RICHMOND, Va. — For every female representative and senator in the U.S. Congress there are four men. But some female voters want to change that in the congressional election on Tuesday and increase the representation of women in Washington.
“[There was] only 17 percent female representation in the Virginia legislature last year,” Kim Drew Wright, founder of Liberal Women of Chesterfield County, said.
The grassroots advocacy group was created a few days after the 2016 presidential election. The next year 15 female legislators were elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
“I think a lot of women woke up and looked around at their local and statewide politics and saw that we did not have fair representation,” Wright concluded. “And that the only way to change that was to run for office and to get involved.”
Several Richmond residents interviewed for this story said that female representation was a key issue on their agendas in this election.
“Unfortunately the House, whether the Senate or Congress, is very much a boys’ club,” Richmond resident Kayleigh Fitzpatrick said. “So the voices of women, our voices, get drowned out.”
In Virginia, there are seven women and 18 men running for Congressional seats. Wright called the increase of women in politics long overdue.
“I think it’s about time for this to happen,” Wright said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had women run at these record numbers for these seats. Eleven women won House races in Virginia last year. That’s crazy, that’s unprecedented.”
The number of women running for Congress nationally in 2018 has more than doubled compared to 2016.
Currently, women make up 20 percent of Congress, holding 107 of the 535 seats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Of those 107 seats, women of color hold 38.
Despite seeing women across the country running for political office, Wright said Virginia has a long way to go.
“There’s never been a female U.S. senator from Virginia. There’s never been a female governor or lieutenant governor,” Wright said.
Women have broken election records this year so far — the number of female candidates who filed to run for political office as well as the number of those candidates who won in the primaries is the highest in history, according to The New York Times. The recent rise in female representation is motivating some local voters to get involved.
“I feel like it’s great because the population is about 50 percent women and you do not see that at all in the government,” said Richmond resident Janice Mun. “So the fact that more women are rising to challenge these men is motivating.”
Although most women voters covet increased representation, some stress that a candidate’s gender should not be a deciding factor in how they cast their ballot.
“I would not ever vote for someone just because they’re a woman,” said Richmond resident Casey Cole. “I’d have a sense of empowerment if there was someone — in a very broad sense — like Sarah Palin, because she’s a Republican woman. Just because [someone is] a woman doesn’t make me excited.”
Aside from strong female representation in politics, there are specific issues pushing women voters to the polls.
“Probably maintaining certain reproductive rights,” said Richmond resident Fiona Penn. “But I’d hope most women are also thinking about immigration rights and foreign policy stuff as well.”
While reproductive rights and economic equality are at the forefront for some Richmond women voters, Cole said a different issue fueled her vote: “The earth is dying and we’re ruining everything. I care more about agricultural stuff, like trying to incorporate renewable energy, than anything else.”
Regardless of party affiliation, women are making their voices heard across the Commonwealth and the country and are expected to be the deciding factor in the election on Tuesday.
“There’s a lot going on culturally as well as politically in America,” Wright said. “I think we just have to keep pushing, running for these seats, and knowing we can do this and not being afraid to take the chance to do that.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.