According to the The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) in 2015, Utah currently has the lowest levels of women’s political participation in the nation. At a recent event sponsored by the Office of Civic Engagement, two Utah elected officials, Lisa Watts Baskin and Marie Poulson, spoke about some of the hesitations that women may experience when considering politics and why it is vitally important that those hesitations are overcome.
Potential hesitations for women’s political involvement
Utah Representative, Marie Poulson, told the audience about a phone call she received one night in early 2008, during which she was asked to run for the Utah Legislature. She had never considered political involvement before. Her initial thought was what you might expect: she did not feel that she was qualified.
This feeling of inadequacy is a barrier that could potentially stop many women from running for political office. Poulson eventually realized that she did, in fact, have valuable qualifications. She had been a mother and a teacher for many years. Her unique perspectives and opinions would be valuable in making decisions for the community. Women as a whole possess unique and valuable insight and experience.
Poulson said, “Most of the women I serve with are working in government because they have a passion in a certain area. Many of the men I serve with are working in government because it’s a rung on their career ladder.”
Not part of life plan
This was another hesitation that Poulson had when she was asked to run for office. It was simply not in her life plan. She had never imagined herself as a politician.
Lisa Watts Baskin, administrative law judge, spoke about this hesitation as well. She said that some women may not have political ambitions, but they see a problem that needs to be fixed. They may not consider that they could have the power to fix it.
Poulson considers cultural expectations to be a major contributor to the lack of women’s political involvement in Utah. She shared some of her own experiences dealing with this. Poulson told of a time when United States Congresswoman Mia Love came to speak to the Utah State Legislature. She received a question that Poulson had never heard asked of a congressman: “Who is taking care of your children?”
Poulson and Baskin offered several suggestions to combat this issue. For one, sexist comments that often plague women politicians cannot be tolerated. Baskin also addressed the fact that both men and women were sitting in the audience. She made it a point to emphasize the importance of men’s encouragement and support for women’s involvement in politics.
Takes time away from family
This is a legitimate concern of many women. Poulson addressed this hesitation by saying, “I have to tell you, as a mother of a large family and a grandmother now of ten, my experience serving in the legislature has only been a positive for my family.”
Poulson talked about what a good example her public service has been for her children and grandchildren. She has seen them step up in their own communities and her grand kids go out campaigning with her.
How Low Really?
Women compose 50% of the population and only 20% of them are being represented. Baskin offered some other alarming statistics about our state from IWPR in 2015:
- Utah ranks in the bottom 10 states for women voter registration.
- Just 16 women serve in the Utah state legislature out of 104 legislative leaders or 15.4%.
- 0% of women in Utah are elected in state-wide office.
- Utah ranks 44th in the nation for women in elected office.
Baskin also read these statistics from The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University:
- In the congress of 2015, where there are 535 seats, just 19.4% are filled by women – 20 in the senate and 84 in the house.
- In state legislatures across the country, women hold only 24.3% of the 7,383 available seats.
- In state-wide elective offices (governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, etc.) just 25% of women hold a position or 78 of the 312 available positions.
- In municipal government of the 100 largest cities, just 17 have women mayors.
- In cities with populations of over 30,000 people, of the 1,393 seats, only 256 are filled by women or 18.4%.
As shown in these statistics, women are hugely underrepresented in political office. Women’s unique perspectives and opinions need to be heard during crucial votes and decisions that affect our country, state and smaller communities.
How to get Involved: Real Women Run
Baskin is one of the founding board members for Real Women Run, a nonpartisan initiative whose mission is to empower Utah women to participate fully in public life and civic leadership through elected public office at all levels, appointments to boards and commissions, participation in campaigns and engagement in our political system.
Real Women Run events include a fall networking social, an annual day-long training every January and a follow-up training in the spring for those who have announced their candidacy. These trainings are open to anyone in the state. Baskin explains the purpose behind Real Women Run and the trainings they hold is:
…to encourage women, who have unique perspectives and priorities, to first become involved, work on political campaigns, run for public office, serve on boards and commissions, and participate more actively in formulating public policy.
If you are a woman, have you ever thought about getting involved in politics? What holds you back or, conversely, motivates you to do so?
Wall climbing picture courtesy of Flickr.