Women in Office
On January 3rd, the new 113th Congress officially entered Capitol Hill. This next session of Congress welcomes the largest number of female senators in history. Twenty women, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, will tackle issues involving the economy, immigration, and other pressing topics.
The media and women’s groups nationwide have trumpeted this 20% benchmark. It is true that this is a remarkable achievement, but with women comprising 51% of the population, there is still much work to be done. Strategic effort for this cause is still needed.
In order to make even more gains, we need to encourage more women to seek public office. The 2012 election cycle demonstrated that women’s issues were hotly contested. Issues like reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work were challenged. Even though these issues have been legislatively settled
for decades, they remain volatile and politically charged as campaign issues. Perhaps because of this, women flocked to the polls to vote against extreme candidates and chose more progressive leaders, including women. It may not be a coincidence that more female leaders were elected in a year of high female turnout.
With increased participation also comes increased perspective. If more women had been in elected positions, the controversies surrounding reproductive rights and equal pay may have never surfaced. No one has a better understanding of these issues than women, yet we are only a minority when it
comes to expressing these concerns in government.
Accomplishing more balanced representation is easier said than done. Many women do not share the same political ambitions as their male counterparts. Studies show that women face no electoral disadvantage if they run; however, it takes much more effort to get them to run in the first place. Even
though there is no electoral disadvantage, women continue to think there is. Furthermore, many women do not believe they have the skills, qualifications, or fundraising abilities needed for a campaign.
I think it is important that we fix this mis-perception. Once in office, female lawmakers have proven to be quite effective. The University of Chicago and Stanford University reported that female lawmakers introduced more bills, attracted more co-sponsors, and delivered more benefits to home districts than
their male counterparts. In other words, women in office get results.
With all of this information and regard in women’s favor, we should stress the value of having more women in elected positions. The focus does not have to be solely on statewide or federal office, either. Municipal positions are just as important. In Massachusetts, women hold just 19% of all elected municipal positions. Women should play a larger role in shaping local policy. Furthermore, local offices often provide a great stepping-stone for higher office. These are the places where qualified women can hone their skills and build their confidence and track record as leaders. If we can increase participation at the local level, we can expect increases at other levels as well.
In Brookline, we see successful women in our neighborhoods and around town. We should seek them out, mentor and encourage them to run for office. Who knows, our asking them to consider public office could be the tipping point.
For more information and resources, check out the following:
• Emerge Massachusetts: www.emergema.org
• The 2012 Project: www.cawp.rutgers.edu
• Mass Women’s Political Caucus: www.mwpc.org
• The White House Project: www.thewhitehouseproject.org
• New Leader’s Council: www.newleaderscouncil.org
• Mass GAP: http://www.massgap.org
-Chris Chanyasulkit, Commissioner (Asian American Commission, MA Commission on the Status of Women, Brookline Commission for Women), BAAFN Steering Committee Member, Education Board and Joint Policy Committee Member of the American Public Health Association, TMM Precinct
13, Emerge Massachusetts 2012