Monday, November 5, 2012

Year of the Woman 2.0?

In less than 48 hours, on the morning of November 7, 2012, Elizabeth Warren might become the first Massachusetts woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, bringing women one step closer to closing the stubborn gender gap in America’s national legislature. Warren is in good company – 18 women are running for the Senate, and 166 for the House of Representatives. These are record numbers of candidates and it will be the Year of the Woman 2.0 if enough of them succeed.

The factors that shaped 1992 to become the original Year of the Woman are present again in 2012. It is the first election after redistricting, coinciding with a presidential election, and a heightened awareness of gender and related issues. The awareness this time can be attributed to events like the infamous all-male panel at a Congressional hearing on contraception and the ‘legitimate rape’ comments of Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin. Incidents like these propel gender to the surface of public consciousness, albeit not in a constructive manner.  

A constructive discussion would focus on the point that more than 50 percent of the population should not rely on only 17 percent of Congress for representation. Even with record numbers of female candidates this year, we are looking at a goal of reaching just 20 percent in the House of Representatives. Only the most ambitious advocates, like Political Parity, are aspiring to more - aiming to double the number of women at the highest levels of government by 2022.

In the meantime, the 2012 Project has focused on getting the House of Representatives to that 20 percent mark this year. This non-partisan organization has worked to encourage women to consider candidacy and then connected them to campaign training programs like Emerge America or WAPPP’s From Harvard Square to the Oval Office and to relevant state and national networks.

Through its latest campaign, the 2012 Project is hoping to net 87 female Representatives of the 166 candidates. Their estimate is that 56 women incumbents are certain to win, 3 are likely to win and 10 new women candidates are almost certain to win. This leaves 27 competitive races, of which women would need to win 18.

Such a scenario seems possible, in which case November 7, 2012 will bring the Year of the Woman 2.0 and allow the US to move up from 80th place in the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranking, breezing just past Tajikistan and Bangladesh. 

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