Women for Elective Office: Calling All Lawyers

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Written by Adrien Wing

The 2012 Project was just in the news today. Quoting the purpose of the organization from its website, it “is a national, non-partisan campaign to increase the number of women in legislative office by identifying and engaging accomplished women 45 and older from underrepresented fields and industries. These include finance, science, technology, energy, health, environment, small business and international affairs.”  It is shocking that the US is 74th in the world in terms of female representation, with only 17% females in Congress and 25% in the state legislatures.  I agree with the 2012 Project that we need to increase the number of women.

I think that there are a number of things that need amending in our nation’s approach to this problem and even in the 2012 Project approach. The law remains a logical profession to draw future politicians from. While some of the people in the 2012 Project’s targeted fields such as finance, small business, environment, and international affairs in particular may be likely to  have had legal background,   practicing female lawyers should not be left out. The skill set remains invaluable in so many ways suitable for a legislator.   I would also think that the number of women lawyers potentially interested has got to be significantly greater than the numbers of female doctors or businesswomen.

I also think that 45 is too young on the one hand and too old on the other.  If a woman has had children, especially professional women who have delayed childbirth, the children will not be grown by the time she is 45. Everyone knows that teenagers can require a very critical level of attention in high school if we want to assure they all remain on the proper path.  I have done no studies, but I bet men who have considered political careers, may have been nurturing those ambitions in various professional ways well before age 45 –service in local or state government, for example, or in local party politics. Hob nobbing in professional ways that involve connections to future potential fund raisers or donors may be more likely as well.

The major problem in my view is that women still have disproportional responsibility for care giving generally.  If a new babysitter must be found, or kids have to be shuttled around in a complex arrangement to their many after school activities, that falls more on moms. Staying home or taking sick children to the doctor will also fall more on mothers I bet –whether lawyers or stay at home  parents. Also, just at the point when kids may be leaving the house, boomers may be taking on responsibilities for their parents and in-laws. Once again, I bet that falls more on daughters and daughter-in-laws.

Another important component of political life has been having an incredibly supportive spouse, often willing to sublimate their professional ambitions as well as carry the majority of all family commitments in the home state or town. How many men are willing to sublimate their careers in this way? It also means having a spouse who can withstand the media scrutiny that comes with being in public life. How many professional men, many likely to have careers in business, law, real estate etc, can withstand the media attention?  I remember Geraldine Ferraro’s husband and his real estate career issues when she ran for Vice President.  Congresswoman Maxine Waters is facing ethical issues now related to her husband’s career.

Many countries have looked at all these issues and come up with an approach that is unlikely to ever happen in the US. Over 100 nations have adopted some kind of quotas as they have seen that anything less does not result in anywhere near equality for women. Rwanda has the most women in Parliament: 56%.  Women won the set aside female seats and others open to both genders! France generally does not have affirmative action for race or ethnicity. They have adopted the quota idea for women – for political representation. Since 2004, all the French parties must run equal numbers of men and women on the regional level.

Quota systems work best when the party can name the candidates or where proportional representation exists in a party list system. For example, in the first democratic South Africa election in 1994, the African National Congress party ranked the candidates and made a female every third one in a list system. Today, women are 45% of the ANC dominated Parliament.

A bigger question exists as to whether the increased presence of women makes a difference in the long term?  Are we thinking women will all be more nurturing, more caring than men –more focused on education and health than weapons of war? Did Margaret Thatcher or Benazir Bhutto make a difference as women leaders in their respective countries?  Were they feminists? Is it good enough just to focus on the numbers?  Can you imagine any kind of quota or even nationally accepted goal system in the US?  To guarantee a female seat in our first past the post system, both political parties would have to agree to run only women for a selected seat.  Can that happen?

Finally, what would it mean for gender equality if Sarah Palin runs against Hilary Clinton for President in 2016?