Arkansas Girls Lead
In our current society, we often find ourselves in a hyper-partisan world where it seems increasingly difficult to reach consensus on any issue.
If you’ve ever watched the Arkansas General Assembly debate a highly controversial piece of legislation, you might conclude your local lawmakers are just as deeply divided as those in Washington.
But I want to let you in on a little secret: most of us are friends. In fact, we probably had dinner together minutes after you watched us vote down one another’s bills.
There’s also a group with a very special bond within the walls of the State Capitol… and that’s the women of the House.
There are 26 of us right now. In November, we broke a record for the highest number of women voted into the House in the general election. After a special election in 2020, there were 27 of us for a short time.
Some of us have kids at home. Some of us are grandparents. Some of us are attorneys and others put our careers on hold to raise children. We are diverse in age, race, and socio-economic status. But there is not one woman serving in the Arkansas House right now who I wouldn’t call upon if I needed help. And in turn, I’d drop everything if one of my colleagues called me.
In 2017, the women of the House started a movement called #ARGirlsLead. Each of us has a unique story to share about our journey on the road to our current leadership position. We share those stories on our social media pages for #ARGirlsLead. You can find our social media pages by searching #ARGirlsLead. We also visit schools and provide shadow and mentor opportunities for girls in our districts.
The purpose of this movement is to promote positive self-image and leadership for young girls across the state. This is an opportunity for female lawmakers to use their own experiences and stories to help the next generation.
These stories have helped young girls see themselves in a leadership role.
Among females in the House, there are stories of overcoming physical and learning disabilities, sickness, grief, and even sexual abuse. The point is to show girls no matter what your circumstances are, you can rise above and use your experience to make our state a better place.
We share these experiences with one another often. The women of the House occasionally have get-togethers in our homes or meet for dinner after work.
Sometimes we talk about legislation, but most of the time we’re talking about what we’re reading, watching on Netflix, or what’s happening at home.
It is these conversations that create better legislation.
What I’ve noticed is that when we know one another on that personal level, we can trust each other’s intent is always good. So, when we see a bill we might not like at first glance, we’re comfortable enough to suggest changes with one another.
Working with the other political party can lead to more effective governance and better outcomes for the people. Collaboration and compromise are essential in a democratic system, and by working together, legislators can find common ground and pass legislation that addresses the needs and concerns of a wider range of constituents.
In my eight years at the House, I’ve witnessed great progress for women. We’ve created paid maternity leave to state employees, expanded coverage for new mothers on Medicaid, and strengthened economic opportunity for women business owners. We’re just getting started.
Approximately 2,451 women serve in the 50 state legislatures in 2023, making up 33% of all state legislators nationwide. This percentage is the highest we’ve seen in our nation’s history.
After the 2022 elections, women legislators reached a historical record of representation. This represents a steady increase over the past four years, with a significant increase since 2018 when women represented 25% of legislative bodies.
Across the nation 97 women serve as speaker of the House, president of the Senate, speaker pro tem, Senate president pro tem, majority leader or minority leader for the 2023 legislative session. This is the highest number of women serving in leadership to date.
There is still vast room for improvement. Arkansas has not yet had a female Senate president or a female speaker of the House. We still have wage gaps in earnings, and maternal health still needs improvement.
I’m optimistic about the future for Arkansas women because I’ve been so fortunate to work with women who won’t rest until progress is made.
Regardless of our political differences, the moment we step out of the chamber doors, our shared connection as Arkansans takes precedence. We all want to make Arkansas an even better place for the next generation.