In 2020, women hold a record 127 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 24 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.
“We need to have more women in Congress — we need more consensus-builders, we need people who will listen more, who are less ego-driven and partisan. I really believe if you had 51 percent women in Congress, the whole dynamic would change.”
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 1972-2019, 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.
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 found that women in the European Parliament were significantly more likely to support environmental legislation than men – even after controlling for political ideology and nationality.
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 score from 1972-2019 is 61.8 while men’s is 45.4.
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: 86.5 vs 69.2. Since 2003, the scores of Republican women in the House have roughly tracked Republican men’s scores, but their overall average since 1972 is 24.8 compared to men’s 19.8.
Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) helped secure over $300 million in American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funds for energy efficiency programs, research and development and job training, including $127.5 million for smart grid deployment.
Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus in 2017 to develop policies addressing climate change. She also helped defeat an amendment to a Defense Department authorization bill that would have blocked a study on the impact that climate change is having on national security.
Women with Perfect Environmental Scores in the House in 2019
Forty seven percent of the representatives earning perfect LCV scores (100) in the House in 2019 were women: Nanette Barragán (CA), Yvette Clarke (NY), Pramila Jayapal (WA), Marcy Kaptur (OH), Barbara Lee (CA), Carolyn Maloney (NY), Grace Meng (NY), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Nydia Velázquez (NY), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ).
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 (67.6 vs 45.4) and within each party (D: 84.8 vs 69.4; R: 31.2 vs 20). 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.
Women with Perfect Environmental Scores in the Senate in 2019
While women comprised only 25 percent of the Senate in 2019, they made up 50 percent of the LCV scores of 100, with perfect votes from Tammy Baldwin (WI), Maria Cantwell (WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Margaret Hassan (NH), Mazie Hirono (HI), Jacky Rosen (NV), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Tina Smith (MN), and Debbie Stabenow (MI).
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Former Senator Olympia Snowe‘s (R-ME) matching lifetime scores of 63 and 65 put them near the 14-year average for all women senators. Both women voted for public land protections, water conservation, clean energy and climate change funding, and more.
“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.