Women and Politics

“I didn’t run to make history, I ran to make a difference,” said Wisconsin’s newly elected female and first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, but it’s probably safe to say that she is on her way to make history while accomplishing her goal to make a difference.

Senator Baldwin has not only carved her place in history by being first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate, but she was also a part of a group of powerful women senators-elect who won seats held by men.

Democrat, and U.S. Rep., Tammy Baldwin took an open Senate seat over Republican Tommy Thompson who had served 14 years as the state’s governor and was former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. Republican Deb Fischer defeated Democrat Bob Kerrey, a former two-term senator from the state, for an open seat in Nebraska during 2012 election. Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard University professor whose attacks on Wall Street fueled her campaign, won her race against the Republican incumbent, Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts and was the first woman to represent her state in the U.S. Senate.

Democrat, and U.S. Rep., Mazie Hirono, defeated former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle for an open seat in Hawaii, and in North Dakota, Democrat and former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Berg for an open seat.

The March into the National Women’s Conference. (Left to right) Billy Jean King, Susan B. Anthony II, Bella Abzug, Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy Kokernot, Michele Cearcy, Betty Friedan
Photo © 1978 Diana Mara Henry / dianamarahenry.com

These historical election results are important, not only because Democrats will hold a 55-45 advantage, but because when Congress convenes in January, 20 of its 100 members will be women, which has come a long way from the seven women who were in office after the election in 1992, which was dubbed the Year of the Woman.

In a world where women make 20 percent less than men, and are still fighting for equal rights and say on what happens with their bodies, it helps to have a better representation of the population by electing a more diverse group of politicians. This election does show, however, that we have made some incredible gains.

Just two years ago in Senator Baldwin’s state of Wisconsin, the voters elected a Tea Party member to the Senate which displaced the Democratic mainstay. The conservative governor, Scott Walker, stripped most state workers of bargaining rights and voters in the state simply rejected an effort to recall him from office.

In 2006 the state upheld a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman passed with the support of a clear majority, and  of  course those same voters elected Representative Tammy Baldwin to the senate making her the country’s first openly gay senator, and this drastic change shows hope for issues such as women’s health and reproductive rights which are often just shoved aside.

The recent death of an Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, who was denied an abortion in Ireland amplifies the need, to not only change Irish laws, but to secure the right to have an abortion or have access to birth control right here in the US.

This avoidable murder of a woman could have been avoided if she had the right to choose what happened to her own body and, as a result, her own life. I do, however, try and live a life that harms the least amount of lives as possible, which is why I’m a vegetarian and I personally most likely wouldn’t choose to have an abortion. I do understand though that there are situations such as the ones where women are raped or, like Savita Halappanavar, have their lives hanging in the balance that it may be necessary for them to choose to terminate their pregnancy, and I don’t want to put any damaging regulations that would harm the life and well-being of the mother.

It helps to know that there are more women in higher ranks of office in the US and, hopefully, rising. Women need more representation in order to obtain equality, and it’s incredibly important that more women get into politics.

Starting in January 2013, the following women will be serving as U.S. senators:

Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), 1987-

Dianne Feinstein (D-California), 1992-

Barbara Boxer (D-California), 1993-

Patty Murray (D-Washington), 1993-

Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), 1997-

Susan Collins (R-Maine), 1997-

Deborah Stabenow (D-Michigan), 2001-

Maria E. Cantwell (D-Washington), 2001-

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), 2002-

Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), 2007-

Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), 2007-

Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), 2009-

Kay R. Hagan (D-North Carolina), 2009-

Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-New York), 2009-

Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), 2011-

Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), 2013-

Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), 2013-

Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), 2013-

Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), 2013-

Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), 2013

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