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Despite 2022 Gains, Alabama Women Still Underrepresented

The state is one of nine with a female governor and has elected its first female U.S. Senator. But women will make up only 17 percent of the Legislature next year. Alabama ranked 47th in female state legislators in 2022.

Republican Kay Ivey
Republican Kay Ivey is Alabama's second female governor and could become its second longest serving governor.
(John Sharp/TNS)
(TNS) — As Alabama’s lawmakers prepare for the 2023 session, women will make up 17 percent of the legislature between both the state House and Senate.

Out of 105 seats in the Alabama House of Representatives, women currently hold 20. Alabama has four female state Senators in 2023, compared to five in 2022. The Senate has 35 seats, with women making up 11.4 percent.

Several new faces were elected to state seats in November, including incoming Reps. Jennifer Fidler of Fairhope, Donna Givens of Loxley, Frances Holk-Jones of Foley, Leigh Hulsey of Helena and Susan DuBose of Hoover. Rep. Merika Coleman, a Democrat, will take a Senate seat.

While there’s been change over time, Alabama still lags other state legislatures in representation. In 2022, Alabama ranked 47th in female state legislators, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Overall, women in the state are more likely to vote, but less likely to run for office. Still, Alabama has one of only nine female governors in the country. In January, Katie Britt will take office as the state’s first elected female U.S. Senator.

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures is the longest-serving woman in the Alabama state Senate. When she was first elected in 1997, Alabama ranked 50th in female state legislators — a spot it held from 1994-2002.

In 2002, women made up 7.9 percent of the Alabama legislature, holding eight spots in the House and three in the Senate. In 2012, they made up 12.1 percent, holding 12 spots in the House and five in the Senate. While women now hold eight additional seats in the House, there’s one less in the Senate.

“To sum it up, things have gotten better, but there is room for much improvement,” Figures wrote in a statement to

Alabama State Senator Vivian Figures confers with state Senator Dan Roberts
Alabama State Senator Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, confers with state Senator Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, over an amendment to HB246, which would allow yoga to be taught in Alabama public schools. (John Sharp/

Figures has held her seat for 25 years, and she’s worked on landmark legislation like the Clarke-Figures Equal Pay Act, which prevents employers from paying workers different rates based on their sex.

It’s not a role she expected before the death of her husband, Sen. Michael Figures, in 1996.

“It was never my intention to be involved in politics in any way. I didn’t run for any any office in student government nor did I ever have a desire to do so,” she wrote. “I can truly say that holding office from the City Council to the Alabama State Senate has been a calling for me. There is no other way to explain it.”

Many female public servants didn’t initially envision becoming an elected official, experts said.

“Starting at a very young age, girls are less likely to see themselves as elected leaders, they’re less likely to get involved in the process of running for office and therefore less likely to end up on the ballot,” said Erin Loos Cutraro, the founder and CEO of She Should Run, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to helping women run for office.

Loos Cutraro started She Should Run in 2011 to help women at the earliest stages of public service, often before they’ve even decided to run. While working in electoral politics, she became fixated on the “ambition gap,” or the measure of men and women that could see themselves running for office.

“I was really fixated on the research that was very clear cycle after cycle. It was like the numbers of the amount of money would change, the coverage of women candidates would change, all sorts of variables would change,” Loos Cutraro said. “But the ambition gap wouldn’t change and the overall percentage change of women in office was like watching molasses boil.”

Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox have conducted research on the ambition gap for decades. In 2001, 59 percent of men surveyed had considered running for office, but only 43 percent of women had, making up a gap of 16 points. In 2021, that gap had increased to 18 points, with almost 60 percent of women never considering a run for office.

Christina Ewig, the faculty director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy, said that helping women aspire to run for office has proven to be more of a challenge than women winning in general elections.

Ewig noted that, among a variety of barriers that might prevent women from running, many fear that they’re unqualified and wait to gather more qualifications before entering the political sphere.

That’s where Loos Cutraro wants to step in. When women find She Should Run, they’ve either searched it on their own or been nominated by someone else. She Should Run uses a mindset scale to gauge how far along women are in their thoughts of running for office. Once the mindset is determined, women are offered a variety of online classes to help them get started on their journey.

Because of the focus on the ambition gap, She Should Run dedicates themselves exclusively to helping women get ready to run; once the campaign starts, women work with different organizations.

Loos Cutraro noted that recent research from She Should Run showed different indicators and motivators for women who consider running for office.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, has announced she will not seek a sixth term in Congress. (Mike Cason/

According to their research, women in the southeast are more likely than those in other regions to volunteer time for civic engagement but are more likely to believe that “no kids” is a necessary qualifier for candidacy than other regions. Women in the southeast were also more likely to describe themselves as “drama queens.”

Nationally in 2022, women made up 24 percent of the U.S. Senate and 28 percent of the U.S. House. In state legislatures across the country, women made up 28.5 percent of all state senate seats and 32 percent of all house seats.

Figures said more female representation is important.

“Women bring a different perspective as well as a passion to fight for everyone. Issues such as women’s rights in every area, education, healthcare, the welfare of children, families, senior citizens and caregivers, etc.,” Figures said. “We have a strong voice that needs to be heard.”

“I’m also driven to push for changes because women don’t get the same attention and authority over their own bodies that men do. There was a time when insurance covered men for getting Viagra, but women were not covered for birth control.”

Figures wrote that when she joined the state senate in 1997, she was one of two women. During committee meetings, their colleagues would address the body as “gentlemen.” Figures said she would always correct them, and over time, she saw colleagues correcting each other.

She added that women were not allowed to wear slacks on the senate floor, a rule she challenged in her first week.

“Although we have come a long way, we are still sometimes not looked upon or given the same respect as our male counterparts,” Figures wrote, adding that she hears this issue from women in various workplaces, including those outside of politics. “Many of us get cut off while we are speaking while that doesn’t happen to the men. Again, we have to call it out.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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