Not at the Table? Must be on the Menu …
By: Dana Brown
Over the past several years, women running for office around the country have made headlines, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, to name a few. But these high-profile women obscure a sad truth: the percentage of American women holding public office remains dismally low. Today, women hold 24 percent of state legislative offices; 21 percent of the statewide offices; 17 percent of US Senate seats; 17 percent of the seats in the US House of Representatives and 12 percent of governorships. Only 1 woman serves in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, and only 17 percent of our state legislative seats are held by women. The distance we must still travel to achieve parity in our government highlights the urgent need for more women to throw their hats in the ring.
Why women? Women need representation and full participation when laws are written and policies are shaped – when life-altering decisions are made and vast public resources are allocated. As the Washington DC saying goes, “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” Extensive research shows that the participation of women officeholders changes the agenda, procedures and policies set by legislatures as well the tone of debate. Women legislators make the governing process more transparent, and they have provided increased access to the legislature for groups that have traditionally been disadvantaged in American society.
In order to call attention to the paucity of women in Pennsylvania politics and inspire women to take a seat the table, the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) has partnered with the national, non-partisan, 2012 Project – a campaign to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of the once-in-a-decade opportunities of 2012. Following the 2010 census, every congressional and state legislative district in the country is being redrawn, creating new and open seats. It’s crucial that women work together to ensure that we achieve greater representation in the legislative bodies where vital policy decisions are being made. Together the Centers have established the Pennsylvania 2012 Project.
The goals of The Pennsylvania 2012 Project are three-fold:
- Identify, educate, and inspire women to seek public office, and connect all candidates to resources within their states.
- Monitor and focus attention on redistricting to ensure fairness for incumbent women.
- Shine a spotlight on the paucity of women serving in elected office in the state and the value of having gender-balanced policymaking bodies.
The PCWP launched the Pennsylvania 2012 Project on Friday, September 23rd with a conference bringing together leaders who are dedicated to advancing women in government, industries, and communities throughout the state. The conference began with an expert panel on redistricting to review the process as well as its importance. Following the panel, delegates participated in strategy discussions on how best to proceed to increase the number of women in elective office in Pennsylvania in the upcoming 2012 elections and beyond. As a capstone to the program, we celebrated women in public leadership with a keynote luncheon, featuring the 2011 Elsie Hillman Chair in Women and Politics, Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
As part of the Pennsylvania 2012 Project, the PCWP is offering a Ready to Run™ campaign school on Chatham’s Shadyside campus on Saturday, January 21, 2012. We hope that you will join us and be part of the change in 2012!
For more information, or to get information about running for office, visit www.pcwp.org. Questions? Contact Dana Brown, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dana Brown is the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University. She can be reached at: email@example.com.