2012 Is For Women

Women’s political gains are happening in nearly every part of the world. Saudi women have been given the right to vote and stand as candidates themselves, something that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. Egyptian women worked successfully to get a guaranteed 25% minimum quota for women parliamentarians written into the new constitution. The constitutions of Iraq, Rwanda, Nepal, and Kenya have similar provisions, guaranteeing a minimum level of women in Parliament. Last year, numerous other countries made significant strides in affording women equal political representation – but not the United States. Currently, the US ranks 67th in terms of women’s representation. In fact, nearly every region of the world has gained women national political leaders in the last 50 years - the United States has not.

The U.S. has a poor track record of electing women, and the last election only underscores the problem. In 2011, for the first time, the number of women elected to Congress did not grow and, in fact, declined. The number of women in Congress has dropped to 16 percent, and the number of women in state legislatures declined by nearly 80 seats - the sharpest drop since the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) began tracking numbers nearly four decades ago.

However, 2012 promises to be an important year for women to make political gains. Internationally acclaimed trainer and former NWPC-WA Vice President Cathy Allen calls it the “40 Year Message,” meaning that “women didn’t have it as good in the last 20 years, and won’t have it as good in the next 20.” Why?

The election of 2012 presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity for women to increase their numbers in office. Following the 2010 census, every congressional and state legislative district in the country is being redrawn, and new and open seats are being created. Reapportionment creates opportunity, and research shows that women have more success winning open seats.

2012 is a presidential election year, bringing out more voters. Voter turnout in Washington state is likely to be the highest in the country, predicted to be as high as 86%, according to the Secretary of State. Many young voters are in that mix, estimates indicate that 68% of 18-34 year olds are expected to cast ballots and, historically, young voters tend to be more tolerant, progressive, and inclined to vote for women rather than men. In Washington, when there is a higher turnout of young voters, and when there is more than 80% turnout, women win.

This every-20-year combination of reapportionment and a presidential election (and a governor’s race here in Washington) creates an exciting opportunity for women to make real gains across the country unlike anything we’ve seen since the last “Year of the Woman” in 1992 when 24 new women were elected to the House and five to the Senate (including our own Sen. Patty Murray), the largest increase in history.

Why does it matter? If Democratic women hold or gain seats this fall they will have numbers necessary to stop recent union busting bills that impact women in jobs like nursing and teaching. For instance, 73% of the membership of the American Federation of Teachers is female. The debate over the debt ceiling and spending cuts have targeted many of the programs and resources women rely on for healthcare, retirement, feeding their children, and family planning.

In the last election cycle, conservative members of Congress ran on an agenda of creating jobs, but instead have pulled a “bait and switch” and seemed singularly focused on social issues - the most astounding being their war on health and reproductive access for women. Conservatives seem intent on creating intrusive, overreaching policies, from trying to redefine rape to defunding contraceptive services at Planned Parenthood. With the assault on reproductive rights both on the state and national level, electing and re-electing progressive women candidates is essential to pushing back against anti-women legislation.

Statewide, there are many open seats, including positions for Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, and Attorney General, as well as two open congressional seats and several legislative seats. More qualified, competent, and respected women should be running. Why aren’t they?

The political world is brutal and getting worse, and women are not inclined to participate. They worry for their family and privacy and they think about making a difference in ways they consider more effective: behind the scenes. As Cathy Allen pointed out, “Men, from a very young age, are oriented towards leadership positions. Women, on the other hand, look up at some point in their careers and say: ‘I think I’ve had enough experience in the world to do this.’”

Women haven’t been asked to run, and when asked, they have usually not thought about running before. Because of this, they often lack the networks and roadmap to be successful.

The 2012 Project is actively working to remedy this situation. The 2012 Project is a national, non-partisan campaign to increase the number of women in congress and state legislatures by taking advantage of the once-in-a-decade opportunities of 2012. To do this, the 2012 Project has assembled a faculty of former elected women legislators to share the facts about women’s underrepresentation and the many benefits of public service. The project is actively targeting and recruiting women between the ages of 45-55 in six business sectors: health, science & technology, finance, energy & environment, international relations, and small business, speaking to industry organizations and nonprofits about running for office. Women interested in taking the next step toward candidacy are connected to leadership institutes, think tanks, campaign training programs and fundraising networks designed to help them succeed in their own states.

This is the year to make a difference in the political world, whether by campaigning yourself, or working on a campaign. The National Women’s Political Caucus has partnered with the 2012 Project to help identify women candidates and to take full advantage of this important election cycle. The NWPC-WA is seeking to recruit successful, capable women and provide the training and networks that they need to run and win in 2012!

Posted by: Juliya Ziskina