Maryland Falling Behind in Gender Parity in Office

Washington Post. Posted by Cynthia Terrell on December 03, 2015

By Ovetta Wiggins

Two women serve in Maryland’s 10-person congressional delegation. No female holds one of Maryland’s four statewide executive positions. Of the state’s 10 largest cities, only two, Baltimore and Rockville, have female mayors. And none of the state’s five largest counties have executives who are women.

Based on those figures, Maryland’s score has dropped in an annual ranking by Representation 2020, a project by FairVote, a nonprofit that researches how voting systems affect participation, representation and governance.

Maryland, which has in years past shown a progressive swing, placed 20th in the nation in a report released Thursday by Representation 2020 on gender parity.

“Once ahead of the nation on gender parity in elected office, [Maryland] is falling behind,” the report reads.

In 1993, the state ranked fifth in the nation and received a parity score of 20 in the project’s gender parity index. This year’s score was 19.1.

Cynthia Terrell, the chair of Representation 2020, said the percentage of women in the General Assembly peaked in 2005 at just under 36 percent. Over the last decade, the number has gradually declined. At 31 percent, the percentage is higher than the national average in state legislatures, the report found.

Still, Terrell said, the state has not had more than one member of its U.S. House delegation be a woman since 1995. Between 1979 to 1992, the state had at least three female members of Congress.

“That’s 20 years of underrepresentation,” the report reads.

The report notes that Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) plans to retire next year. U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen are in a bitter battle for the Democratic nomination to fill Milkulski’s seat. One female, House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, has entered the race for the Republican nomination.

Representation 2020 is pushing for Maryland and other states to level the playing field for women who want to run for elected office by enacting electoral reform, including the use of multi-member legislative districts; encouraging political parties to set up rules and procedures to recruit women and eliminating any internal practices that are biased against women lawmakers.

“Parties need to be held accountable and need to be agents for change,” Terrell said. “Then some of the states that we think are progressive will actually make some progress.”

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