Hanbidge: Gender parity should be important to all of us

I’m repeatedly asked: Why are you so focused on women’s issues? Why is gender parity important?

Sometimes I want to offer a knee-jerk reaction and say “because it’s important that women have a fair and equal voice,” but that doesn’t fully answer the question. Women’s issues and gender parity are much more than just a fight for fairness. They are directly linked with growing an economy, strengthening a workforce and improving lives.

In 2018, Pennsylvania ranked 49th in the country for the number of women in government. Pennsylvania now ranks 41st, and while it still receives a D on its gender parity ranking, we are progressing. One of the benefits of that change is in the conversations we are having and the legislation being written. 

Fair and equitable representation is imperative to a healthy democracy and a healthy economy, and it is essential for a functioning and effective democracy. Women comprise more than half of Pennsylvania's population, yet they account for only 29% of our government. 

Numerous studies show that decision-making improves when those with diverse perspectives have a seat at the table, and having more women in government also increases women’s participation in the political process, voting and democracy. Studies on female governmental leadership found that higher levels of female representation led to more safe drinking water projects in India and more women in government led to reductions in child mortality rates in Brazil. International Parliamentary Union research shows that increased presence of women impacts legislation regarding: violence against women, women’s health, work, finances and equality under the law.

If the humanitarian and legislative examples of why it is important to have gender parity do not convince you, a 2016 report from McKinsey and Company illustrates the economic imperative to achieve gender parity. Our economy could add up to $4.3 trillion in annual GDP by 2025 with gender equality. 

When women have a seat at the table of government, the conversation changes, which affects policy. Yet, in the news and for the past several decades we have seen many more examples of legislation concerning women’s bodies than legislation benefitting women. That is changing.

Earlier this month, I spoke about my pregnancy loss paid leave bill that would modernize our state’s leave policy to help workers who have experienced pregnancy loss. I have also introduced the Menopause Education for Pennsylvania Women bill, providing women in Pennsylvania with the tools and choices they need to prepare for the transition to perimenopause and menopause.

Despite being a natural progression in most women's lives, about a third of surveyed American women reported they had not received enough information before they underwent menopause. I want to ensure that all Pennsylvania women are prepared for these transitions by creating partnerships between the Department of Health and medical providers to educate women on the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, the biological changes, and how to talk to family and friends about the processes. 

Access to menopause education also has an economic impact. Bloomberg reports it contributes to driving women out of the workforce: “Globally, menopause-related productivity losses can amount to more than $150 billion a year.”

My colleagues and I are bringing legislative ideas like these and changing the conversation for women at every age, including working to reduce period poverty, impacting maternal mortality rates, reproductive health and bodily autonomy, breast cancer treatment access and more.

This is why I am focused on women’s issues.  Not just because it is fair and because it is right, but I’m focused on women because women matter.

While there is catching up to do, from a policy perspective, increased gender parity is already impacting our economy and our community, and I am so proud to be part of this change. 

I care about gender parity, because all of us should.

A link to the published article can be found here: https://www.goerie.com/story/opinion/2021/12/17/gender-parity-should-important-all-us/8913823002/