IT’S WOMEN’S EQUALITY DAY THIS SUNDAY (AUGUST 26): Are we equal yet???
Here’s some groundbreaking information that I think may surprise you: gender equality does not exist in our political system. Are you shocked yet? I’m going to assume you’re not, but allow me to provide you with some statistical evidence of just how bad it really is:
• Only 27 States have yet to elect a woman Governor
• Only 3 States have yet to elect a woman to Congress
• Only 17% of seats in Congress are held by women
• Only 12% of US Governors are women
• Only 23% of State Legislators are women
If that’s not enough for you, how about this one?
The US places 79th in the world in rankings of the number of women political leaders
. We’re behind countries like Sudan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Cambodia, and Bolivia. Rwanda is number one on the list.
At this point, you’re probably either asking why more women are not in public office or why does this even matter? Let’s start with the first: why are we not in public office?
On Tuesday I attended the Women’s Public Leadership Summit hosted by The 2012 Project and the Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. I learned the aforementioned facts at the Summit, but I also learned what the main barriers are to women getting into political office.
1. We are afraid to run. As Rachel Michelin of California Women Lead succinctly put it, “The biggest obstacle for women in getting politically involved is themselves.” We don’t think we can do it. We don’t think we can raise the money. We don’t think we’re qualified enough. And we don’t run until we’re asked to do so.
2. Incumbency. We all know it’s hard to get elected when running against incumbents. But the good news is that every 20 years, including 2012, we go through redistricting, opening up new seats that women can more easily tap into. The hard part—it’s only every 20 years!
3. We don’t support each other enough. Women are not out there supporting women running for office as much as they should be. Yes, this is my personal opinion, but I think I’m right on this one. One example is young women voters (ages 18-29). According to political strategist Celinda Lake, young women support women candidates, but lately they have not been showing up to vote. Unmarried women’s votes plummeted from 59% in 2008 to 38% in 2010.
So why does all this matter?
Hmm, let’s see…
maybe because an entire half of our nation is not represented under a government in which the elected officials are supposed to represent the needs of ALL THE PEOPLE
The research brought up at the Summit clarified why we need equal representation among elected officials. Women in office consider women’s issues more than men in office do. The Founder of The 2012 Project, Mary Hughes, has said, “research shows that women leaders introduce more bills, bring more resources home to their districts and advocate for new issues on the legislative agenda.” In other words, women create change, and we need it.
At the NCJW/LA event on the Affordable Care Act this past Wednesday, I learned from panelist Susan Berke Fogel, who directs the reproductive health and justice programs at the National Health Law Program, that over 50% of the counties in California do not provide access to abortions.
In a State with two women Senators, how is this possible? It’s because we think we’re doing enough by having two women Senators, but we’re not. We do not have enough women in public office on the local and state levels. 28% of the CA State Legislature is comprised of women. That’s a pretty good number when you compare it to some other states that have much lower percentages, but it’s not equal representation, and it’s time we stopped saying to ourselves that we’ve come so far and we’re doing so well. We did come so far and do so well twenty years ago, but we haven’t increased the numbers of women in a serious way since then. This is not progress in my book.
We can catalyze change for ourselves and for other women throughout this country.
Here’s the positive spin: there are more women running for Congress in 2012 than ever before and possibly more women running for other elected positions than ever before as well (the 2012 project website). I know I’m going to vote and I know you are as well, but let’s make sure to get everyone else we know out there too.
Seems like we’re forgetting how relevant politics is to our lives. We women share everything with each other including what we eat, what we buy, who we like, and what we’re worried about, but we don’t share much about politics. Let’s change that. Let us share how we feel about our reproductive rights, our wages, our healthcare, how we’re treated in the military, at work, in public, in the media, and in our own homes. Let’s share how we feel about the way our bodies are discussed in politics as though they’re not even ours. And let’s publicly and loudly support the women with the courage to run for any elected position, which I’m sure is much harder than they make it look.
Question of the week: What is the biggest predictor for you when voting for elected officials? Do you think it’s important that we focus on getting more women in office or should we just focus on increasing the knowledge base of everyone in office on women’s issues?
Two more things: I’m now accepting submissions from guest bloggers about any issue you think is related to this blog in some way. So if you’re interested, please submit your blog post of no more than 1000 words to firstname.lastname@example.org. Second thing: I love your comments and loved the rules submitted by some of you last week. Keep ‘em coming!