Giffords and the Women Who Run.

One thing that stands out in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's (D-Fla.) account of their hospital visit to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords yesterday -- Giffords managed to open her eyes and squeeze their hands -- is their description of the friendship the three share:

REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I think I told you the other day, I mean, there's very few of us --

SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Young women.

REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: -- young women who -- so we naturally gravitate to each other. And Kirsten and I were -- I was assigned as Kirsten's mentor when she --

SENATOR GILLIBRAND: Before I ran for office in 2006, I called Debbie and she gave me advice about what was it like to have young children and serve in Congress. So Debbie was instrumental in making me feel comfortable before I even ran for office to be able to know that I could be a good mom and a good legislator at the same time.

REPRESENTATIVE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So literally right from when I was elected, these were my two girlfriends. I mean, I met Gabby before I was elected, Kirsten before she was elected -- or Gabby before she -- both of them before they were elected.

It's good that the women who are there have been able to support one another, but this is a reminder that women haven't made many inroads in Congress -- or the congressional leadership -- in nearly a decade. The 2010 election saw the first drop in women in Congress since 1979,
from 93 to 90. It was also the first year since 1979 that women did not
increase their ranks. There are currently 72 women serving as representatives: that's just over 16 percent of the 435 members. In the Senate, women fare a bit better, where 18 serve. The numbers have increased at a trickle, as Rutger's Debbie Walsh told CNN: "We tend to go up a few every cycle, three or four, maybe five seats, but women don't seem to be making any serious strides in terms of numbers." 

A recent Brown University study found [PDF]
that women don't run for office because they don't see themselves as
qualified, and because they don't receive support or encouragement from
others. The 2010 midterm saw more women running for office than ever before -- perhaps a sign that women are seeing themselves in leadership positions, thanks to the visibility of women in Congress like Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Gillibrand.

But the success of Republicans was bad for women. Despite the increased number of Republican women in this Congress, Democrats still run (and elect) more women than the GOP -- women are, after all, more likely to be liberal. This means it will likely be two years before we see what a large field of women candidates are capable of doing.

--Shani O. Hilton

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