It’s been more than two weeks since the midterm elections brought sweeping change to Congress and State Houses across the country. It wasn’t the greatest moment for those of us working toward gender equality — but there are some shining silver linings that prove change is happening, however incrementally.
Women were major players in Senate races from New Hampshire to Georgia to Iowa and Kentucky. They were key contenders for governor’s seats in at least nine states. They brought their unique perspectives to the political and policy debates from state legislatures to the U.S. Senate.
Here, my top seven moments of the 2014 elections and what they mean for women.
Rhode Island Meets a Milestone: Ocean State voters elected a woman as their Governor for the first time, making history in one of the oldest boys’ clubs. I know Governor-elect Gina Raimondo will lead with the same strength and likeability that defined her campaign and her tenure as Treasurer before that.
Massachusetts Makes History: My home state of Massachusetts made headlines with the election of Maura Healey, a qualified, dynamic, and energizing leader who will be the first openly gay Attorney General in the country. Let’s hear it for progress.
Workers Win on Earned Sick Time: More than one million workers will not have to choose between their health and their job, as voters in Massachusetts and in three cities across the country passed ballot initiatives allowing workers to earn paid sick time. This is a real win for women, since we are still so often the primary caregivers for sick children or parents.
Minimum Wage on the Rise: Voters in four states said yes to boosting their minimum wage (and a fifth did the same, although it was a nonbinding referendum). This is good news for women, who make up nearly sixty percent of the low-wage workers nationwide, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Overall, 62 percent of workers making the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, are women, according to a Pew Research analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Women shouldn’t have to choose between going to work, paying for childcare, and putting food on the table. With a fair, livable wage, they wouldn’t have to. Here’s hoping this shift in policy at the state level fuels a larger discussion over the federal minimum wage, too.
Diversity Marks the Day: We know from Barbara Lee Family Foundation research that voters value diversity in our elected leaders and think Congress would be better with a broader range of races, ages, and backgrounds represented. I couldn’t agree more. This election saw some strides in that arena with the election of Republicans Mia Love and Elise Stefanik to Congress. Love will be the first black Republican woman in Congress, and at 30 years old, Stefanik will be the youngest woman ever elected to the body.
Women Governors Hold onto Their Seats: While this wasn’t a banner year for women taking over the corner office, we didn’t lose ground, either. The total number of women governors will remain at five with the retirement of Governor Jan Brewer in Arizona and the addition of Governor-elect Gina Riamondo in Rhode Island.
Women Break 100 in Congress: With Alma Adams’ special election in North Carolina, the current Congress will now have at least 100 women. Before we celebrate, though, remember this: Men will make up 90 percent of the Republicans in Congress. We can do better.
Let’s take pride in the small victories for progress we did see this year. Here’s to the fearless women with the grace and grit to put their names on the ballot, the candidates who fought for fairness, and the people who helped push the dialogue forward on issues that disproportionately affect women.
It took 70 years from the first women’s rights conference at Seneca Falls until women won the right to vote in 1920. It took us until 2014 to hit 100 women in Congress. As I think about this slow progress toward equality, I’m reminded of a poster that hangs in my office. It depicts groundbreaking suffragist Inez Milholland on a white horse, holding a banner with the phrase “Forward into light.”
That’s exactly where we’re headed. Let’s keep going.
Read More: “Election 2014: Seven Wins for Women”