Gender barriers falling as four women join county board

ELIZABETHTOWN - History was made Monday inside the Essex County municipal center, but few of the gathered political leaders were aware of it.

Four women were sworn into office as Essex County supervisors - and the addition of these four supervisors from Essex, Crown Point, Ticonderoga and Minerva respectively, swell the total number of female supervisors in the county to seven, an all-time high.

But progress toward gender equality is slow, even as historic gender barriers erode, advocates and academics say.

Across the state, the number of women in local elected positions still lags far behind their male counterparts.

The number of women holding local elected office is growing, but drawing even with men is not on the immediate horizon, said Dr. Dina Refki, CEO of the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at Albany University.

"We are seeing progress, but the it is slow and uneven, so we are still have not reached the 50 percent mark," Refki said. "Specifically in New York, we haven't yet reached the critical mass we are looking for."

She noted that at the state level, the number of women in the Senate and Assembly has slowly swelled over the last 40 years.

In 1975, only nine of the 210 total seats in the two legislative bodies were occupied by women. In 2009, this number swelled to 52, or 24.5 percent of the total legislative seats.

Two women, Republican Ida Sammis and Democrat Mary Lilly, first joined the state Assembly in 1919, a year after suffrage.

But even with the recent increase, New York ranks 24th among the states in terms of female political involvement.

Refki noted that no data that compares the rates in trends regarding women in local governments in rural and urban settings is available.

But according to Mark LaVigne of the New York State Association of Counties, women are still well behind their male counterparts when it comes to county leadership posts.

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