Monday, May 23, 2011

And One Step Back

Now, here's a bit of depressing news to start the week with:

Fifteen people sit on the Los Angeles City Council. It's possible that in a few months, only one will be a woman. In a few years, there could be none. ...

Eleven years ago, a third of the desks lining the council chamber's ornate horseshoe were filled by women. The steady decline reflects a broader trend across the nation, where the proportion of women officeholders has been flat-lining or slipping.

The number of women sworn in to Congress this year fell for the first time in 30 years, leaving women with just 16% of congressional seats.

And the number of female lawmakers in state capitals decreased by 81 this year, the largest percentage drop in decades.

That's pretty hard to believe, but the numbers are correct. We are losing ground with respect to representation by women, who make up more than half of the US population. As the article points out, the fact that California has two women US Senators and provided the first woman Speaker of the House, apparently made us complacent. Fewer women are running for and winning elections at all levels of government all across the nation. So why are we losing ground?

The prominence of women like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on the national stage may give a false impression of the political influence women wield and ease pressure on women to run for office. That could be especially true in California, where both United States senators, several members of Congress, the attorney general and secretary of State are women. ...

"When women run, women win at the same rate as men in comparable elections," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "But they haven't been running."

No one can say for sure why, but political scientists suspect one cause is the ever-increasing opportunities for well-educated women in business. Another factor appears to be the coarseness permeating many campaigns, and the reputation of politics as a man's world.

Well, those are two reasons, and there is a third: women enter politics later than men because they are generally held to the task as the primary caregiver in families with children. But in 1992, women finally broke through at the congressional level, and made a difference.

Now is not the time for women to step away from electoral politics. Women bring the many of the same skill sets and bring unique perspectives to all issues, not just the traditional "mommy" issues of child welfare and education. We're here, more than half the population, and as well-educated as men. We need to be running in and winning elections.

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