How to Build Women’s Political Power

CCRWF Executive Director Kate Karpilow moderated the 2014 Women’s Policy Summit closing general session — Building Political Power: What are we doing . . . and what else needs to happen to achieve equity?  She presented statistics documenting the decline of women’s representation in the State Legislature, summarized in the column below.

We need to do more to elect women to public office in California – but what, specifically, should we do? At the 2014 Women’s Policy Summit, we invited leaders in the field to put forth bold ideas.

Please take a few minutes to read the thought-provoking columns below – from Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, Emerge California Executive Director Kimberly Ellis, and close the gap CA Director Betsy Cotton. Their proposals are strategic and provocative, and will undoubtedly launch a much-needed debate.

If you have any doubt that a call to action is necessary, consider the following red flag statisticsevidence of a dramatic decline over the past decade in the number of elected women in California’s state legislature.

#1 California State Legislature
Overall, the total number of women in the State Senate and Assembly decreased from 2003 to 2013 from 36 to 32, out of a total of 120 seats.

#2 State Assembly
Since 2003, the number of women in the 80-member State Assembly decreased from 25 to 20 (down from 21 at the beginning of 2013). Democratic women decreased in the Assembly from 20 to 13, while Republican women increased from 5 to 7.

#3 State Senate
Since 2003, the number of Democratic women in the 40-member State Senate decreased by 1 – from 11 of 11 women members a decade ago to 10 of 12 currently (up from 8 of 10 earlier in 2013).

#4 Women of Color in the California Legislature
The percentage of women of color decreased from 44% of women legislators in 2003 to 34% (at the close of 2013, based on Caucus membership).

Women in the LGBT Caucus decreased from 4 to 3. Continue reading

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Women in Government: Demanding our Rightful Place

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia contributed the following column to our Women’s Policy Summit Web Forum – summarizing and extending her comments from the 2014 Women’s Policy Summit, which was held on January 16.

Women are half of the population, and more than half of the voters, but hold less than a quarter of elected positions. Men and women can identify with a strong female role figure in their life; whether it is a mother who runs a tight ship at home, a strong wife that runs a business all while running a home, or a female boss they may look up to. It is often said and believed that women are the backbone of families, neighborhoods and communities. So why has political empowerment been so elusive for women? And how can we make this a reality?

Women have been hearing messages like “We don’t need anyone’s permission but our own,” or “Lean In”. They have been getting advice like get trained – so you know how a campaign is run and won. Donate, volunteer, recruit other talented women, and be a mentor. These are all great advice, but they are only part of the solution. This advice specifically talks about what women, as women, can do for ourselves. But none of this addresses the institution or what needs to be done within institutions to make real change. I am often trying to find change from whatever position I am, and for the last year I have been part of the “machine” or “within” the institution, so now I find myself constantly focusing on ways to ways to make changes within it. Some questions I ask myself: What can the leadership in the State and Congressional legislatures do? What responsibility do those in power have to close the gap? While my experience is short, here are some actions I think institutions can take to really empower women. Continue reading

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Five Steps to Elect More Women

Kimberly Ellis is the Executive Director of Emerge California, and spoke at the 2014 Women’s Policy Summit for the “Building Political Power” closing session. Her column below summarizes her remarks.

I believe that every aspect of life is political. At this very moment, someone, somewhere, in some city or town, big or small, is making a decisions like whether or not the local grocery or corner store will be required to carry fresh fruits and vegetables or whether or not the women in the community will be able to readily access reproductive healthcare.

It matters who those people are who are seated at those decision-making tables. Elections matter. If Californians are truly concerned with advancing women’s health, wealth and power, if women are truly concerned with advancing our own health, wealth and power, then we would do well to stop talking about the following five things, and just start doing them:

1)     Educate women on the importance of female leadership in the political arena.  Women need to understand the policy implications but more importantly, the direct, real, and tangible impact on their daily lives of not having women’s voices and perspectives represented at the decision-making tables. Undoubtedly, we have some fantastic male partners who believe in women’s equality and support policies that lift up women, children and families. In my opinion, however, no man, regardless of how big a feminist he may be, can take the place of having the unique and different perspective that women bring to a group’s dynamic. Continue reading

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Affirmative Steps to Stop the Slide

Betsy Cotton is Director of close the gap CA. Ms. Cotton spoke on “Building Political Power” at the closing session of the 2014 Women’s Policy Summit. She has contributed the following column which summarizes her Summit presentation.

When it comes to women’s representation shaping public policy in the state legislature, California is on a backward slide and in danger of dipping even lower in the 2014 election. A decade ago, women made up nearly 31% of the California Legislature now we are treading water at 26%. Research tells us there are many reasons women don’t run – family obligations, loss of privacy, the negativity of elections – to name a few. There are several affirmative steps that could stop the slide if leaders and institutions were serious about achieving gender equity. Consider these:

Recruitment:  The biggest reason for the small number of women in office is that not enough women run. There are plenty of talented, accomplished women who would serve if asked. Research shows that unlike men who will jump into a race, women respond positively to being asked. close the gap CA was formed to do recruiting, and recruiting only. We look for the best opportunities – winnable open seats, work with local activists to identify talented progressive women and with the help of women who have served, recruit these women to run. Recruiting alone won’t get us to parity, but more of it will get us back on track. Continue reading

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Infant and Toddler Care in 2025

Ann O’Leary is Vice President and Director of the Children & Families Program at Next Generation.  The following column is her contribution to the dialogue launched at the 2014 Women’s Policy Summit panel on”Child Care & Early Learning – Building a New Vision.”

Today, we know more than ever about the importance of early childhood development—both in setting the stage for life-long learning and for preparing our children to fully participate in our future economy. Brain scientists have documented what we have long intuited: talking, touching, singing, and playing build critical hardware in a baby’s brain. And the country’s leading economists have attested that investing in the early years provides a tremendous return on investment in the form of productive members of our society. Continue reading

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Building Equity in the Child Care and Early Learning System

Mary Ignatius is the Statewide Organizer of Parent Voices. She presented at the 2014 Women’s Policy Summit panel on”Child Care & Early Learning – Building a New Vision.” Her comments are summarized in the column below.

We believe by implementing an equity approach we can achieve the dual goals of school readiness for children and work supports for parents.  This is what Parent Voices has always envisioned, most clearly noted on our signature blue t-shirts that state: Child care keeps parents earning and children learning.   But to get there, we have to understand the difference between equity and equality. Continue reading

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