Who Needs More Women in Government? Everyone
| March 4, 2010
Women leaders have shown they know how to work together, whether it’s in the public or private sector. Women’s Campaign Forum President Sam Bennett describes a new initiative to put enough women in office this year to overcome the political impasse plaguing our nation’s lawmakers.
I know I’m not the only one to find myself watching the news in disbelief day after day. We listen to pundits, elected officials, and even the vice president call our government “broken.” This sentiment was only reinforced at last week’s White House health care summit when the partisan stalemate continued—only four women had been invited.
Who’s at fault and how do we get out of the seemingly endless deadlock? Some dare to argue that men are to blame. Somewhat earlier in the health care debate, Representative Carol Shea-Porter said of her sister House members: “We go to the ladies room, and we just roll our eyes at what’s being said out there. And the Republican women said when we were fighting over the health care bill, if we sent the men home, we could get this done this week.”
A bold statement? Yes. But studies have shown that women, who hold only 90 out of 535 seats in Congress, legislate differently—often being more collaborative and ensuring more win-win outcomes—than men. Women in the House and Senate stood together against the Nelson and Stupak amendments, just as women’s organizations banded together to ensure health care reform’s effectiveness and prevent the elimination of any existing rights.
And it’s not just women asserting that we need more women in public office. For our Women’s Campaign Forum (WCF) Parties of Your Choice Gala in New York next Thursday, we’ve gathered prominent leaders from the fields of business, media, theater, politics, fashion, and publishing. Folks like NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash, The View co-host Sherri Shepherd, musician/singer-songwriter Moby, former 60 Minutes Executive Editor Philip Scheffler, fashion designer Vivienne Tam, and actor Alexander Chaplin will come together to support the need to increase women’s political representation.
These WCF events have mobilized supporters from across the country for three decades now. But this year, it’s with a much greater sense of urgency. To underline the need right now to elect more women to fix our broken government, we will debut our national awareness campaign (Who Needs More Women in Government? Everyone.) via a performance piece written by and starring a broad array of female leaders. Performers—including former CEO Christie Hefner, WNBA President Donna Orender, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth “Liz” Shuler, and Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner—will be perched on ladders in the middle of Christie’s Auction House at the gala reception to command attention in a launch of a campaign designed to disturb the complacency of our nation.
Most people, when hearing that the U.S. ranks 84th in the world, behind Afghanistan and Cuba, in the percentage of women in the national legislature, are briefly surprised—“Oh wow, I didn’t think it was that bad”—but the thought process stops there. We need everyone to realize the true weight of this disparity: That women’s political inequality isn’t just a “shame.” It’s actually halting progress and damaging our country.
As Womenomics authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman point out, research has shown the many benefits of having more women at the decision-making table—leading to a wake-up call among many U.S. companies. In addition to focusing on collaboration, women seek out long-term results and tend to take fewer risks. The positive results of women’s leadership can be demonstrated by corporations’ performance: “By all measures, more women in your company means better performance. Pepperdine [University] found that the Fortune 500 firms with the best records of putting women at the top were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than the median companies in their industries.”
Considering we’re currently at war, suffering from a severe economic recession, and unable to fix a broken health care system, I have to ask: When will our political system acknowledge women’s unique ability to enact change?
Given our current state of wheel-spinning and political gridlock, it would behoove us to make 2010 another Year of the Woman—one that this time will have staying power. (We harked back to that historic 1992 election year for the cover of our gala invitation, which shows women walking up steps on the Hill). And yes, we need more women on both sides of the aisle. That’s why WCF works to recruit female candidates from all parties, across the country, at all levels of office. But as we’ve learned with Sarah Palin, not all women support reproductive health choices, and we acknowledge that finding a Republican candidate who will stand up for women’s health can be difficult. Yet the country is hungry for female moderate Republican candidates who will do just that.
WCF currently has more than 30 endorsed candidates for 2010—18 of whom are running for Congress. And we only expect those numbers to increase, as more applications flood in every week. But will we really move the needle on women’s unequal representation this November, or even this decade?
The Women’s Campaign Forum has been in the game for 36 years now and endorsed thousands of women. When we were founded, there were no female senators and 16 congresswomen. Since 1974, the percentage of women in Congress has gone from three to 17 percent—only a 14 percent increase. Today we have organizations all over the country working to elect more women, yet our progress has stagnated. Many estimate that at our current rate of growth, it will take more than 70 years to achieve political gender equality.
So what’s it going to be, America? Will we continue to stand agape at our broken government the way children stare at a broken toy, or will we answer the wake-up call and elect more women?
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.
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