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Pa. legislature has more women than ever, but they’re still underrepresented

The current legislative session has the most women in Pennsylvania’s history.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania General Assembly does not rank well for female representation, though it is improving. 

For years among the bottom 12 states, it now ranks 29th in the country, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

The current legislative session has the most women in Pennsylvania’s history; they account for 16 out of 50 state senators and 63 out of 203 state representatives, or about 31% in total.

In a state with a female population of 51%, women remain underrepresented in the General Assembly.

Credit: Harri Leigh/WPMT

Women face additional barriers to getting elected. One of the biggest issues is a low supply of candidates, according to Kathleen Marchetti, a political science professor at Dickinson College. 

Women are less likely to run for office than men. The reasons why range from socialization that encourages women to be less aggressive to gendered labor division that requires women to do more housework and caretaking.

“It takes a great deal of time and money to run for office in the United States. Both time and money are things that tend to be less available to women,” Marchetti said.

Female legislators continue to face barriers even after being elected.

State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Delaware/Montgomery) learned that lesson when she became pregnant and learned the state Senate had no official policy for maternity leave.

“Everybody is like, ‘Huh, we’ve never had to deal with that before,’” Cappelletti said. “Well, we have to think through it now.”

The reason there is no maternity leave policy is because Cappelletti will be the first state senator to give birth while in office. She is expecting a baby girl in March.

Cappelletti eventually worked out a plan to fulfill her official duties from home during her leave.

“Everybody has been very accommodating in talking about the different types of leave and how I continue to do my job even if I can’t physically be in Harrisburg at times,” she said.

Still, Cappelletti said she continues to hear questions that male legislators do not.

“People ask, ‘What does reelection look like? What are you going to do?’” she said. “Well, I’ll knock on doors with the kid in tow.”

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