By Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, 11th Legislative District
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, New Jersey now ranks among the top 10 states with the most women in the Legislature. In fact, New Jersey’s Legislature, with 29.2 percent women, 11 female state senators and 24 assemblywomen, ranks ahead of neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania.
Women are clearly making giant steps towards equality with our male counterparts in both the political and business world. Females now outnumber males in America’s colleges and universities nationwide, and 43 percent of all legislators, senior officials and managers in America are women- one of the five highest percentages of women decision makers in the world.
In Monmouth County, half of the elected officials are women. These include representatives on the local, county and state levels, including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Sen. Jennifer Beck, Assemblywomen Amy Handlin and Caroline Casagrande, Freeholders Serena DiMaso and Lillian Burry, County Clerk Claire French and Surrogate Rosemarie Peters and dozens of local mayors, councilwomen and committeewomen throughout Monmouth County.
In the fall of 2011, I was fortunate enough to become part of New Jersey’s first all-women delegation, alongside Sen. Jennifer Beck and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande. This distinction has provided me with some very exciting opportunities. For example, I recently spoke to future women leaders at “Ready to Run,” which is a non-partisan campaign training program to encourage women to run for elective office, position themselves for appointive office, work on a campaign, or get involved in public life in other ways. These are the women that will further the advances made by their predecessors, and by us, as women decision makers. As part of New Jersey’s first all-women delegation, I know firsthand that, as women legislators, we bring a different perspective to political discourse.
This perspective is reflected in some of my legislative priorities. For instance, in response to frightening statistics about teen dating violence, I sponsored legislation that directs the Department of Education to develop a school district dating violence policy and require school districts to provide dating violence education in the health curriculum.
In addition, I have sponsored legislation that would permanently designate February as “Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month” and have sought to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence.
These are only a few of the hundreds of bills that have been introduced in the Legislature that have an impact on women. While we have made great progress in ensuring that women’s issues are a priority of this Legislature, there is still much work to be done. In fact, women still make less than men, proving that the gender gap still exists. According to a recent report, women in the United States earned 77 percent of what men earned in 2010. Clearly, this is one of many areas that must be addressed in order to ensure women are treated as equal members of society.
However, it is important to note that there are many pressing issues that affect men and women equally. Here in New Jersey one of those issues is the need to make our state more affordable. Many women run households and are keenly aware of how their budgets are becoming stretched to the breaking point. Increases in the cost of living, in New Jersey- including ever increasing taxes- are one of the most important issues facing all New Jerseyans and if we don’t confront the financial burden shouldered by taxpayers more and more citizens- both men and women- will be forced to flee New Jersey for more affordable states.
I look forward to working with my colleagues, both male and female, to address the problems facing our state and to continue to build on the accomplishments made by our current female representatives as well as the progress that will be made by future generations of women leaders.