Although women make up one fourth of the Illinois Legislature,
they comprise up to 80 percent of membership on legislative
committees dealing with social services, health, children and other
areas traditionally labeled as "women's issues."
Few women - none, in some cases - serve on traditionally
high-powered committees that deal with finance, insurance, pensions
and parliamentary control of the Legislature.
But if there's gender-based pigeonholing going on in
Springfield's power structure, much of it is being brought about by
women themselves. They tend to request the committee assignments
geared toward social issues.
Some say that that has put a spotlight on issues previously
ignored by state leaders. Others warn that it has kept women out of
some of the most important corners of government.
"Women are more involved in family, child care and welfare
areas of government. The men seem to be involved in the big-item
issues, such as appropriations," said Sen. Evelyn Bowles,
D-Edwardsville. "I don't know what the reluctance is to try to
In Illinois government, as in Congress and most states, the
legislative process begins in committees, which are small groups of
legislators that consider any bills within a given subject area
before they can be voted on by the full Legislature.
Most of the real work - and the real power - in the Illinois
Legislature is found in the 31 House and 17 Senate committees.
Legislators request what committees they would like to serve
on, so the fact that women are not generally on what some consider
to be "men's committees" could be a sign of a self-segregation,
said Luellen Laurenti, a lobbyist for the National Organization for
Women usually choose committees that deal with issues they are
familiar with, Bowles said.
"Maybe they're just more comfortable in the typical areas of
interest. They know about having a family and kids," Bowles said.
Long-time Illinois Rep. Wyvetter Younge, D-East St. Louis, said
it's important for women to continue to show strong support for
child and health-related committees because these are the issues
women introduced when they started serving in the Legislature.
"When I first started in 1975, it was a curious thing to have
women in the Legislature," she said. "We were among the first group
of women legislators. It was an emotional and cultural shock to
have well-educated and well-trained women in government. But we
women brought up these issues that weren't being discussed."
Missouri Is Similar
In the Missouri Legislature, the same practice prevails. In the
Missouri House, only one woman serves on the Insurance Committee,
while women comprise almost 70 percent of both the Children, Youth
and Families Committee and Social Services Committee.
Missouri Rep. Joan Bray, D-University City, said that with so
few numbers, women cannot be represented on every committee and
want to serve in areas that haven't gotten enough attention, such
as children and welfare issues. …