By Kristen McCarthy, PAC Intern
“How many of you here today know a woman who you think would make a good elected official?” queried Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz. Hands shot up all over the room. We were in Boston at the National NOW Conference’s Political Roundtable, where women politicians and women who worked in politics were discussing how to advance women’s rights through electoral politics.
I had raised my hand, almost without thinking. “Who do I know who would be a good elected official?” I wondered. Various people came to mind — my outspoken friend from college, my dynamic younger sister, my favorite high school teacher, my fellow NOW interns. I wondered if these women would ever run for office, or if, as many women do, they would decide not to run, either because the obstacles were too big or the reward seemingly too small.
The problem is not that women do not win when they run for office. Statistically, women win elections for public office at the same rate men do. However, far fewer qualified women choose to run for office. Even when women do decide to run, there’s still the chance that their party (and this applies to both major parties) will not work to support them, deeming a less qualified man “more electable.” 1992 was hailed as “the year of the woman,” but nearly 20 years later we have yet to achieve gender parity in Congress.
This seems to paint a grim picture for the future of women in electoral politics. But I do not think that is necessarily the case. At the political roundtable, the audience got to hear about all the ways that individuals in Massachusetts and across the country are trying to get girls involved in the political process. One of the most important parts of this effort involves convincing girls that they are capable of being leaders. If girls become involved in leadership positions from an early age, this creates a pipeline that takes them straight from the playground to the public sphere.
I challenge the readers of this blog to think of women they know who would make good elected officials, whether it be your mother, your sister, a co-worker, or maybe even yourself. Ask them why they have never run for office and encourage them to take that plunge. Based on the number of hands that went up when State Senator Chang-Diaz asked her question, we all know someone who could make an impact on politics if only they tried to enter the arena.