You would never know that women comprised some 52% of the U.S. population — at least not from the number of women in elected office and public policy-making positions. This dearth of women extends to leadership positions in business and impacts the perspective of women when government begins talking about issues that have an effect on business. And, sadly, this number is getting even smaller.
With the United States admittedly one of the most developed governments in the world, only 16.8% of the seats in the House of Representatives and 17% of the Senate are women. Our country ranks an abominable 71st out of 188 nations with the number of women who have been elected to national legislatures. The best countries for female representation in their national government bodies are a variety: Women hold a whopping 56.3% of seats in Rwanda, 45% in Sweden and 44.5% in South Africa. Heck, even Iraq ranks 39th with 25.2% female representation in their national legislature.
Women don’t run for office because it’s gotten too obscenely expensive and it takes time — and most women don’t have a lot of money or time. When women think of running for office, they think of city councils, mayors, state legislatures or local school boards. Pity. There are large numbers of other offices that are available — airport authorities, county commissions, school boards, university and college governing boards — where women are needed. Expanding our horizons can help expand our voices.
I figure women have one of two choices: run for office or work on someone’s campaign. It’s time we put our shoulders into changing the gender of the political landscape in this country to add to our national tapestry. At a minimum, we should have an equal number of women in elected offices as a simple matter of equal representation. Women’s perspectives, experiences and skills are positive contributions to discussions and decision-making. How can a city council, for example, become more aware of the many issues impacting single mothers and women in business without having women’s voices at the table? Our voices aren’t better, they’re not less — they’re different. As more than 50% of the population, it is time women are included.
In addition, I say women have no choice about contributing to campaigns. Once women get the hang of speaking through their purse strings, a sea change could occur in politics. Every woman can make a difference by donating to a political race, even if it’s 50 cents. Statistics say that people usually vote for the candidates to whom they donate, and what may be 50 cents this year could grow to one dollar the next, and two the year after that. Political campaigns would do well to make women feel good about the smaller amounts they can donate; imagine receiving $2 from every woman in town. Get your wallets out, women!
Programs across the country are available to support women who seek elected office. The Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers (www.cawp.rutgers.edu) offers a non-partisan campaign training, “Ready to Run™” with the basics of running a successful race. They also originated The 2012 Project, a national, non-partisan to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of newly drawn and created districts resulting from redistricting and reapportionment. This program and many others like it offer invaluable information, education and contacts for women across the country.
In late August 2003, a regal-looking woman in Ramotswa, Botswana was ceremoniously installed as the very first female “paramount chief.” As one of only eight such traditional leaders in her country, Ms. Mosadi Seboko presided over the Balete community, some 30,000 people. One of that community’s elders called Ms. Seboko a “born chief. She is calm, caring, intelligent.”
In Botswana, cattle are normally given as gifts for this type of ceremony. Instead, Ms. Seboko received a silver 4x4 pickup truck filled with gifts, including a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, a computer and a printer. Evidently, Ms. Seboko is still expected to wash clothes and vacuum — while paying the bills online.
The thought was nice, but some things just never change.