We're back from our springtime hiatus because this week had too many attacks on women's health, access to care, and *women* (pretty much just for existing in the world) for us not to get back to writing on the regular.
As you know, our focus here at the Women's Action Network is on women's economic security, access to healthcare, and representation. We're kicking off our return with a focus on that last one: Representation. Because, as any of you Wyoming Legislature-watchers (or listeners) know, women are dramatically outnumbered in both chambers. As Nevada and Colorado are showing us, having more women in the state legislature changes what bills come up and how they are debated. And whether or not bills that protect and support women become law.
Let's look at Nevada.
Just a few years ago, their debates resembled some of those in the Wyoming Legislature. According to the Washington Post, in 2015, Sen. Patricia Ann Spearman (D), said legislative leaders refused to schedule a hearing on her bill to promote pay equity for women. “The boys club was like, ‘Why do we need that?’ ” she said. “It was a very misogynistic session."
Bear in mind that happened even though female legislators made up nearly 40% of the body that year. Compare that to 15% here in Wyoming and you'll start to see why it is essential that we change the representation in Cheyenne.
Think about all the things in your daily life that could be addressed with legislation that understands what it means to be a girl or a woman in this state.
Did you know that SNAP benefits do not cover so-called "luxury items" like tampons and pads? And because they are not covered by SNAP and not considered essential as part of the 2006 repeal of sales tax on groceries (which was cleverly named "food purchased for home consumption" so as to avoid having any discussions of menstrual periods on the floor of the House or Senate), they are also subject to sales tax. In turn, this means that girls in Wyoming's poorest families might miss school during their periods.
What, you thought that only happened in other countries? That's happening here. Now. And could be easily remedied by basic legislation brought to amend Wyoming Statute 39-15-105 that addresses sales tax exemptions. With more women in the Legislature, our chances of getting that done go up dramatically.
Here's the thing: Wyoming claims a legacy of female firsts that is longer and more storied than Nevada's. Wyoming was the first to acknowledge women's right to vote - 150 years ago, a full 50 years before the 19th Amendment. Wyoming had the first all-female Town Council, the first female governor, the first women on juries, the first female bailiff. Nevada boasts the first woman elected to the legislature in 1918, before the U.S. Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote, and four female lieutenant governors, the first appointed in 1962.
Yet Nevada has consistently elected more women to the state legislature than Wyoming and women in their state are seeing the benefits while women in our state continue to experience economic insecurity, challenges accessing healthcare, and a lack of essential services - like affordable, quality childcare - that might improve their lives.
So, what we're saying to you today is simple: Elect more women.
For women and girls to thrive in the Equality State, it will take equal numbers of women in our state legislature. We're asking for your help to accomplish this. We're starting with a simple - and, we hope, fun - request.
Attend a public meeting. Any public meeting with a publicly elected board.
Bring your knitting needles and two colors of yarn. (If you don't have these, shoot us a note and we will provide them. We're going with brown and yellow in honor of UW's colors. If you don't know how to knit, join the Women's Action Network's founders in learning how.)
Each time an elected man speaks, knit in brown.
Each time an elected woman speaks, knit in yellow.
Then snap a photo and show us your scarves.
We're launching this effort to create a visual record of who is in power, a tangible representation of who has a voice in our state. We'll be profiling your soft and fuzzy representations of gendered meetings on social media throughout the summer, culminating in an event to bring scarves across the state together.
You can't change what you don't measure. So get out your knitting needles and let's start measuring. Because we're long past due for a change.