Rising Stars: Women running for Congress today

After a long political dry spell, a record number of women are running for Congress this year. If most of these female candidates win, the United States will rise slightly in country rankings for the percentage of women in a nation’s parliament—we currently sit at a disappointing #78, tied with Turkmenistan.
This group of female politicians is large, but certainly not homogenous; it includes a professional wrestling entrepreneur, a former police chief and the first black female Republican to run for the House. Of the 18 candidates running for the U.S. Senate, there are exactly twice as many Democrats as there are Republicans. And of the 118 women on the ballot for the House of Representatives, more than two-thirds are running on the Democratic ticket. The more liberal leanings of these females can likely be traced to the early months of 2012 when the “war on women” rallied many who believed that hard-right Republicans were threatening women’s reproductive rights.

It doesn’t take more than common sense to know that whether or not women win elected offices is hugely important because if women have a seat at the decision making table where laws are written, policies shaped, and public resources allocated, they can represent and protect the interests of their gender. The Center for American Women and Politics’ (CAWP) research confirms that the presence of women officeholders changes both the larger agenda and the specific policies set by legislatures, as well as the tone of the debate itself. Female senators and congresswomen also tend to provide traditionally marginalized groups increased access to the legislature.

When Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress in 1916, women in the United States did not yet enjoy the right to vote. The government did not grant the female half of the American population suffrage until 1920. Yet even in 1916, Rankin held out hope. “I may be the first woman member of Congress,” she promised, “but I won’t be the last.” Nearly 100 years later, there are indeed more women in Congress, but not nearly the number there should be. Although women constitute approximately 50.8 percent of the population of the United States, they hold less than 20 percent of the seats in both the House and the Senate.

To help women run for and win office, CAWP offers its annual Ready to Run™ Campaign Training for Women, designed to recruit more females to seek public office. A bipartisan program that demystifies the process of running for elected office, Ready to Run™ features two tracks: “I’m Ready to Run, Now What?” and “I’m Not Ready to Run Yet, But…” The first track, targeted at women who intend to throw their name in a race within the next year or so, features interactive workshops that cover the fundamentals of launching an effective campaign. The second track’s sessions covers topics such as positioning yourself for future office, earning appointments to boards or commissions, and turning advocacy experience into political experience. Participants in both tracks participate in plenary sessions on communication, fundraising, and media strategies.

For more information about the women running this year and the outcomes for women candidates on Election Day, visit the Center for American Women and Politics’ (CAWP) Election Watch page. For more information or to register, visit the Ready to Run™ page.

Jean Sinzdak is director of CAWP’s Program for Women Public Officials, which aims to increase the impact of women in politics through national, regional, and local events and programs for women officeholders and candidates.

Zainab Chaudary works in politics by day and is a writer by night. Her blog is called The Memorist, and she tweets at @TheMemorist. She is on the steering committee for Ready to Run’s program for Asian American Women.

This article is part of the “Election 2012 – American Muslims VOTE!” series, which is running on Altmuslim at Patheos, Altmuslimah, Illume, and Aziz Poonawalla’s news and politics blog on Patheos. Click on this special topics page to view all articles in this series and add your comments. Tweet your thoughts on this article, on the series, and on the 2012 elections at #MuslimVOTE.

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