Photo: Houston Chronicle
Two of Texas’ prominent female politicians crossed the aisle to promote discourse about the impact of state policy on women. Wendy Davis, a Democrat and member of the Texas Senate, renowned for her 11-hour filibuster against restrictive abortion regulations, shared that the adversity that she faced shaped her into the person she is today. She founded the initiative Deeds Not Words to “unite women and drive change.” Susan Combs, a Republican and former Texas Comptroller, learned about the importance of self-sufficiency from her upbringing on a ranch. She formed the Anywhere Woman project and Herdacity.
Despite Texas’ positive impact on their development as innovative leaders, both see emerging problems among Texas women today. For instance, the bill “Equal Pay for Women”, despite bipartisan support, was subsequently vetoed by former governor Rick Perry. Also, child care is so expensive in the state that women are forgoing educational and professional opportunities to raise their families. Furthermore, in Texas, women have no cause of action for underpayment if it is not discovered within two years. It is also a known fact that women are not well-represented in the politics and business, although they constitute half of the population. In all of Texas history, there have only been two women governors and the majority of women in politics have been council members. Some believe this is partially caused by the challenges of travel and work hours, which are disproportionately larger difficulties for women with family obligations than their male counterparts.
The two speakers also lamented more widespread societal issues that women face. Many times, women are judged by their appearance or family life, rather than their career successes or experience. Both women commented on the double-standard that they faced, not only by men but also by other women. A fellow congressman once said to Davis that he “had trouble hearing women’s voices.” Both Davis and Combs created their initiatives to encourage women to dream higher and pursue political office.
But despite all of these obstacles, Texas has made some progress in gender equality. For instance, Combs pointed out that the Texas Tribune currently has a woman at the helm and is approximately equal in numbers of male and female staff. She emphasized the importance of having female leaders and that “if you can’t see it, you can’t model it.”
Affordable health care has been a divisive topic for women this legislative session. Both politicians agreed that maternal death is increasing and that a large proportion of women remain uninsured. In 2011, Texas legislature cut over $70 million from family planning programs, leading to the closure of over 80 clinics and leaving the remaining clinics with insufficient resources for adequate care. Combs argued that the major issue was that only 34 percent of clinics take Medicaid and that there is a lack of advocacy and education for women to truly understand their choices. Davis refuted this claim, by stating that the problem was not education but rather the fact that Texas has refused Medicaid expansion, even with the federal government footing 90 percent of the bill. Despite their disagreement on reasons behind poor health care among women, both women supported health insurance access for everyone. Combs said, “The key is for women to be supported by each other. I am not a fan of abortion, but I am a fan for women”.
The session wrapped up by highlighting underrepresented women such as minority women and transgender women. Both politicians agreed that these populations face even greater obstacles and that even more should be done to support them and make healthcare and education accessible.
Edited by: Mary Thanh Vo