by Nissa Koerner, Mina’s List Intern & Devin Cowick, Mina’s List Executive Assistant
The United States government shutdown of 2013 was undoubtedly one of the biggest failures for bipartisan cooperation in US history, but was also the conduit for one of the biggest bipartisan success stories. The budget deal that was eventually reached between the Democratic and Republican leadership was initially drafted by a bipartisan group of women Senators– a feat that deserves our attention but is rarely acknowledged.
It is no coincidence that the deal was drafted by the women in the Senate– research shows that women are better at reaching across the aisle to get work done. Since the 111th US Congress, the average female senator has cosponsored roughly 4 bills with all female counterparts of the opposite party, while the average male senator cosponsored 2 bills with all male members of the opposite party. The first-rate senators that helped end the 2013 government shutdown have cosponsored well above the average, with Sen. Susan Collins having cosponsored 740 bills with opposite party sponsors. What are the implications of such collaborations? A 35-year study of the US congress finds that women legislators are 10% more effective than male legislators. More specifically, bills sponsored by congresswomen are more likely to pass than bills sponsored by congressmen.
So why are women legislators so much better at bipartisan cooperation? One might think that because there are such low percentages of women in national government, they instinctively stick together. This simplistic explanation is unlikely, and certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. An experiment intended to study partisanship with 230 male and 230 female subjects found that the women participants were significantly less susceptible to partisan bias and more willing to consider the opposing side. Furthermore, studies show US women legislators spend more time building cross-party coalitions with both women and men.
The government shutdown was hardly the first time women have banded together to get something done. Women political leaders from all different backgrounds and beliefs have collaborated to make positive changes in countries all around the world. Below are just a few examples:
- In South Africa, women leaders of all races, ethnicities, and political beliefs were essential in developing a national security framework based on human needs and development.
- Pakistan’s Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, a multi-ethnic and multi-party political caucus, is leading rehabilitation efforts in areas affected by humanitarian crisis or extremist violence.
- In Russia, women legislators set aside ideological and party differences to jointly promote legislation benefiting children and families.
- Rwandan women legislators formed the first cross-party caucus to work on controversial issues such as land rights and food security.
- In Britain, women parliamentarians have informally worked together across party lines on issues such as employment law, equal pay, and violence against women.
- In Sri Lanka, women politicians from all parties overcame extreme political tensions to draft and endorse a platform for improving women’s political participation.
The fact that women are so effective at working across party lines is just one reason of many why we need more women in politics. Let’s hope the US Congress takes a cue from its women senators and is able to pass the next budget more smoothly.