By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
It’s no secret that women are a little more than half of our population. In fact, out of the more than 2.7 million registered voters in Alabama, just over 56 percent are women.
And yet, women only hold a few elected offices in our state government. In the state legislature, only 14 percent of senators and representatives are women. In the state Senate, there is not a single committee chaired by a woman. In fact, there is not a single Republican senator who is a woman. There was one: Sen. Harri Anne Smith. But Sen. Smith was kicked out of the Republican Party because she refused to be told what to do by the Party leadership. Now she serves as an Independent.
Things aren’t much better in the Alabama House of Representatives, where women chair only four of our 31 committees.
And the absence of women in our leadership has shown.
For the past four years, our state leaders have led the nation in cuts to public education. At the same time, we have been the only state to see our unemployment rate rise. Our state leaders have refused to even consider expanding Medicaid, even though half of all the babies born in Alabama are born under care paid for by Medicaid. And let’s consider that a dozen rural hospitals have closed while many others are on the verge of closing all because our state leaders refuse to expand Medicaid.
Abandoning schools. Families who can’t pay the bills or find jobs that pay a livable wage. Women unable to afford prenatal care because state leaders won’t even give them the time of day. I think this is unacceptable, and I don’t know too many women, regardless of their political party, who would put up with it.
And that’s just one reason why we need more women in state leadership. But it certainly isn’t the only reason.
The pay gap is still very real in Alabama. In this state, women still make 76 cents for every dollar a man makes. Compared to the rest of the nation we rank 40th for pay equity among men and women. And the only reason why it is even that close is because men are making less today than they did before the 2010 elections. In 2012, women were making just 71 percent of what men make in Alabama.
But maybe the most important reason we need more women in our state government is because of the recent increase in violence towards women. It’s sad that it took a federal judge assaulting his wife and a professional football player beating his girlfriend unconscious to finally raise this issue to the forefront of our minds.
And that’s why I applaud candidates like Michael Gladden, who are leading the charge to prevent convicted rapists from using custody battles as a way to continue to torture women and children. Because violence against women should never be tolerated! And especially not by our state government!
I think it is very fitting that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, considering everything that has happened lately and the fact that we have a major statewide election in less than a month. Both of these issues have been put on the state government’s backburner for far too long.
Unfortunately this election year, there are not many women on the ballot. And even some of those who are have not supported the policies that matter most to the women I have met. But that is why it is so important that we elect men who do understand, and in four years recruit more women to run for office.
Because the truth is until women have a stronger voice in government, our government will continue to ignore them – just as it has young people, the elderly and many others. Whether it’s creating jobs and supporting schools, closing the pay gap or standing up to domestic violence and taking action to make women’s lives safer, we need leaders who understand and have the courage to take action. And that means we need more women in leadership.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.