The NCSL Blog

12

By Stacy Householder

In the U.S., for the first time ever, women make up 30% of state legislators. In Israel, women make up 28% of the Knesset, the national, unicameral legislature of Israel—and they have a legislative election coming up March 23.

On March 7, just before International Women’s Day, NCSL and the American-Israel Friendship League (AIFL) partnered to highlight two U.S. women state legislators and two former members of the Knesset to discuss how women’s paths to legislative leadership are different—and what makes them successful.

Illinois Senator Sara FeigenholtzSenator Mary KiffmeyerSenators Sara Feigenholtz (D-Ill.), left, and Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Minn.) spoke on behalf of U.S. women state legislators.

 

Alina LavieMichal RozinFormer Knesset members Alina Lavie, left, and Michal Rozin shared the Israeli perspective.

In the first moments of the webinar (which can be viewed here), it became abundantly clear that women are storytellers, influenced by incredible women who came before them. Feigenholtz shared of being raised by a single mother who obtained an M.D.

Kiffmeyer talked of being the oldest of 14 children and admiring her entrepreneur mother. Lavie spoke fondly of her single grandmother and the obstacles she had to overcome, and Rozin shared her life-long story of serving women by promoting gender equality. Stories, as it turns out, bind women and their missions in public service.

While the panelists’ tactics were different over their careers, they all agreed that women bring different topics and viewpoints to the table.

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you end up being on the menu,” is how Feigenholtz described her influence in committees and with other legislators on bringing what are traditionally considered “women’s issues” to the forefront. Kiffmeyer shared her approach is not to look at issues as women’s or men’s (or anything else), but simply as issues that we all need to come together to work through to better our states.

Both Kiffmeyer and Feigenholtz agreed that the vast majority of legislation is bipartisan and that U.S. state legislatures have enormous power to create change in lives.

Lavie and Rozin shared they believe Israel has made great strides, but still has a long way to go in having women equally represented. Some interesting aspects of the Knesset is a specific committee on the “Status of Women” as well as the potential establishment of a women-only party in Israel (maybe next election?).

The panelists discussed their view of “winning” in the legislative environment. All agreed on three aspects:

  1. There is a higher purpose in working to make other people’s lives better.
  2. Live up to your promises.
  3. Women listen–and that sets them apart.
     

These are what comprise a “win.” Indeed, they are the definition of public service.

On the heels of International Women’s Day, NCSL and AIFL are grateful for a strong partnership and the ability to bring remarkable women together. If these four are any glimpse of the future of state legislatures and the Knesset, both countries have beyond bright futures.

Stacy Householder is division director of NCSL's Leaders and International Programs.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.