Between the Lines: Run for it, Girl!

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We can debate whether there is an ongoing war on women, but the irrefutable fact is that issues important to women are being considered and laws are being created without much input from the ladies.

The 2015 Congress is 80 percent men.

Would abortion coverage be under fire if more women were in power? Would paid maternity and paternity leave be a given like it is in most developed countries? Would there persist a national rape kit backlog delaying thousands of criminal prosecutions?

Would stalking and online harassment be such a nightmare? Would the stifling gender pay gap still be nearly impossible to close?

Would Antonin Scalia have been appointed to the Supreme Court despite mouth-dung like this? “To pursue the concept of racial entitlement — even for the most admirable and benign of purposes — is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”

A society cannot reach its full potential if half of the people don’t have an equal chance to participate. And yes, I am asserting that even in our democracy where anyone can run for office, women — especially women of color — are at a disadvantage to men. Politics isn’t a boys’ club by accident.

And it’s a white boys club, too. In addition to Congress’ members being 80 percent men, 80 percent are white — and 92 percent are Christian. Perhaps if we had more people of color in Congress we wouldn’t have presidential candidates referring to Mexicans as rapists and the odious practice of redlining would be dead. Maybe voting rights wouldn’t be under attack, ostensibly, in an effort to solve the nonexistent crime of voter fraud. And perhaps the country would be a more welcoming place for Muslims.

It is especially important for women to be involved in politics at this time because so much legislation that will impact our lives is being designed right now without adequate representation. More women in politics means more advocacy for women and family issues — and hopefully an end to the restrictions powerful men keep trying to put on abortion access.

The solution to gender disparity is to get more women involved in local politics — a proven pipeline to electoral success on the state and national levels. Women need to be encouraged to run for office because right now many young women don’t have that ambition. While 19 percent of men who hold office say they ran to fulfill a lifetime dream of being a leader in politics, only 9 percent of women say this, according to one of the few studies done on why women enter politics, the 2015 Mayor’s Report by the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.

It is difficult for children to dream about a future they can’t see.

Getting into leadership positions in local politics isn’t something women are doing much, nationally as well as in the Pioneer Valley. The Advocate surveyed 51 towns in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties to see how many women served on elected boards of selectmen and city councils. Of the 280 local elected officials we counted, 214, or 76 percent, are men. Women hold 66 positions and make up 24 percent of officials. More than a third of the boards we looked at didn’t have any women serving. Only four towns had select boards where there were more women than men at the table: Brimfield, Colrain, Southampton, and Sturbridge.

A CAWP study, 2015 Women Mayors, found that when men and women are running for office they are largely facing the same challenges and receiving the same supports. There are, however, a few differences between the genders when it comes to deciding whether to run.

Women are more likely to need encouragement to run for office than men. While about a third of men who ran for mayor did so because they were encouraged by others, 43 percent of women said that they decided to run for mayor because of support from friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Women typically spend more time in municipal service before seeking elective office than do men. They are also more likely to face resistance from non-immediate family members than men (18 percent as opposed to 3 percent) and were more likely than men to not have any children or wait until their children were older and in less need of care to start a campaign.

So, women have different needs than men when it comes to running for political office. They need care for their children, support from their families, and people outside of their homes who see their value and encourage them to run for office.

Fortunately, in the Valley, there is an organization working to help women get elected; it’s the Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact run by the Women’s Fund of Western Mass in Easthampton.

The Leadership Institute teaches women how to impact policy on the local, state, and national levels, and to seek and hold on to elected positions. Focusing on community organizing, the legislative process and policy-making, campaign management, fundraising, board participation, and running for office, the program does the necessary work of boosting women’s confidence.

As I write this Monday morning, I have no idea what new faces will appear on Valley boards, commissions, and mayoral seats after the Nov. 3 election. I’m hopeful we will see more women of all races and backgrounds, but if the past is any indication, this year is not likely to be a landslide of female candidates. It’s never too early, however, women, to get the campaign started for next time around.•

Contact Kristin Palpini at editor@valleyadvocate.com.

Kristin Palpini

Author: Kristin Palpini

Editor of the Valley Advocate

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