POLITICS
09/09/2014 01:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Women Are Less Than A Quarter Of U.S. House Witnesses

The U.S. House of Representatives is far more interested in hearing from men than women when it considers new legislation, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the Sunlight Foundation.

The analysis, based on data from the Clerk of the House, found that women have made up only 23 percent of the more than 5,000 witnesses called to testify before House committees and subcommittees in the 113th Congress. The numbers are significant because the majority of lawmaking in Congress happens in committees. Lawmakers call witnesses to share expertise and personal stories that help shape each piece of legislation being considered.

Women tend to be excluded from the witness list even when the legislation most directly affects them. In 2012, three Democrats walked out of a House hearing on the birth control coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act because the witness panel consisted only of men.

"What I want to know is, where are the women?" Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) asked colleagues before walking out of the hearing. "I look at this panel, and I don't see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventative health care services, including family planning. Where are the women?"

While the Sunlight analysis does not have equivalent data for witnesses in the Senate, the numbers clearly show that women are unfairly represented in Congress in more ways than one. In addition to being left off of witness and expert lists, women make up only 18 percent of House members and 20 percent of senators.

Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown University professor and author of You Just Don't Understand, a book about how men and women are heard differently in the public sphere, said the lack of women's voices in Congress probably has a significant effect on the legislation that governs the country.

"If you're not benefiting from women's perspectives on issues and problems, my guess would be that it would have an effect on laws, just as the number of women in Congress and the number of women on the Supreme Court have an effect," she said. "Women are over 50 percent of the population, and so their perspective should be at least half."

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