Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Make Room: Women Coming Through

According to a recent study by the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at the University at Albany, the number of women in state government leadership positions is on the rise. In six states, the percentage is nearly proportionate to the general population. In Montana, the percentage of women in top state government positions — 54.5 — actually exceeds that of women in the state's overall population — 50.2. Women held 35 percent of governor-appointed posts in all 50 states last year, up from 28 percent a decade earlier.

Although women in state government positions have made great strides, the numbers federally are still embarrassingly low. A few weeks back, a coworker and I attended a Hill reception and showing of a documentary called 14 Women, which follows the lives of the 14 women serving in the U.S. Senate (Note: there are now 16 women serving in the senate). Speakers at the event included Senators Boxer and Mikulski. These women are fierce. Nuff said. Due to their presence, they talked about how there is now a “petite” sized podium on the senate floor. Now if that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

Most importantly, they talked about the need to grow the number of female senators. Yes, the number of women in the senate grew from nine to fourteen in the 109th Congress and these women are having a substantial impact on policy and politics – but we have a long way to go. What was most poignant was that they interviewed young girls in the documentary and asked them how many women they thought served in the U.S. Senate. The majority of the girls guessed that there are 50 women serving in the senate and were shocked to hear that there are only 14.

It begs the question: Why don’t we have 50 women serving in the senate – proportionate to the number of women in the country? Imagine what our country would be like if there were 50 women serving in the United States Senate! Increased funding for health care and education and decreased funding for wars. Paid family leave. Quality child care services and programs. Putting our children first would actually be a reality and not simply a soundbite. Our world would be a different (better) place.

What’s most encouraging is that these women meet regularly for some good ol’ fashioned girl talk. They take off their partisan hats and talk about their families, their challenges, success stories, etc. They have formed an impenetrable support network. I thank them for their service to this country and the sacrifices that they have made and continue to make for more women to cross that threshold into the political realm.

Check out the trailer for the '14 Women' Documentary, a look at the 14 female senators:

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