Putting the ‘man’ back in alder-man: number of women serving in City Council down 8 percent

Dear Readers,

Below is the text of an April 14th article about the 2011 Chicago City Council election, specifically discussing the decline in the number of “alderwomen.”

The article, quoting K. Sujata, fabulous new head of the Chicago Foundation for Women, as well as yours truly, was written by Laura Phelps for the Medill News Service.

Rebecca
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When the next Chicago city council enters City Hall next month, four fewer women will be among the city’s 50 aldermen than today’s session.

The 8 percent decrease, from 19 to 15 female alderman, will leave the city with 30 percent female representation at the ward level. More women live in Chicago than men, however. According to census data, approximately 72,000 more women than men live within the city limits, accounting for 51.3 percent of the city’s total population.

The Chicago Foundation for Women is worried about potentially negative consequences for wards with fewer women representatives.

“Of course we are concerned when the number of women in leadership positions drops,” said K. Sujata, president and CEO of the Chicago Foundation for Women. “What this means in practical terms is that the men, who make up the majority of aldermen, need to be champions for women and girls. After all, when women are affected by policies and budgets, their families and entire communities are affected.

The Illinois State Legislature ranks eighth in the county in terms of percentage of female representatives, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Rebecca Sive, a public affairs strategist, said it’s impossible to compare state and local offices because the work of an alderman is so different from that of a state legislator. State representatives have more opportunity to deal with larger women’s issues while aldermen are typically more focused on day-to-day constituents’ concerns.

But the more women there are in office, Sive said, the better off communities will be for women’s rights and family issues such as domestic abuse and rape prosecution.

“The main point is that not as many women [as men] choose to run,” she said, “and therefore not as many women win.”

Women’s advocacy groups may be the hardest hit, Sive added.

“If you’re an advocate, and there are more women,” she said, “then there are more people – more women – to make your case to. So that’s something of a loss.”

Sive does not believe that gender played a major role during the recent aldermanic elections, however. Each city council race was so localized in terms of the issues facing individual wards, she said, that it’s hard to say that gender played a systematic role.
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©2001 – 2010 Medill Reports – Chicago, Northwestern University. A publication of the Medill School.

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