Women in Politics: An Equality Emergency

While the mid-term elections involved the constant media coverage of several female candidates (O’Donnell, Angle, McMahon, et al), the current tally shows that even when the last winners are determined, the number of women in elective offices will have dropped for the first time since 1978. Experts indicate that the number of women in the upcoming Congress is expected to slip slightly below the previous figure of 17 percent. This will bring the U.S. ranking to 90th in the world for the number of women serving in its country’s national legislature.

The situation has been declared an “equality emergency” by the Women’ Campaign Forum (WCF), a nonpartisan organization founded to support women at all levels of office, particularly during the earliest stages of their public life when support is most needed.

Siobahn “Sam” Bennett, president and CEO of WCF, explains the importance of women in public office this way: “When elected, women–particularly progressive women–advocate for welfare and quality of life in a way that men simply do not.”

The WCF trademarked slogan is “Who Needs More Women in Government? Everyone.”

Women are an Asset in Government
Data from the National Council for Research on Women indicates that women are also an asset in government because they value different issues from men, and they are more collaborative while making decisions, which permits more work to get done. (This would be a refreshing change from what has been happening in Congress of late.)

The WCF was formed in 1974 when a group of professional women banded together to form the first political action committee to focus specifically on women.

As they followed the career paths of women in politics and those considering candidacies, the WCF made a significant discovery: Women are 50 percent less likely than men to consider running for public office. Bennett explains female reticence this way:

“Women are a sensible gender. They earn a paycheck for their efforts in the workforce, and they have an unpaid job at home. Many of the local elected positions come without salary, and women have concerns about taking on more unpaid responsibilities.

“In addition, women are concerned about how the media will treat them,” says Bennett.

Bennett speaks about this from personal experience. In 2008 she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from the 15th congressional district of Pennsylvania. She obtained endorsement from over 35 national organizations and garnered more votes for that seat than any other Democrat had ever received, but ultimately she was unsuccessful. “I came away from the experience with a full picture of what women encounter when they run for office. My efforts were met with an unacceptable level of misogyny, coupled with very unpleasant name-calling,” says Bennett. “I vowed that I would work to prevent other women from encountering the same level of anger simply because they are candidates who happen to be female.”

As part of her work for WCF, she has partnered with other groups to support a website dedicated to promoting truth, accuracy, and objectivity, regardless of gender: www.nameitchangeit.org.

She Should Run
To counter the acknowledged reluctance of women to run for office, the WCF launched a program in 2006 called “She Should Run” at both the Democratic and Republican conventions. They work with women from both sides of the aisle who are entering at all levels of government–from school board to Congress. The WCF supports those who include reproductive choices and options as a part of their platform; these are choices that the WCF believes are vital to women’s health and well-being.

Those who visit the website will see that anyone can nominate a woman whom they feel should run for office; they can also nominate themselves if they are interested in starting a dialog with WCF about what a candidacy entails. Once a name is received, She Should Run ascertains the woman’s level of interest, and then works to be certain she receives the support, training, and resources required to run a campaign. Those candidates who are endorsed by the WCF may also receive financial support.

For more information or to support the WCF, visit www.wcfonline.org.

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