Women’s Empowerment in the Political Process

Since 1950, 75 countries have had women as heads of state. In truth, that is not many, but it is also more than the United States has had: zero.

In February of this year, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Only through the equal participation of women can we benefit from the intelligence, experience and insights of all of humanity. Women’s equal participation is vital to stability, helps prevent conflict, and promotes sustainable, inclusive development. Gender equality is the prerequisite for a better world.”

With the cancellation of the full CSW64 (Beijing +25), it is fitting that UNA-USA hosted a webinar for would-be delegates and others entitled Women’s Empowerment in the Political Process, with speakers Erin Vilardi, Founder of VoteRunLead, and Allison Anderson, a political science student at Rider University and Advisory Board member for ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.

With so many women rising up to volunteer on campaigns and run for office themselves, as Vilardi points out, it is a moment to make real change but, also, to recognize systemic obstacles in women’s paths to elected office.

“The status of women in politics (in the U.S.) is healthy in a system not made for us or by us.”

-Erin Vilardi, Founder of VoteRunLead

Anderson, too, is seeing more students, especially young women and young women of color, become involved in the political process. This can only be good news in the effort to flip the paradigm of how we think about governing and governance.

Perhaps the most critical issue discussed for me was the fact that women are often accused of voting for women only because they are women. My response: So what? Haven’t men … and women …  voted for men, often less qualified and with little diversity of life experience, simply because they are men? Why should women vote against their own interests? Traditionally, men do not do that.

Vilardi points out that many women say they would vote for a woman but they worry that their neighbors never will, wanting the familiar male model of leadership. Rather than accept that thought, why not counter it?  If not now, when?

Smart, engaged, thoughtful women of both parties are rising up to run for elected office in this country. Women leaders are typically less hyper-partisan than their male counterparts. Surely, we all could use less partisanship and act to get more done on behalf of the people. As Vilardi notes, women make policy differently than men, proposing more bills and passing more policy changes.

Women running for office must be prepared to persist (luckily, women know how to do that!) in fundraising, not taking “no” as a final answer, and turning issues seen as negatives into positives. How is it any different for a woman to miss a child’s piano recital to be on the campaign trail than it is for a father? Aren’t single mothers running for office bringing something to the table that others cannot understand in their policy-making? Seeing women of different backgrounds run for office makes an incredible statement to girls and young women … and to boys and young men who are needed as allies to move the country forward.

It was encouraging to hear about Vilardi’s work to prepare women to run for office and win through VoteRunLead, especially her focus on state house races as a way to build up women in voters’ consciences. It was also exciting to learn about ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge reaching out to young women and men early, pushing for a diversity of voices and involvement in the political process. Hopefully, their generation and those that follow will not see the political process as about electing the “male model of leadership” but about balance and electing the best leader to get the job done, not just paying lip service to issues but moving the needle.

Watch the full webinar: