November 6, 2012 represented a landmark evening for women's rights. The election saw a record number of women candidates for both houses of Congress, and on Tuesday night, a record number of women were elected to the U.S. Senate. Despite three losses and two retirements, women will hold at least 18 seats in the 113th U.S. Senate.
This number could be 19 if Heidi Heitkamp (D-N. Dak.) is able to hold on to her seat. But as of this morning, the race is still too close to call and will go into an automatic recount if the margin is within .5%. If Senator Heitkamp wins, women will hold 19% of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Even if she loses, 18 is still the highest number of women to serve in the Senate in a single session.
Some of the larger victories on Tuesday night include Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) who will be the first openly lesbian member of the Senate, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who will be the first woman to represent the state of Massachusetts, and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) who defeated Todd Akin, known for his remarks on "legitimate rape." The political makeup of the Senate's women features 14 or 15 Democrats (depending on the North Dakota race) and four Republicans.
While 19% of the Senate is undoubtedly a huge step forward for women's rights and progress toward gender parity in government, the United States is still lagging behind. In countries like Afghanistans and Iraq, quota systems for a least 25% women parliamentarians are in place. In some Balkan countries, the number is as high as 30%. It is unfortunate that we cannot meet the standards to which we hold developing nations and new democracies.
The United States has a lot of work to do to ensure even more women run and are elected as members of Congress, but the 2012 election still represents a huge victory for women.
UPDATE: Heidi Heitkamp has won her race against Republican Rick Berg, putting the total number of women in the Senate at 19.