The New Year of the Woman
It’s hard to flip on news programs during an election year without hearing pundits pontificate that this election is the most important yet. While the general public may write this off as political grandstanding, make no mistake—for women, this is arguably the most critical election in a generation.
Freedoms women won and battles they thought were long behind them have resurfaced for debate in the halls of governments across our country.
Women everywhere have watched as male dominated legislative bodies debate matters directly impacting women. They’re left wondering, “Where are the women?” And frankly, women are fed up with the answer.
This year’s election feels eerily similar to the election 20 years ago. The year prior to the 1992 election saw Anita Hill courageously testify in front of the all-male U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The way male senators treated her outraged women everywhere, and this outrage had major electoral implications.
Women ran for office, but beyond that they voted for women. As a result, a record number of women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the number of women serving in the U.S. Senate tripled – it was called The Year of the Woman.
This year, women are outraged again as a national War on Women lingers on the minds of many. These include direct attacks targeting women’s reproductive rights, weakening sexual assault laws and cutting programs for working mothers. Indirect threats involve education reforms and health care cutbacks, professions with high concentrations of women workers.
This attack is positioning women to make major political gains both in Minnesota and nationally. Perhaps history will remember this year as The New Year of the Woman.
In Minnesota, The New Year of the Woman began immediately following 2010’s devastating election losses. In 2011 and 2012 there were six special elections to fill seats at the Minnesota Legislature due to retirements, appointments and the passing of Senator Linda Scheid. Women stepped up to run; when they did, they won, adding Representatives Carly Melin and Susan Allen and Senators Mary Jo McGuire, Chris Eaton, and Kari Dziedzic to the count.
This year, redistricting coupled with retirements has left the number of women serving at the Minnesota Legislature in a precarious state with the potential for major public policy ramifications.
Geraldine Ferraro, the former vice presidential candidate and New Jersey Congressperson who passed away in May 2011, famously said, “all issues are women’s issues.” Over the past two years at the Minnesota legislature, bills aimed at restricting access to women’s health care and pay equity were introduced.
This past year, six Planned Parenthood clinics closed in rural Minnesota, directly translating to less affordable health care for women and families.
Research shows that while men will vote for policies that are good for women and families, it is the women, regardless of political party, who are more likely to bring the issues to the table in the first place. Electing women is not just good for women. Electing women is good for everyone.
Thankfully, in Minnesota the organization, Women Winning, is working to elect pro-choice women to office. We are unrelenting in our efforts to recruit and help elect women to restore women’s voices in Minnesota’s public policy debate.
Before considering a political run, women contemplate the challenge of juggling careers or families and civic responsibility. The reality is that this multi-faceted life training prepares women to take on the challenges of working with different constituencies to find common sense solutions and compromise. Which is why it’s important for potential women candidates to find support from a dedicated team of staff and devoted members to help make the idea of running a reality, providing a continued boost of support and resources along the way.
This year, Women Winning’s candidate class includes women with roots in business, non-profit, social service, labor and law communities.
We need 2012 to be the new year of the woman – a year characterized by collaboration, compromise and results. No longer will we wonder, “Where are the women?” The answer will be clear as we watch the number of women elected officials increase in Minnesota and across the country.
Let’s make this The New Year of the Woman.
Lauren Beecham is Women Winning’s executive director.