Program News and Updates
This post is the beginning of a series on teaching students about women in American politics. Stay tuned for more posts in the series with resources and activities geared toward students K-12. You can also check out the CAWP Teach a Girl to Lead® initiative for more teaching tools and activity ideas.
The past few weeks have seen K-12 schools and colleges move to online-only learning. Hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors are working to transition their face-to-face lessons to an online format. If you are teaching high school or college courses on history, government, or politics and would like to incorporate discussions of gender into your activities and lectures, here is a list of resources and activity ideas using CAWP’s historical data and a recent report on gender and the 2018 election:
*All of these activities can be adapted for both online learning management systems and a traditional in-class format.
Have students go to the CAWP website and see how their home state stacks up to other states in terms of women’s representation. Have students record how many women currently represent their state in the U.S. Congress, statewide elected executive offices, and the state legislature. Additionally, students can see how their state ranks among all 50 states. Ask students to note any patterns in which states tend to have more women in elective office and if these patterns vary by level of office.
Use CAWP’s report on the 2018 election, Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond to generate discussion questions or prompts for brief response papers. Here are some ideas:
- The Unfinished Business report states that “Women made history in the 2018 election, but the story of women’s political success is more complex than the records broken.” In what ways was the 2018 election historic for women and in what ways is there still significant progress to make? Cite specific examples from the report to support your argument.
- Women of color made historic gains in the 2018 election.
- What historic “firsts” occurred in 2018 and what do these “firsts” reveal about the progress to be made for women of color in elective office?
- Did the sites for success (types of districts, levels of office) for women of color candidates in 2018 indicate progress and/or persistent hurdles in where women of color run and win?
- The majority of the gains made in the 2018 election were made by Democratic women, while Republican women saw a decline in representation across levels of office. Using information presented in the report and your own assessment of the current political environment, why do you think these partisan disparities were evident in women’s electoral and representational gains in 2018?
- The “Barriers to Progress” section of the report details the unique challenges that women face when making the decision to run (or not) and waging their candidacy. What do you think are the most significant challenges women face in navigating U.S. elections as potential candidates or candidates?
- One of the barriers to progress that women candidates and politicians tend to face at higher levels than men is violence and harassment. Watch the “Silencing Women in Politics” video in the “Barriers to Progress” section of the report. How do you think things like online harassment and threats of violence might have an impact on women who are considering a run for office? How do you think we can address this issue?
Direct students to CAWP’s Milestones for Women in American Politics timeline and ask them to do one or more of the following:
- Identify an individual or event on CAWP’s milestones for women timeline and conduct additional research into their importance to women’s political history in the U.S. Write a short paper to further explain the milestone and why it matters to our understanding of women and American politics.
- Review the timeline in its entirety and write a short response (either in paper format or in an online discussion forum) to the following questions:
- What surprised you most on this timeline of milestones for women in American politics?
- How many of these milestones were you aware of before reviewing the timeline? Why do you think you were or were not aware of these milestones before now?
- What does this timeline reveal about the historical progress for women of color and LGBTQ women in American politics?
- Have students review the CAWP milestones for women timelines and choose a film from for students to view that relates to one or more of the historical events. Take a look at our curated list here from our Teach a Girl® to Lead project.
Instructors should also note that CAWP’s Milestones for Women in American Politics can be filtered by categories (major events, levels of office, women of color, etc.) for more targeted review and activities.
Use the 2020 Candidate Summary and the Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond report to have students compare the number of women running so far in 2020 to the number of women who ran in 2018. They can also use the tracker at the bottom of each level of office to compare 2020 to 2018 numbers of women candidates, as well as CAWP’s tracker of women as a percentage of candidates in both years. Have students write a short memo on what the broad trends are in terms of women in the 2020 election. Where are we on track to break records made in 2018 and where might we fall short? Are there notable trends by party? Students can also use the maps to see where women are running in the primary and where women have won the nomination for different levels of office. Make note that not all the state’s candidate filing deadlines have passed, which means 2020 numbers will change.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2019, 94% of Americans say they would vote for a woman for president. However, an Ipsos/Daily Beast poll conducted in June 2019 found that only 33% of Democrats and Independents believe their neighbor would vote for a woman for president. Take a poll of your students, asking how much they agree with the following statements and report the results to the class:
- I would feel comfortable voting for a woman for president.
- My neighbors would be comfortable voting for a woman for president.
*Response categories are “Strongly agree,” “Somewhat agree,” “Neither agree nor disagree,” “Somewhat disagree,” “Strongly Disagree,” and “Don’t know”
After reporting the results of the class poll, compare those results to the Gallup and Ipsos/Daily Beast polls. Either have a discussion about the results on your online learning management system or have students write a brief response paper.
Every year, the Center for American Women and Politics supports an internship through the Rutgers-Eagleton Washington Internship Award Program that provides financial assistance to interns in the nation’s capital. This is made possible due to the generosity of Susan N. Wilson in establishing the Katherine K. Neuberger Legacy Fund in honor of her mother, a prominent figure in New Jersey Republican politics. Neuberger Fund internships are awarded to Rutgers University–New Brunswick undergraduates who have secured for themselves a Washington-based political internship. This year’s Neuberger intern is Hallie Meisler, a rising senior majoring in women’s and gender studies with dual minors in political science and comparative and critical race and ethnic studies.
In the following interview, we discuss with Meisler her interests and background in politics and her aspirations for both this internship and her future career.
What inspires you to get involved with politics?
I chose to get into politics to assure that everyone has a voice so not just a minority of views are heard. When I was first able to vote, I naively assumed that voting was the only thing I could do to support the candidate I wanted to get into office. I soon learned that to have an impact on an election, there is much more to do before stepping into the voting booth on Election Day. As I continued my education in Women’s and Gender Studies, I became increasingly frustrated at the lack of female representation in the political sphere. I could not wrap my head around the fact that decisions, for example, on women’s rights were being made almost exclusively by old, white men. This lack of diversity is what fueled my involvement in politics. I knew that if I wanted my voice and those of the vast majority of Americans to be heard, it would be essential that we move to elect representatives who would pursue policies more supportive of women and minorities at all levels of government. Until women and people of color have proportionate representation in politics, I will have work to do.
What was your first election as a voter and what did you feel when you cast your first ballot?
I cast my first vote in the 2016 presidential election. I was so proud to be voting, especially since I voted in Virginia, which was viewed as a swing state at the time. The prospect of the 2016 election had really engaged me in political action—for the first time I was researching the voting records of candidates, reading news stories from various outlets, and staying up late to watch every debate. I wanted to make sure I was informed and prepared to cast my vote wisely. Being able to vote was exciting but made me feel both nervous and filled with hope. Even though voting made feel proud that I had done my civic duty, I realize now that my engagement and my commitment to civic duty was not enough, and how much more voter engagement in my generation was necessary in that election.
In the 2018 election, you volunteered with a congressional campaign. How did you get involved and what was that experience like?
Before the 2018 election, I volunteered with a local organization—NJ 11th for Change—which aims to educate citizens on the voting record of their representatives and to explain how the process of gerrymandering impacted our district. Through this volunteer work, I became passionate about supporting a candidate who reflected the ideals that mattered to the majority of my congressional district. I was compelled to volunteer to ensure that whoever filled the seat in the 11th congressional district would do so with the needs and views I wished to see addressed. Volunteering for Mikie Sherill was an amazing experience for so many reasons. Canvassing and phone banking is no easy task, but it really felt worth it because I believed in the candidate. Working to elect a strong woman made me hopeful about the future of Congress and US politics, in general. Knowing that I had a direct role in helping fill a congressional seat with an amazing female politician made the experience of volunteering for a campaign life-changing, and I knew from that moment on I wanted to dedicate myself to this work.
Why did you want to take this opportunity to intern in Washington, DC?
I chose to seek an internship in Washington, DC to be in the center of the national political sphere. While I could have applied to Planned Parenthood centers all across the country, to be in Washington, D.C. would give me the opportunity to advocate on Capitol Hill and garner support from various representatives for the causes at the heart of preserving the mission of Planned Parenthood Federation. As the future of Planned Parenthood remains increasingly insecure, I felt a pull to be in DC where critical decisions were being made in order to fully advocate as an engaged intern on behalf of the many women and men who desperately depend on this organization for critical health care.
How did you choose the organization you'll be interning with?
I have been volunteering for various Planned Parenthoods across the country, as well as participating in the Rutgers chapter of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. I have done research papers on the founder of the organization, and I was given the ultimate privilege as a scholar at the Institute for Women’s Leadership to interview Cecile Richards, the former president. I am so thankful that the Eagleton Institute of Politics and the Neuberger Fund have recognized me with the opportunity to fulfill a career goal.
What do you hope to get out of your DC political internship experience?
I hope to grow as a political organizer and refine my skills as a communicator for the causes I am passionate about. I know that if I can learn to effectively organize and advocate in the center of US governance—Washington DC—I will be able to employ the skills gained wherever I go after I graduate. Since this is my first internship, I hope this summer experience will instill in me a level of motivation to continue to advocate for more women and issues of social justice in the political sphere.
Is there anything you're trepidatious about in taking on this internship?
Even as I am passionate about the causes pursued by this organization, I am sure that I will come across individuals throughout my internship who will question my efforts. I recognize that this will bring an added level of challenge and difficulty to my role, but I also realize that engaging with individuals who have different viewpoints is often the most important way to make progress. As a public advocacy intern, I welcome the challenge to connect with everyone, not just those who share my ideals, and I am sure this will further enrich my experience and strengthen my skills as a communicator and advocate.
What do you hope to get out of your stay in DC outside of your direct internship experience?
Throughout my time in DC, I hope to strengthen my networking skills. I am keenly aware of how important it is to make connections with political leaders and those in government. So, while I am in the seat of the US government, I hope to maximize my time and experiences meeting others who seek to advocate for other compelling social justice causes. Especially as a woman in a heavily male environment, I know how important it is to make connections with a wide range of professionals. In this way, I hope to challenge myself to reach out to people who can mentor me, give me advice, and help further my aspirations.
What are your goals in terms of your own political engagement and career?
My ultimate career goal is to work to empower and elect more women to positions in the political sphere—whether that means working with organizations that support women who are considering running for office, seeking to recruit potential female candidates, or working on campaigns for women I would like to help get elected.
Stay tuned to the CAWP blog later this summer for a guest post from Hallie about her internship experiences and how her D.C. summer has impacted her planning for her future in politics.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Opinions expressed by interviewees do not represent the opinions of the Center.
Too much to do and too little time this holiday season? To help lighten the load, here’s a handy list of gift ideas honoring women public leaders – perfect for the women (and men!) in your life who appreciate the role that women play in shaping our democracy, as well as the kids who will carry the leadership torch in years to come.
TheCOMPASSProject has designed a collection of special artisan-crafted True North bracelets, and a portion of sales supports CAWP’s Ready to Run® Network of nonpartisan campaign trainings for women. We wear our bracelets every day as a symbol of hope that one day women in America will have the power to govern as equals. Yes, this is a shameless plug to support our work, but you’ll also help women break some marble ceilings while shopping. See, everyone wins!
Speaking of ceilings, this shattered glass ceiling necklace pays tribute to the accomplishments of empowered women everywhere. Enough said.
Every baby needs this Ruth Bader Ginsburg bib, because it’s never too early to start kids on embodying the spirit of powerful women.
We can’t all be on the Supreme Court, but we can enjoy a cup of coffee with this record-breaking, history-making squad any time we’d like.
Statement t-shirts are fun; why not make them empowering ones? Suffragist Alice Paul said, “There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality,” and we agree. Every woman has a mind of her own. And in case anyone needs reminding about where women belong.
What better way to spend a cold winter’s night than curled up in front of a good show? Equity is about the hard road women face making it in a man’s world. The binge-worthy drama Borgen covers challenges faced by Denmark’s first female prime minister.
Last, but not least: books that teach kids and adults about women’s public leadership. (Note: this is by no means an exhaustive list of books on women leaders. The biggest challenge is the lack of titles on the subject of women’s political leadership. Take note, publishing houses and authors! We need more. In the meantime, additional book suggestions are available on our Teach a Girl to Lead™ site.)
Preschool and Elementary: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison; She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger; Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter; Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio ; If I Were President by Catherine Stier; Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colon. Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies by Cokie Roberts and Diane Goode; Mary America: First Girl President of the United States by Carole Marsh; Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can by Cynthia Levinson; A Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull and Jane Dyer.
Pre-Teen: Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker: Vote for Me! by Robin Palmer; With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman's Right to Vote by Ann Bausum; Scholastic Biography: Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I A Woman by Patricia McKissack and Fredrick McKissack; President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston; Margaret Chase Smith: A Woman for President by Lynn Plourde.
Teen: 33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women's History: From Suffragettes to Skirt Lengths to the E.R.A. by Tonya Bolden (editor); Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony by Geoffrey C. Ward and Kenneth Burns; Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women by Marlene Wagman-Geller.
Adult: Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead by Madeleine Kunin; Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick by Peter Collier; Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm; My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor; Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller; Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress by Olympia Snowe; The Autobiography Of Eleanor Roosevelt.
At the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), we have been getting a lot of inquiries about how to get politically engaged and how to encourage other women to do so. Below is a list of ideas and action steps to keep you inspired and engaged. Please share widely, and contact me if you have other ideas I should add. Happy holidays!
Take a Seat at the Table (and help other women pull up their chairs)
The late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm said: “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” The fastest and most effective way to make change at policymaking tables is to sit there. Help women take their seats by helping build and sustain the infrastructure needed for women to be successful public leaders.
- Run for office. Sign up for a campaign training program in your area. CAWP has a National Network of Ready to Run® Campaign Trainings for Women around the country. If there’s not one in your state, check out our map of political and leadership resources for women. There are a whole host of organizations, including She Should Run, Emerge America, the Excellence in Public Service Series, and more. Check them out!
- Ask a woman to run. And then tell her you will help her, and find others to help her (and follow through.) And then ask another woman. And another. And another, and…well, you get the idea. If you are already an elected official, it’s particularly important to encourage a woman (or women) you know to run for office. Research that shows that women are far less likely than men to get asked to run for office by formal political actors, including other elected officials and party leaders. Your encouragement could make all the difference. Thank you for your service!
- Start a campaign training program to encourage other women to run. Connect with CAWP on how to launch Ready to Run® in your state. Our programs are nonpartisan, but if party or certain issues are your thing, check out any of the organizations mentioned or on our map.
- Get appointed to office. Did you know that there are hundreds of thousands of positions available on state, county and local boards and commissions around the country? Did you also know that appointed positions often have significant policymaking authority? Start researching the boards and commissions in your town, county, or state and find out how to get appointed to the ones that interest you. Feel overwhelmed about how to start? One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was from a woman who was concerned about an environmental issue in her town. She found the local commission responsible for overseeing that issue and made a point of showing up at each meeting and asking at least one questions publicly. She began to build her public profile on that issue. She eventually became a member of that commission.
- Start a project to encourage other women to seek appointive office. During open gubernatorial election years, CAWP runs a Bipartisan Coalition for Women’s Appointments here in New Jersey. The goals are: to create the expectation within both major parties and the campaigns of their gubernatorial candidates that women will be included in significant state government positions in even greater numbers than in any past administration at every level of appointment – from cabinet positions to unpaid boards and commissions; and to create a “talent bank” of resumes from New Jersey women interested in being considered for appointments in the next administration.Other states have had appointments projects. Interested in creating one in your state? Contact me.
- Read this case study on New Jersey by scholars Susan J. Carroll and Kelly Dittmar. It examines the reasons why New Jersey was able to rise from the bottom ten of all states for women serving in its legislature to the top of the pile (we currently rank 11th.) It was mix of factors, but one thing is for certain: change required intervention and lots of people paying attention. Use it to start discussions with other women leaders in your state about how to build a political infrastructure supportive of women candidates.
- Start, join, and support an organization dedicated to political parity. A number of groups exist all over the country, including the ones mentioned earlier, but also the National Women’s Political Caucus, Higher Heights for America, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), the National Congress of Black Women, and many more. Look for resources in your state on our resource map; if there isn’t an organization, think about creating the infrastructure yourself. Over the years, I’ve met women from around the country who took a look around their state and realized that there wasn’t an organization or network dedicated to women’s public leadership or parity, so they started their own. Women Lead Arkansas and the Institute for Women in Politics of Northwest Florida are just two examples. It takes a lot of work, but we need more of us.
- Join your party organization. Information can be found on the national Democratic and Republican party organization sites.
- Seek party leadership position. If you are already a member of a political party, seek out an official leadership role with the party organization. In New Jersey, for example, all but two counties have male party chairs. Time for some women at the helm.
- If you are already a party leader, take the time to mentor women who could come along the leadership ladder with you. (See #2 above.) Lift as you climb!
- Volunteer on a campaign. Take the time to volunteer and learn as much as you can about the campaign and political campaign organizing. Take a campaign training class (see #1.)
Give as much as you can, depending on your circumstances. I guarantee you, no amount is too small. Give more if you are in a position to. But seriously, money talks. Give money to the people and causes you support. Try to make it a regular part of your giving – not just at election time, but all throughout the year. Women candidates face challenges raising money, according to Open Secrets.org.
- Give to women candidates. Even if they don’t live in your district, it’s worth supporting women candidates whose values match yours. You can always find a list of women candidates on CAWP’s Election Watch page – do research on the ones that may be a fit for you. Organizations like Women Count, Maggie’s List, Higher Heights for America, as well as other political action committees (PACs), are useful resources for giving to and finding women candidates. A full list of PACs supporting women candidates can be found on our Political & Leadership Resource Map.
- Start a PAC supporting women candidates. Here’s a quick answer guide from the Federal Election Commission, but for state or local PACs, you will want to check your state’s election commission for state-specific rules and guidelines. Campaigns for federal office are governed by federal rules, while campaigns within a state are governed by the rules of the state.
- Give money to advocacy organizations focused on issues you believe in. Pick at least one or two causes that are most important to you, and find the organizations that best meet your goals on those issues. Sign up to be a regular supporter – remember, no amount is too small. Once a year, evaluate your advocacy giving and readjust. Can you give more? Are there other issues about which you have become passionate?
- Follow the money. Use OpenSecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, to look up where candidates or PACs are getting their money and how they are spending it. Use this to make informed decisions about where to spend your own money and to advocate for transparency in campaign finance.
- Support the work of research centers and scholars dedicated to studying women’s public leadership. Well, this is an outright ask: we need your support. The Center for American Women and Politics has been dedicated to examining and tracking women’s political participation over the past 45 years. We simply cannot do this work without the support of our generous donors. Other organizations include the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State University, the Center for Women’s Leadership at Portland State University, the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Many more can be found at our Political & Leadership Resource Map.
Become a Citizen Lobbyist
Our democracy hinges on participation from many people. If you are not running for office, you can have a voice in legislative processes in a variety of ways.
- Attend legislative hearings. Open public hearings happen all over the country almost every week. Look at the schedule for upcoming hearings on issues or committees you care about. Take a drive to your statehouse and check them out. Learn about the process. Get to know the elected officials working on the issues you care about (committee members, etc.)
- Give testimony at legislative hearings. Anyone can sign up to give testimony at a hearing. Make your voice heard. Do your research and prepare your remarks. Here’s a handy guide from the Oregon Legislature on how to give testimony.
- Contact your elected representatives. Write, email and call your elected officials – the only way they know how you feel about an issue is if they hear from you. Make this a regular habit; don’t take for granted that others are doing it or tell yourself it doesn’t matter. As this former Congressional staffer pointed out, it does matter (she also gives great tips on how best to contact members of Congress, but don’t stop there. Find out how your state and local representatives are, and make a point to contact them about state and local issues.)
Groom the Next Generation
It’s more important than ever to provide the tools and resources to help young people rethink leadership and refocus the picture, because if a girl can’t imagine a woman leader, how can she become one? And if a boy sees only men in leadership roles, what will convince him to support aspiring women leaders?
- Invite a woman public leader to speak to your classroom or youth group. CAWP created our Teach a Girl to Lead™ (TAG) project to make women’s public leadership visible to the next generation. What better way to do that than have women public leaders talk to kids about politics and government? For sample invitation letters and discussion points, go here.
- Assign readings on women's political leadership to students, or read with your kids. Plenty of book suggestions by age, from kindergarten through adults, can be found here. Have a family movie night coming up? Suggestions can be found here.
- Arrange to take a class or youth group on a statehouse tour with a gender lens.
- Incorporate these exercises and activities about women’s public leadership in classrooms or youth programs.
- Talk to kids about politics and government. Explain, early and often, what it means to be a good citizen and to be part of a participatory democracy. Answer their questions. Take them with you to legislative hearings and other public events. Point out city hall when you drive by. Tell them why you served on jury duty recently. Talk about things you like and things you’d like to change in your government. Make public service and government a regular part of life for them.
- Support organizations dedicated to building girls’ political leadership. Our Teach a Girl to Lead™ project needs your support to continue to provide new resources and programs. There are also several organizations dedicated to girls political leadership, including IGNITE, Running Start, and the Girls and Politics Institute. Spread the word. Donate scholarships to make it possible for more girls, particularly those from underserved populations, to participate. Donate to our Teach a Girl to Lead™ project!
Build Your Personal Leadership Style & Feed Your (Civic-Minded) Soul
Sometimes you need inspiration or advice on your road to public leadership.
- Talk to an elected woman or a woman party leader. Make an appointment or, if you know her personally, invite her for a cup of coffee. Ask her these questions: why did you run? What is the best thing about public service? How can I be of help to you?
- Read a biography about a women public leader. Here are few suggestions to get started: Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick. More can be found on our Teach a Girl to Lead™ site (filtered by age for grown-up titles.)
- Find your own public voice. Lots of people are nervous about public speaking, but you have to be able to articulate your message and inspire your audience. Learn how to do that by reading The Well-Spoken Woman by expert Christine Jahnke.
- Watch women public leaders tell you their stories on MAKERS.com. You can find more video conversations with women leaders here.
Above all, get and stay involved. Go forth and lead!
This week, CAWP was lucky to have extern Alexandra Banash join us from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. Working with a fellow Aquinas Saint, CAWP Scholar Kelly Dittmar, Alexandra learned about CAWP’s work and helped conduct CAWP research. As the week came to an end, Kelly and Alexandra had a short conversation about some of the topics that came up throughout the week, and shared their cross-generational insights below.
KD: Why are you interested in the topic of women in politics? What made you interested in coming to CAWP this summer?
AB:I have been interested in politics itself from a very young age. We could say I have then also been interested in women in politics from a young age because of the active participation of women that I have been surrounded by my entire life. I delved into the subject of women and politics as an undergrad at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. As a junior I enrolled in an entry-level women’s studies course. I don’t think from that point on there was a time that I became detached from love of the topic. With that being said, I was interested in coming to CAWP this summer when the chair of the women’s studies department encouraged me to apply for a pilot program. In doing so I had no idea that I was coming to CAWP. Not knowing much about CAWP and not knowing I was coming to CAWP was a curse and a blessing because after my time here I don’t want to leave.
AB: Even if we had equal numbers of men and women on the ballot, do you think that their will ever be a 50/50 distribution between men and women in office?
KD:One of the biggest, and initial, hurdles to political parity is the dearth of female candidates. We know that women women run, women win as much as men in comparable races. In other words, there does not appear to be any blatant bias at the ballot box. However, women make up far less than 50% of candidates for office at all levels, lessening their chances of being on the ballot or being elected to office. There is a great deal of research into whywomen don’t run, as well as efforts by women’s political organizations to encourage, recruit, and support women candidates (CAWP’s Ready to Run is a great example!). I’m confident that if the number of women candidates rose significantly, we would see a quicker move to political parity. But that alone won’t resolve some of the underlying institutional barriers to women’s political power. That will take more significant cultural changes, like redefining and revisioning what it means to be an elected official so that masculinity and men are not assumed the norm and femininity and women assumed as “other.” Rethinking and revising our stereotypical expectations of gender, candidacy, and officeholders is the harder resolution on the road to 50/50, and is one that will both create greater opportunities for women to run and be influenced by women running and serving. I can’t venture to guess whenwe will reach gender parity in office since we’ve seen such a plateau (and some declines) in recent decades, but I do hope we get there – even if that means I am out of a job someday.
KD:This week, you helped analyze data related to Black women’s political representation and engaged in conversations about gender dynamics in the 2016 presidential race. You also learned a bit more about what we do at CAWP. What have you found most interesting or surprising, and why?
AB: Looking at the data overall I am shocked by the numbers that analyze the amount of women in statewide elected executive offices by state. Just 25% of statewide elected executive officials are women and only two of those are Black women. The disparity between the numbers of Black women in office and Black women in the population in some states is almost unfathomable. Looking at state legislative representation, I am alarmed by the fact that only 3.4 percent of all state legislators nationwide are Black women in 2015. I do not expect to see a large increase in 2016, which is very unfortunate. When will this change?
AB: What do you think is the best tool for successful support as a woman when deciding to run for office whether it is on the local, state, or federal level?
KD:We know from research that women make the decision to run differently than men, and support and encouragement is even more essential for them than for men. However, it’s too simple to say that we need to just “ask women to run.” In addition to asking, or encouraging women, to consider a bid for office, we need to provide them the incentive, infrastructure, and roadmap to run successfully. Having the support of political leaders – whether elected officials, formerly elected officials, or party leaders – is often most influential to women’s calculus. If that support is not there, especially from parties (which, according to research, can act as gatekeepers to women’s political power), it’s important for women to be able to look to an alternative support infrastructure. That might include women’s political organizations, personal support networks, or community groups that will back a woman candidate from the time she makes the decision to run until Election Day. Running for office is not easy at any level and women are smart – they need to know that: (1) they can win; (2) there are people behind them; and (3) there are groups or individuals that will help them navigate political terrain successfully.
KD:Recent research on young people’s political ambition finds a gender gap in young men and women’s interest in running for office (with women less likely to want to run). It also finds that women’s confidence in their leadership skills actually declinesin college. Based on your knowledge and experiences, what do you think might be happening? What do you think we can do about it?
AB:The decrease in confidence for women in college might be tied to the limited scope of who is in power today. The rigid two-party system constrains the expansion of opportunity for groups that are marginalized from power. Today, women are a group marginalized from power, which is correlated with the rigid gender binary in society where men have control power relations. The large gap of women to men in our legislative body affects the experiences in our everyday lives. How can we as women become so confident if we don’t have other women behind us? As Shirley Chisholm would say, “My success was exclusively due to the support of women,” adding, “No one will save us but us.”
AB:Transitioning from a small liberal arts school to a large university, can you compare and contrast the power of the students from a political stand point and how does it influence the decisions of the hierarchy of the administration of the school(s)?
KD:Even more than contrasting the power of students at small or large higher education institutions, I think it is important to emphasize the political power students have, but often do not use. Whether it be with their university administration or their member of Congress, students can mobilize to have a great deal of influence. As consumers (at a college or university) and constituents, students are affected directly by the decisions made by leaders in both realms. Like any population, students often struggle to find the time or incentive (or even information needed) to navigate the bureaucracy of government or higher education. I think the key for students across the board is to see themselves as their own best advocates and not count on others to represent their interests. Just like women need a seat at the table, students’ voices need to be heard in the most important policy debates of the day – all of which affect their presents and futures.
KD:There is a chance that we might elect a woman president in 2016. Do you think it will happen? Do you think it matters to have a woman in the White House? Why/why not?
AB:Yes, there is a chance, but I do not believe it will happen. Of course, I would be so ecstatic to even see a woman be the leading candidate on the Republican or Democratic ticket, but we need to see if the level of support is there and we need to see if people get out and vote. Voting is the key; if we can somehow reach out to the people that would most heavily influence and be influenced by a women being in office, I think the vote could change drastically. On that note, I do think it matters to have women in office. In looking at recent data, we have seen a common progression in the ups and downs of the economy, but there has not been any change in who is regulating the economy per se. I also think it is important to note that having women in office would also change the dynamic of the household, shifting roles and making it more of a common solution for women to be in public and private sphere.
KD: Of all of the CAWP staff you have met this week, who is your favorite and why?
AB: Of all of the CAWP staff I have met this week, I would have to say Florence Eagleton (1870-1956; pictured to the right with Alexandra) would have to be my favorite [NOTE: Eagleton is the namesake of the Eagleton institute, not a former or current member of the CAWP staff.] She once said in donating the building that houses CAWP and Eagleton that the purposes should be for, “the development of and education for responsible leadership in civic and governmental affairs and the solution of their political problems.” We have a lot of problems. Somehow we have to fix them.
As CAWP gets ready to welcome NPR’s Michel Martin as this year’s Senator Wynona Lipman Lecturer in Women’s Political Leadership, you might sign up to attend without knowing anything about the woman for whom the lectureship is named. Your interest might be further piqued by discovering the roster of extraordinary African American women who have already been Lipman Lecturers; beginning with Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the list includes powerhouses such as former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, law professor Patricia Williams, Senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, political strategist Donna Brazile, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, PBS host Gwen Ifill, Obama advisors Valerie Jarrett and Melody Barnes, and NPR host Michele Norris. Who was the woman whose life we celebrate with these exciting annual lectures? As we wind up Black History Month and head into Women’s History Month, it’s an appropriate moment to find out.
Senator Wynona Lipman was the first African American woman in New Jersey’s State Senate, serving from 1971 until her death in 1999. A Georgia native, Lipman earned her Ph.D. in French at Columbia and taught for many years, confronting racism that kept her from a full-time professorship in her area of expertise. She got involved with politics through the local PTA and NAACP, ultimately becoming the chairman of Montclair’s Democrats and then an Essex County Freeholder before moving up to the State Senate. Her biography provides the details.
But the heart of the story is this: Throughout her more than quarter-century tenure in Trenton, Senator Lipman carried the water on almost every key piece of legislation for women, children, families, small businesses, and minorities. We asked Alma Saravia, Senator Lipman’s longtime aide, for reminiscences about the path-breaking senator. In her words: I worked with Senator Lipman for many years as the Executive Director of the Commission on Sex Discrimination in the Statutes. The Commission was mandated to conduct a systematic study of the statutes to determine whether the laws were discriminatory or whether the absence thereof resulted in women being denied full equal protection under the law. As Senator Lipman stated: “[m]any of the state’s laws contain discriminatory provisions based upon sex and reflect policy judgments which are no longer accepted by our society.” (Trenton Times, June 28, 1979) The legislation enacted as a result of her considerable efforts changed the lives of many of New Jersey’s citizens. Senator Lipman’s distinguished legislative record included sponsoring bills related to her deep-seated commitment to children’s rights, the rights of women and the disenfranchised and to assuring that health care and essential services were provided to New Jersey’s residents. Her record of getting more bills signed into law than most legislators stands today. In addition, Senator Lipman’s powers of persuasion were legendary. When she wanted a bill to go forward she passionately advocated for her legislation and she often “wore down” her colleagues. Senator Lipman knew that there was strength in numbers. Many of the bills recommended by the Commission were enacted with the strong support of other organizations or individuals. From law professors to ordinary citizens, Senator Lipman understood that their voices counted in lobbying for a bill. With the formation of alliances came the knowledge that compromises must be made – a “half a loaf is better than none.” There is also no doubt that Senator Lipman’s legislative success was attributable to her strong belief in the need for the legislation. Whether it was the establishment of the State’s first domestic violence act, child support laws, the parentage act, economic equity legislation, recognizing Advanced Practice Nurses, or AIDS related legislation, her ground-breaking bills reflected her belief in those issues. There was no mistaking her deep passion and commitment to social justice and equality. What would Senator Lipman be doing today if she were still in the Senate? No doubt addressing the same kinds of issues, speaking out loudly on behalf of the under-represented, and bringing both her intellect and her powers of persuasion to bear to identify and banish all vestiges of discrimination. In her absence, we draw on the wisdom of the Lipman lecturers to point us toward what others must do to move forward.
The following blog is a guest post from Felise Ortiz, a senior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, double majoring in Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies with a minor in Spanish. She is an alumna of the NEW Leadership NJ Class of 2011. Felise is the Founder and President of Douglass D.I.V.A.S., a female empowerment student organization at Rutgers University. She is also an Institute for Women's Leadership Scholar as well as an Eagleton Institute of Politics Undergraduate Associate.
The underrepresentation of women in politics in the United States is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately and with urgency. With the help of the Institute of Women’s Leadership, my partner Jennifer Osolinski and I were able to facilitate a conversation addressing this issue. Our social action project was not only an opportunity to hone our feminist leadership skills but it also served as testament to the fact that the personal is indeed political. As former Eagleton and CAWP interns, Jennifer and I wanted our event to make at least one young woman consider a first step in the direction of politics. We were inspired by programs such as NEW LeadershipTM and Ready to RunTM because they inform women about the current political climate and encourage them to become involved in public service. While strategizing on how to reach a youthful audience, we were approached with the possibility of doing a film “Raising Ms. President” a new documentary about getting girls politically active. Once we watched the trailer, we agreed that it would be a great foundation for our project and our overall message. I learned a lesson in patience and professionalism from this portion of the experience. I also learned that is apart of the feminist model of leadership to use your network. Our networks ultimately resulted in three amazing panelists and the film arriving on time. We had an audience of about twenty-five people who were enthusiastic about the film and project as a whole. I had a list of prepared remarks and questions for the panelist. However, I learned the most from the audience’s engagement with the panelists. There were many though-provoking questions asked and answered. The key moment of the event for me occurred after most of the attendees departed and two panelists were left talking passionately about campaigns. One woman was a Caucasian Republican representative from a suburban town and the other was a Black Democrat from an urban city, and they were networking. I watched politics (how it should work) happen organically with two women who shared a love for public service. This project has taught me three key lessons: 1. The message is worth the madness. We were able to spread our message that women’s political involvement is important and can be transformational when it is made a priority. Any of the difficultly that we may have faced along the way was well worth it. 2. Not only is the personal, political but also the political is often better executed when it is personal. The research and our panelists attested to the fact that there is a dire need for more women in office in order for issues that affect women to be adequately advocated for. Another example would be my personal connection to this project, made me invested enough to see it through to the end. 3. Social justice based women’s leadership has been and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. During this process I have been inspired by the social action projects of my classmates and how we have rallied together to support one another. The bond we created through this experience has strengthened me and I am truly grateful to have had this opportunity.
By Jean Sinzdak, Director, Program for Women Public Officials, Center for American Women and Politics In January, Joni Ernst (R-IA) will be among the 104 women serving in the 114th US Congress. In addition to being the first woman elected to represent Iowa in Washington, Ernst made history in November as the first woman veteran elected to serve in the US Senate. She will join fellow veterans Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who made history in 2012 as the first female combat veterans elected to serve in the US House, and Martha McSally, who was elected to the House this year from Arizona. With these additions, six women veterans will have served in Congress. (Former Representatives Catherine Small Long (D-LA), Heather Wilson (R-NM), and Sandy Adams (R-FL) round out the group.) CAWP’s research indicates that women bring different priorities and experiences to public life, and women officeholders help make government more transparent, inclusive and accessible. Women public officials – elected and appointed – have an impact on public policy that ultimately affects the entire population of the state, region and nation. Today there are an estimated 2.2 million female veterans, and they represent one of the fastest growing segments of the veteran population – about 10 percent of the total 22 million veterans in this country. Women veterans have already put their country first by serving in the military; they are exactly the kind of people we need as public leaders. And recognizing the distinctive experiences of women in the armed services, it’s clear that women vets will bring especially valuable insights to Congress. CAWP has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Center for Women Veterans to help women veterans develop skill sets to prepare them for public and community service opportunities within their communities. The Center for Women Veterans, created in 1994 to monitor the VA’s administration of benefits and services to women Veterans and to advise the Secretary on the VA policy’s impact on Women Veterans, will advise CAWP on how it focuses its resource information to address women veterans’ issues. “Women veterans often contact us for information about how they can continue serving,” says Elisa M. Basnight, director of the Center for Women Veterans. “This agreement with CAWP presents a prime opportunity for the Center to help prepare them for other forms of public service as it responds to a persistent need women veterans tell us they have, which is the desire to continue to make a difference after the uniform.” CAWP is also partnering with Veterans Campaign, a program of the National Association for Uniformed Services, on a female leadership workshop at their Veterans Campaign Training, which will be held on Feb. 21-25, 2015 in Washington, DC. In addition, women veterans (and any women!) can attend one of the Ready to Run® programs hosted by CAWP or our partners around the country – upcoming programs can be found here. Additional campaign trainings and leadership programs can be found on CAWP’s national Political & Leadership Resources for Women map. For more information about and other resources for women veterans, you can also visit the Center for Women Veterans.
The Center for American Women and Politics is proud to work with colleagues and partners throughout the country to advance women in politics and leadership. This week, footnotes is proud to host a guest blog post from Susan Rose, a former county supervisor (Santa Barbara, CA) and faculty member of CAWP's 2012 Project. In this post, Susan highlights the important work done by the Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. Thank you to Susan and to the SBWPC for your work on behalf of women! Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee: 25th Anniversary Susan Rose
The 2012 election resulted in some formidable firsts for women. Although the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress still remains low (18%), they broke several glass ceilings. Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate; Tammy Duckworth the first disabled veteran in Congress; Tulsi Gabbard the first Hindu in Congress; and Mazie Hirono the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. However, there is still much unfinished business for the feminist agenda and an imperative need to secure the gains that have been made. To do that, more women must run for national office. How can women candidates get started in politics? Is there a pipeline and if not can one be created? In the late 1980’s, a small group of women gathered in Santa Barbara, California and asked the question: can women have a significant impact by acting locally? Reflecting on 25 years of political activism, the answer is an unqualified yes. The following narrative describes how these feminists created a pipeline using an activist model. The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee (SBWPC) was established in January of 1988, with a raucous reception in a popular watering hole that brought out 250 women and men. Betty Friedan was the keynote speaker that evening and anti-choice opponents picketed the event. The time was right to organize! From the beginning, the SBWPC defined itself as a feminist organization. Their mission states: “The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee is dedicated to furthering gender equality and other feminist values through political and social action, and educational activities. As a political action committee, we endorse the candidacies of women and men who actively support our goals and promote a feminist agenda.” During these 25 years, the SBWPC has pursued gender equity through many avenues but with the specific focus of creating social change through public policy. The theory that female elected officials would do more to make a difference in the lives of women has since been documented by academic institutes like the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. Additional research from Stanford has demonstrated that female legislators perform better than their male counterparts once in office. To attain gender equity, the SBWPC aimed to achieve representational balance by electing feminist women to public office. Over these years, the organization has supported many women for school boards, city councils, boards of supervisors, the state legislature, California statewide offices, congress and the presidency. During the 1990’s, more women began to run for office in Santa Barbara. Since 1999, the county has been represented by a woman in congress. Women have comprised as much as 80% of the County Board of Supervisors, served as mayors, District Attorney, and in both houses of the state legislature. They also hold many positions on school boards and local commissions. Since 1988, the SBWPC had endorsed 95 candidates. A total of fifty-six of those were women (59%). Only four of the women lost. All candidates endorsed the feminist agenda. The success of the organization is best demonstrated by the impact these women have had on public policy and governance. Issues and legislation introduced by women elected to office in Santa Barbara have covered a broad range of topics:
- Congresswoman Lois Capps has been committed to women and families by supporting legislation on health care, the environment and education including the Affordable Health Care Act;
- State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has emphasized domestic violence and reproductive rights. Jackson’s legislation has assisted victims of abuse and created access to affordable reproductive care.
- District Attorney Joyce Dudley has worked to expand rape laws, eliminate rape kit backlogs and increase timely testing of all kits.
- The late County Supervisor Naomi Schwartz chaired both the local First Five Children’s Commission and the California Coastal Commission making children and the environment her hallmark issues.
- County Supervisor Janet Wolf has focused on health care and gender balance in public appointments. Wolf has worked to expand breast cancer digital mammography services for under-served women.
- As Mayor of the City of Santa Barbara, Helene Schneider has established a focus on fair pay, housing, homelessness, human services and education.
In its early days, the SBWPC founding board of directors created a set of tools that enabled them to ensure the election of feminist women to office. They include:
- Position papers;
- Recruitment of women candidates;
- Campaign skills workshops;
- Candidate assessment teams;
- State and federal PAC money; and
- Media strategies.
These tools are still in place today and guide the board in their decision-making. The question of supporting male candidates arose in the early years. On the occasions when they did not have women candidates, the SBWPC endorsed men who, in turn, supported their agenda. As a result of this policy, today the endorsement of the SBWPC is highly sought after by all candidates in Santa Barbara. Many of the first candidates to be endorsed by the PAC were founding board members. As they left the board to run for office, others took their place. The board itself became a source for candidates, creating an early pipeline. Some went on to join public boards and commissions and others became staff members to the newly elected women. As part of their current organizational structure, the SBWPC has a standing pipeline committee that focuses on recruiting women for future elections. In Santa Barbara County, women have achieved political and electoral success by grass roots organizing, marching, mentoring, advocating and campaigning. As a result of these efforts, the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee has created a culture where women in public office are the norm not the exception. The organizational model developed by the SBWPC has been tried and tested over the years. It can be replicated in other communities. It has worked on a local level, why not nationally? If you or your organization would like to submit a guest blog post to footnotes, please email Kelly Dittmar at email@example.com.
"Our dream is a generation of young people who expect and believe that leadership should be diverse in every way." – Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), Rutgers University This week, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) was proud to join the White House and the U.S. Department of Education in co-sponsoring the Conference on Girls’ Leadership and Civic Education at the White House. The Conference was intended to move the ball forward on President Obama’s pledge to promote political and economic equality for all women through the Equal Futures Partnership. To do so, the conference co-hosts brought together scholars, public officials, leaders of youth-serving organizations, media experts, business leaders, educators, young leaders, and others to address questions and concerns related to civic engagement, gender, and public leadership. The conference posed the following questions:
- How do we teach our young people about public leadership and the role of government in a way that engages boys and girls equally?
- How can we ensure that our civic education efforts inspire both boys and girls to envision themselves as future governmental leaders?
- How do we inform all our young people about the roles women play as leaders in government, from City Hall to the White House?
These questions are broad and have no simple answers, but the dialogue begun by two expert panels, five productive breakout sessions, and insights from two female members of the U.S. Senate (Collins and Heitkamp) was incredibly valuable to informing action that organizations, media, educators, and others can take to better reach the goal laid out at the start of this post. Conference panelists and speakers focused on the importance of early intervention to introduce young girls and boys to images and ideas of public leadership that are both accessible and diverse. They emphasized the need to combat countervailing pressures, particularly for girls, that divert them away from leadership and/or cause them to question their ability, intelligence, or willingness to stand apart from the crowd. Many participants cited the need for and utility of role models and mentors who allow girls to both imagine themselves as public officials and, in some cases, provide them the tools and the advice to find political or policy success. From including more female leaders in classroom materials (or even posters!) and media images to connecting young people directly with female leaders in their communities, adults from all sectors (educators, parents, media, politicians, organization leaders) can, as Ruth Mandel (Director, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University) said on Monday, “contribute to making the idea of woman political leaders seem natural, even inevitable.” Dr. Jill Biden kicked off the conference by sharing a story about her own daughter, who was lucky enough to see women’s political leadership first-hand at a very early age when her father (then-Senator Joe Biden) took her to the U.S. House of Representatives to advocate for an issue she cared so deeply about – dolphin safety. Lobbying then-Representative Barbara Boxer (CA), Biden’s daughter not only met a powerful woman whom she could emulate, but – according to Dr. Biden, “She saw that she could effect change.” CAWP has spent more than three decades dedicated to harnessing public leadership in women and girls, from our work with the Public Leadership Education Network to our NEW LeadershipTM program for college women (now in 24 states). We are especially proud to be launching a new initiative, Teach a Girl to LeadTM (TAG), which will be a national education and awareness campaign to re-envision what public leaders look like. TAG will draw upon the experts and organizations who participated in the White House conference, many of whom are already project allies, to meet its goals of better integrating gender into civic engagement and education, and public leadership into efforts aimed at girls’ empowerment. Our staff left Washington, DC with new wisdom, new relationships, and renewed energy to inspire and engage a new generation of women leaders. We look forward to your ideas, support, and enthusiasm to make our dream a reality. To learn more, visit our website and check out photos from the conference.