellie Pingree (ME), Stacey Plaskett (VI), Katie Porter (CA), Ayanna Pressley (MA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), Mary Scanlon (PA), Kim Schrier (WA), Donna Shalala (FL), Mikie Sherrill (NJ), Jackie Speier (CA), Haley Stevens (MI), Dina Titus (NV), Lauren Underwood (IL), Nydia Velazquez (NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Maxine Waters (CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ), and Jennifer Wexton (VA)
Women’s Environmental Voting Records in the House of Representatives
In the US House of Representatives, women have had higher average environmental scores in every year that LCV has kept records. Women’s average annual score from 1972-2020 is 68.9 while men’s is 45.5.
Within each political party, this pattern persists, although the discrepancy is less pronounced. The average scores of Democratic women surpass those of Democratic men in nearly every year since 1972 and their average is much higher: 87.1 vs 69.7. Since 2003, the scores of Republican women in the House have roughly tracked Republican men’s scores, but their overall average since 1972 is 24.5 compared to men’s 19.7.
As climate change continues to impact watersheds & forested uplands, our bill will ensure the protection of traditional uses are included in the conversations about the management of public lands for land grant & acequia communities to survive. pic.twitter.com/zCSKOgVxEE— Rep. Deb Haaland (@RepDebHaaland) December 4, 2020
A $10M pilot program of my Clean School Bus Act was approved by the House. Climate change has threatened the lives of our children & the health of our environment for decades. The clean school bus act is a step towards addressing the emissions produced by diesel busses.🚌 pic.twitter.com/A1MC2Oxpti— Jahana Hayes (@RepJahanaHayes) August 6, 2020
Women’s Environmental Voting Records in the Senate
Just as in the House of Representatives, women’s average LCV score in the Senate since 1972 is higher than men’s overall (67.2 vs 45.3) and within each party (D: 84.9 vs 69.7; R: 30 vs 19.7). Year by year, the picture is more complicated, primarily because comparatively few women have served in the Senate. From 1973-1977, no women served at all, and until 1991, only 1 or 2 women served at any one time. To put it another way, pre-1991 averages account for the scores of 98-99 men vs 1 or 2 women. The large swings in LCV scores in earlier years are partly due to this small sample size.
The climate crisis isn’t coming—it’s here. It's ravaging the country. And voters deserve to know what their presidential candidates plan to do about it.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) September 23, 2020
I joined @EdMarkey in calling on @debates to ensure the #ClimateCrisis doesn't go unaddressed in 2020:https://t.co/dw2vEnUJdo
“We’ve got to get more women to run. We need to be strategic and identify women to run in open seats at every level of leadership. And once those women are recruited, we need to make sure that they have the support, financial and otherwise, to be successful.”
We can close the gender gap and make a difference for the environment by following these suggestions from fellow advocates:
About Rachel’s Network
Rachel’s Network is a vibrant community of women at the intersection of environmental advocacy, philanthropy, and women’s leadership. With a mission to promote women as agents of change dedicated to the stewardship of the earth, we meet with cutting-edge thinkers, build productive alliances, and connect with savvy, like-minded women to strengthen our leadership and impact.
About Rachel’s Action Network
Rachel’s Action Network (RAN), a nonpartisan 501(c)(4) organization, is an advocacy resource for women who want to translate their philanthropic giving into political impact. Our programs empower women leaders to influence the political process and make their voices heard on the issues they care about.