Netroots Preconference Program Focuses on Achieving Parity for American Women

About 100 women from all over the country gathered on Wednesday for WDN’s second Women’s Preconference at Netroots Nation.  The gathering was part of WDN’s Women United For project, which is focused on achieving parity for women in American politics and civic  life.

The day started with a fun networking activity, and was followed by a basic primer on the current state of affairs in the US, where women comprise 20% of the Senate and 17.8% of the House of Representatives.

Women are also underrepresented in pipeline organizations like boards of organizations and at the lower levels of government as well, though it is a little better at the state level, where women hold 24% of the seats.

Most of the energy that has been focused on closing this gender gap has been on candidate recruitment, but that approach ignores several important parts of the cycle, including pipeline development, ballot access and qualification (who is chosen to run for which offices) and socio-economic factors that prevent women from running for office.

There is also little support for the women candidates who do win, so they often feel isolated and are still excluded from much of the decision-making.

In places where there is greater parity among women and men in elected office, there has typically been dramatic structural change that required greater inclusion of women, such as reserved seats for women.  The US has often championed this kind of structural change to ensure the inclusion of women in places where we have intervened, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has not been used here in the US.

The group also discussed what we mean when we talk about parity.  There was broad consensus that our elected officials should not only include more women, but should also reflect the communities they represent, such as gay and lesbian communities, different socio-economic classes and communities of color.

Erin Vilardi of Women’s Leadership Works led a discussion about why it is so critical for women to run for office.  More women running for office inspires women to become leaders in all sectors, not just politics.  Women have different legislative priorities, with female elected offcials more likely to focus on women, children and families — regardless of political party.

Female elected officials also have a different approach to politics, opening the legislative agenda, gathering more information from a wider variety of sources, sponsoring more bills, and trying to achieve a larger policy impact, Erin said.

The group got training from Joel Silberman and Christine Pelosi on presence and charisma, as well as the keys to a winning campaign, which was followed by a small group exercise focused on honing our messages when we talk about women and parity.

The groups discussed what it would look like — at both the personal and structural levels — for women to be more represented in politics and government.  For example, they looked at what would convince someone personally to run, as well as what needs to change in our society to make it possible for many more women to be able to run.

The group will continue to be connected as the Women United For project continues its research and shares its findings.

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