Wednesday, February 28, 2007

HOW TO GET MORE WOMEN TO RUN FOR OFFICE

Printed in Philadelphia Daily News on Tue, Feb. 27, 2007

HOW TO GET MORE WOMEN TO RUN FOR OFFICE

THANKS TO columnist Phil Goldsmith for pointing out the absence of female candidates in the mayor's race. And why out of 15 at-large Council candidates is there only one woman running? Philadelphia NOW has spent some time trying to figure out why.

We've come to the conclusion that we will have more women running for office when we have real campaign finance reform - public financing of elections. Some of our Philadelphia NOW members have considered running, but backed out or decided not to enter the fray. Money was a major issue.

But money hasn't been the only obstacle. Historically, women have run for political office when their children are grown. If you begin a political career in your late 40s or early 50s (say running for state rep), your chances of becoming governor, U.S. senator or president are slim indeed.

The guys tend to get started in their 20s - state rep in their 20s, state senator in their early 30s, Congress in mid- to late-30s, senator or governor in their 40s. (Granted, given a famous name or tons of money, or a really compelling issue, a candidate can skip some steps.)

Younger women may not follow this model of family first, politics later. Also, there is some evidence that more and more young men are wiling to share child-care responsibilities, thus making a political career for women more achievable.

Another recurrent theme: the ugly nature of so many political campaigns. Women are often reluctant to subject themselves (and their children) to the kind of mudslinging all too common in political campaigns. And more opportunities are open now to ambitious young women and the hassles of politics may look a lot less attractive in comparison.

Why does it matter? There is considerable evidence (according to the National Women's Political Caucus and Center for Women in Politics) that women bring different issues to the table. We need a female perspectives at all levels of government, and campaign finance reform is the essential first step. Granted, the under-representation of women in politics is not just a matter of money-there are deeper issues of gender socialization at work. However, we are not going to close this gap without campaign finance reform.

Karen Bojar, President

National Organization for Women

Philadelphia Chapter

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