Opinion

Elect more women

The South Carolina General Assembly is missing out on one of the largest pools of talent in the state: women.

Little occurred in the recent election to change the balance of men to women in the state Legislature. The House saw a gain of three women lawmakers, including District 45 Rep. Deborah Long of Indian Land, bringing the total to 17. But that is down from a high of 20 women in the House in 1992 in a body that has 124 members.

No women reside in the state Senate. State Sen. Linda Short of Chester, who retired this year, was the last woman to hold a Senate seat, and all women vying for Senate seats lost on Nov. 4.

In all, about 8 percent of the seats in the South Carolina Legislature are held by women, the lowest percentage in the nation.

South Carolina is not alone. Men outnumber women in all state legislatures.

But with this election, New Hampshire's state Senate became the first legislative chamber in U.S. history to have a majority of women. Of the 24 seats in the state Senate, 13 are held by women, although men hold a 62.7 percent majority in the entire legislature.

Colorado, with women holding 39 percent of its legislative seats, has the largest percentage of women lawmakers in the nation.

The scarcity of female lawmakers in South Carolina is striking. This state has failed to take advantage of the leadership capabilities of half its population.

That means issues of particular concern to women must be addressed by advocates from outside of the Legislature, outside the corridors of power. Earlier this month, some women legislators and other female leaders in the state held a roundtable to discuss their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

Some of the issues discussed included efforts to update divorce laws to create a fairer formula to determine alimony; taking a second look at the state's school funding formula; and reintroducing a bill that would make long periods of incarceration a reason to terminate parental rights.

Not all issues can be neatly divided in categories of men's or women's issues. But the legislative debate undoubtedly would be enhanced by including a broader women's perspective.

Conservative Southern tradition might have held women back from participating in South Carolina's political arena over the decades. But, as times have changed, the often deliberate exclusion of women from the traditional pathways to power has been just as debilitating for them.

South Carolina could increase the participation of women in the political process by urging girls to expand their horizons and become politically involved at a young age. Women in public positions need to enlist younger women and encourage them to consider running for office. Political parties need to actively recruit women candidates.

South Carolina has failed miserably in enlisting women to take a bigger role in running the state, and, as a result, it is missing out on a lot of unused talent. That might help explain why the state holds so many dubious distinctions in other areas.

South Carolina's General Assembly remains largely an all-mens club.

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