ATLANTA, Georgia, U.S.A. – It’s important for women to get involved and run for office, panelists said at a recentdiscussion on women and politics at the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The discussion last week, called “Women and Politics: Is it Important to Elect a Female President?” touched on the importance of women in public office and at times took aim at Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for U.S. president.
“What does it mean when important decisions are being made and women’s voices, our voices, are not at the table?” asked Deborah Richardson, the executive vice president of the center.
Panelist Beth Reingold, a professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Political Science at Emory University, said she believes electing a woman president will help chip away the implicit bias against women in leadership positions.
“Compared to their male counterparts, women in public office are consistently more likely to represent women’s perspectives, women’s issues, and women’s concerns,” said Reingold.
While panelists agreed that representation of women in public office is important, women are currently highly underrepresented.
Panelist Sara Guillermo of IGNITE, an organization that works for gender parity in elected office by inspiring young women to run, said it will take 100 years to achieve gender parity in elected office if the current rate of election of women officials continues.
Guillermo expanded the issue of representation to include young women of color and said that it is important they see women of color in elected offices so that they can envision themselves in similar positions.
Moderator Howard Franklin III – the first male president of the Georgia League of Women Voters – called America’s political system the “shining democracy of the world,” but also expressed surprise that a country seen as a model of democracy had yet to elect a female president.
Guillermo, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines as a child, said her family who live in the Philippines could not believe there has not been a female president of the United States.
A major barrier women face when running for elected office, especially for president, is sexism, according to panelists.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is her party’s first female nominee for U.S. president, will be the first woman president if she wins the Nov. 8 election.
The presidency, Reingold said, is “a quintessential masculine space” in the eyes of the public.
In the current election, said Reingold, many of the things Trump “says and does point out just how odd it is to see a woman as President or a woman in power.”
Panelist Angela Rye, a CNN political commentator and NPR political analyst, said Trump is “trying to marginalize us, dumb us down, talk about our wrinkles.”
Trump’s comments about Clinton are different than when he called his Republican opponents “Little Marco” or “Lyin’ Ted” when referring to U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Rye said, because his comments about Clinton are “about her age, about her appearance.”
Reingold brought up Trump’s comment about whether his former Republican primary opponent Carly Fiorina had the “face of a President.”
Donald Trump “cannot handle standing shoulder to shoulder as a woman’s equal,” said Rye.
As a woman, Clinton faces double standards in politics, Rye said. She is “supposed to be responsible for her husband,” whereas male candidates are not considered responsible for the
actions of their spouses, said Rye.
actions of their spouses, said Rye.
Compared to Trump, the public view gives Clinton less freedom to change her mind, according to Rye.
“He can change his mind,” said Rye, “but if she changes her mind, she’s a liar.”
Rye also identified other barriers to women in politics, including the need to raise money for a campaign
“The task to raise increased amounts of money is daunting,” said Reingold.
But despite these barriers, there are many ways to help women get elected, panelists said.
One of these ways is to encourage young women to run for office, which is what IGNITE and Guillermo do.
Guillermo said there is a “plaguing self-doubt” among young women and their perceived qualification to run for office, and encouragement could help combat it.
Reingold said one way to encourage young people to run for office is to expose them to “well-meaning, hard-working, well-intentioned people who really do make a difference.”
Franklin said getting elected is not the only way to serve. There are “plenty of other places and spaces to make a difference,” he said.
Adrienne White, vice president of finance at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, told the audience that to help women get elected, they should, “look for a woman who inspires you to give some of your time, talent, or treasure.”
The best way to increase the representation of women in elected office is for women to run, said White.
“My charge to you all is to run for office,” White said. “Stop waiting for somebody else to do it.”
Madeleine Deisen is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
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