Today is Election Day in the United States and although elections for major offices such as the president and the majority of congressional offices are not held, this year is historic. It’s historic not just for the sheer number of presidential candidates, but also for the inclusion of three specific candidates: Hilary Clinton, Democrat; Carly Fiorina, Republican; and Jill Stein, Green Party. (Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Ms. Stein. I’d only heard of her yesterday!)
This is the first time that both major political parties have had a female presidential candidate at the same time. No matter what your political leaning is, this deserves a celebration, but a small one. A cursory glance at the stage at either parties’ debates, especially the Republican debate, reveals the uneven numbers, lots of men and few women. And the percentage of women running for Congress has plateaued.
One hundred and nineteen years ago today the first white woman was elected to the U.S. Senate, Martha Hughes Cannon of Utah. It would take 96 more years after Senator Cannon’s swearing in before the first black woman was elected in 1992, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois. In 2013, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii became the first Asian American woman to serve in the Senate. They are the only two women of color ever elected to the Senate. A Latina has yet to be elected. (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Latina to serve in the House of Representatives in 1989.)
Last month, Elle Magazine UK, started a campagin, #More Women, that strikingly shows what the lack of female representation in politics and entertainment really looks like. In the campaign’s video, they Photoshopped out the men in the images to show how few women there are. In one extraordinary photo from 2011 in the White House Situation Room, Hilary Clinton sits alone the night that Osama Bin Laden was killed. In another photo, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Queen Elizabeth, and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner are seen as the only participants at the 2009 G-20 Summit in London. It then becomes obvious that out of 31 world leaders, there are only three women present.
Though women make up the majority of the U.S. population, we hold less than 20 percent of congressional seats. According to a 2014 article in The Nation, “America now ranks ninety-eighth in the world for the percentage of women in its national legislature.” That puts the U.S. a few spots ahead of the United Arab Emirates where women have only had the right to vote since 2006! Really, America?! Really?!
Beyond having a government that more equitably represents the demographics of our nation, why should having more female political leaders matter to you? According to the nonpartisan website, Political Parity, “Women across the political spectrum are more likely than their male counterparts — of either party — to prioritize issues affecting women, families and children in their legislative agendas.” Female politicians are more likely to support legislation that raises the minimum wage, enforces equal pay measures, increases coverage for health care, family leave and generally advocates for resources that serve the public good. All these initiatives mean more money in your pocket and more support for living a better life.
Political Parity also says, “Congresswomen deliver nine percent — or roughly $49 million — more per year in federal programs to their home districts than do congressmen.” They are also more likely to sponsor or co-sponsor bills and are “31 percent more effective at advancing legislation and to see continued success farther into the legislative process.” As Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain’s first and so far only, female prime minister, once said, “If you want something said, ask a man, if you want something done, ask a women.”
Of course just having a woman as a political leader does not mean she’ll have a female friendly agenda (Hello, Carly Fiorina!), but what it does ensure is that by her example, more women will run for office. So how can you help fill the pipeline with more female candidates?
Support initiatives like Elect Her, a program sponsored by the American Association of University Women and Running Start, which “encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office.” Running Start also has a program for high school girls called Young Women’s Political Leadership that gives them a taste of what it’s like to run for political office. Girls for Change gives girls in elementary through high school an opportunity to create projects to positively impact their communities.
If you or someone you know is interested in running for office, organizations like the Political Institute for Women offers nonpartisan courses on subjects such as fundraising, strategy, field operations and in other areas critical to running a campaign. VoteRunLead has training and conferences for women who want to make an impact through public service. And Ready to Run offers campaign training through a national network.
And lastly, voting goes a long way towards creating a culture that supports a more equitable society. Remember, your sisters are counting on you.