The gender gap on the City Council is likely to continue to widen, with female representation dropping to as low as 23.5 percent after the election next week, according to an analysis by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG).
While women account for 52 percent of New York City’s population, only 47 women are among the 170 candidates seeking election or re-election in the city’s 51 Council districts this year. ISLG a year ago found that 27.5 percent of New York City Council members were women, compared with 33.6 percent nationally.
“This isn’t just an issue in New York City. Gender disparity in elected positions is a problem across the country,” said Michael P. Jacobson, executive director of ISLG. “And this problem goes beyond representation. Research has shown that among elected officials, women are more effective – they introduce more legislation, they’re more transparent and they’re more likely to work across party lines. With fewer women in elected positions, good governance and democracy suffer.”
Representation of women on the New York City Council declined from the 27.5 percent level the ISLG found a year ago to 26 percent today, as a result of a special election that replaced a woman with a man, and a vacated seat, according to Victoria Lawson, senior research associate at ISLG and director of its Equality Indicators Project.
“It is likely that we are on track to have fewer women” on the Council after this election, Lawson said. “There are 10 open seats in the 2017 election: Nine City Council members are not running for re-election, and one seat is vacant. Of the 41 members running for re-election, 20 are uncontested and the remaining 21 are likely to win due to their incumbency.” Of the 10 open seats, she said, two are uncontested in the general election, four have only male candidates, and four include Democrats running in historically Democratic districts.
“If the remaining incumbents and Democratic candidates win in the general election, 12 out of 51 Council members (or 23.5 percent) will be women in January 2018,” Lawson said. Additionally, women — Melissa Mark-Viverito and, before her, Christine Quinn — have led the Council for nearly 12 years, but this year none of the candidates for Speaker is a woman, “which will be a significant loss of power.”
Last year’s Equality Indicators study by ISLG, “Who Runs Our Cities? The Political Gender Gap in the Top 100 U.S. Cities,” examined representation of women in elected positions at the local level. The report included the genders of the 100 largest cities’ mayors, the number of women mayors of color, the percentage of elected officials and city councilors who are women, and other data. Cities including Washington, D.C. (50 percent), Austin, Texas (70 percent), Seattle (55 percent), Richmond, Va., (55.6 percent) and Honolulu (33.3 percent) were among the many municipalities surpassing New York City in the percentage of women elected to city councils.
“What’s interesting, though, is that when you look at the gender of people in appointed positions, in New York City, we don’t see this same gap,” Jacobson said. “So we know there are many women who have great experience and would be very strong candidates for office.”
The report said studies had identified several factors contributing to keeping women out of office, among them: gendered household responsibilities and social roles; the highly competitive nature of political campaigns; limited exposure to politics; and negative self-perceptions. Women, the report said, are also less likely than men to consider themselves ready to run for office.
Women and men are about equally as successful at getting elected to office, but “part of what we found is women aren’t running,” Lawson said. “Research suggests that women don’t think of it as a possibility the same way that men do. Women are more likely to wonder, ‘Do I have the right qualifications for this?’ ”
As for how to fix the gender gap in politics, the Institute’s report recommends increased research to confront biases and misconceptions by the public and by women considering running for office; research on the role of media, and on aspects of modern campaigns that discourage women from running; education for girls and young women to include political awareness and participation; recruitment of women candidates including fundraising and education; encouragement from families and spouses; and the work of organizations that encourage and train women to seek elective office, such as Emerge America and Emily’s List.
The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 400 high schools throughout the five boroughs. The University offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the CUNY School of Professional Studies.