When Women Lead, the Environment is in Safer Hands

A comprehensive look at the voting habits of Congressional women on environmental issues reveals that women are a substantial factor in passing environmental legislation.

A graphic from Rachel’s Network shows how women’s leadership is rising in proportion to men’s leadership in Congress. The report, When Women Lead
Women’s Environmental Voting Records in Congress, 1972-2020, gives detailed analysis on women’s environmental voting record in Congress. (Image credit: Rachel’s Network)

Women leaders have been recognized as some of the most significant supporters of environmental policy and legislation for years now. A new report by Rachel’s Action Network breaks down women’s participation in environmental change since 1972. The ecofeminist funder network has previously released similar reports in 2003 and 2011.

Those previous reports found that female members of Congress were more likely to vote for the different variations of environmental legislation than their male counterpart members of congress. This included voting in favor of clean air and water, renewable energy, climate action and public health. It also included voting against legislation that would set back these kinds of protections. 

Scoring System Highlights Large Gender Divide on Environmental Issues

Information from the Rachel’s Network report came from voting records kept with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Environmental Scorecard data . From 1972 to 2020, it was found again that women were more often voting in favor of environmental regulations than their male colleagues in both the House and Senate. 

The LCV keeps these records and has compiled data to rate members of Congress on issues of public health, environment, and energy. In every year that they have kept track of this, from 1972 to 2020, women have had higher annual averages than men. This goes for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

In the House, the annual average score for women is 68.9, while men’s is 45.5. In the Senate, the average score for women annually is 67.2 while men’s is 45.3. When factoring in parties, it was found that democratic men and women have a similarly large disparity, with democratic women scoring an average of 87.1 while democratic men scored 69.7. In the republican party, women scored 24.5 and men scored 19.7

Notably, from 1973 to 1977, no women served in congress. From then until 1991, only 1 or 2 women served at a time. In these early years, the LCV scores disparities were caused by this extremely small sample size. 

The Gender Gap Continues, Suggesting Difficulty Securing Legislation

Now, in 2021,  women hold a record number of seats in congress. 143 of the congressional seats now belong to women leaders, but there is still a need for more female representation. Despite this record number, women are still considerably outnumbered by male members of Congress. 

The Center for American Women in Politics and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that women make up 51 percent of the total population, but only 27 percent of Congress. With their history of fighting for environmental legislation, this underrepresentation foreshadows a blockade in such legislation being passed. 

Issues involving public health, climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss have reached the point of being a global crisis. This was true even before adding in the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Supporting Women in Congress Helps Support the Environment.

Rachel’s Action Network has been pushing since 2000 the case that the gender gap in government has serious implications for environmental regulations. As the data has shown, this conclusion should be taken seriously and steps should be taken to remedy the issue. 

Debbie Walsh (Image credit: IMDb)

The solution is best summed up by Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and politics. On this issue, she said, 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.”

Rachel’s Action Network agrees. As they propose themselves, women need to have a more equitable chance to be elected into leadership positions that will allow for them to push for further environmental change. This includes training and recruiting female candidates to run for offices, while pushing for electoral reforms that will aid their campaigns. Fighting against voter suppression and misogynistic media coverage will also help. 

As always, continuing to support women leaders who already have a history of fighting for environmental legislation is an important task for all constituents. Support for female candidates, both currently in office and those who might potentially run in the future, is integral in addressing the environmental crises currently being faced worldwide.


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Author: Kimberly Pike

Kimberly Pike is a writer, artist and self proclaimed cat lady living in Rhode Island. She is passionately writing about women's issues and helping to teach others about it.

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