Women make up 51 percent of the population in South Carolina, but if you look at our Legislature or the makeup of public boards and commissions, you would wonder where we are.
We have one woman serving in the state Senate and only 19 women out of 123 seats in the House. This situation is echoed in the boards and commissions whose members are appointed by the governor or elected by the state legislature, despite the fact that the law states:
“The General Assembly/Governor shall strive to assure that the membership of the board is representative of all citizens of the State of South Carolina.”
With a mean average of 27 percent women members serving on boards, we are far from 51 percent. Some institutions fall well below even that 27 percent. A perfect example is a major organization like the Medical University of South Carolina having zero women on their boards. This is especially ironic when you consider that 61 percent of MUSC’s student body is female, and that 85 percent of health-care decisions in general are made by women.
Coastal Carolina University is only a bit better with 6 percent women on its Board of Trustees. (You can find the complete report on all the boards at ProjectXXSC.com.)
The organizations these boards and commissions direct have no voice in the selection of their members; instead, it’s left to the discretion of our governor and state Legislature. Coming up on May 7 is an election to fill the 52 seats on the boards of eight universities.
The sad fact is that 65 percent of these seats are uncontested, and of those, 68 percent will be filled with yet more men.
When all factors are taken into account, there will be fewer than 9 of the 52 seats where a legislator can choose to vote for a qualified woman over a qualified man and begin to correct the existing imbalance.
At present, there are 10 qualified women who have applied for these seats. Their election would give our legislators a perfect opportunity to prove that they care about the law and about 51 percent of the citizens they represent.
The process for seeking and campaigning for board seats is murky at best. A candidate’s real-world experience is far less important, which means that a former lawmaker or a relative of a current legislator would trump someone who might actually contribute relevant expertise to the board in question.
After applications are submitted, candidates undergo a short interview with the screening committee. Once they are deemed qualified, the real circus of collecting vote commitments from the legislators begins. This often includes the archaic and demeaning practice of buttonholing lawmakers in the underground garage as they pass from their offices to the Statehouse to solicit their votes.
Even more unbelievable, though, is the accepted practice of “encouraging” candidates to drop out, thereby avoiding a vote on the floor of the General Assembly. Then there’s no public record showing whether the legislators “strive to assure” that more women are elected and no way they can be held accountable for their choices.
We’re happy to report that most of the women who have applied for these board seats will not succumb to pressure to drop out of their races. They believe that there is a larger issue at stake: including women’s voices in the political conversation in South Carolina.
Project XX is committed to tracking and publicizing the voting records of our legislators and to continuing to report on the progress toward improving the gender makeup of boards. We believe that the women voters of the state have a right to know who stands for them and who stands against them.
By excluding women from boards and commissions, we deprive South Carolina of the talent, intelligence and strength of 51 percent of its citizens.
Project XX asks our legislators to stand up for the women of this state with their votes. It’s the right thing to do … and it’s the law.
Ginny Deerin is the founder of Wings for Kids, an educational program at four Charleston County elementary schools. Nikki Hardin is the founder of Skirt! magazine.