The Road to Political Parity

By Political Parity on August 7, 2013

The 2009 inauguration of President Obama was historic on many fronts. But as the nation celebrated the first African American to hold the US’s top political post, two of his biggest supporters sat sullen in a cab in Washington, D.C. Their man triumphed: women, overall, did not.

While heartened by an important victory for racial equality, Swanee Hunt and Marie Wilson lamented the country’s lack of political parity: Even in a watershed election, the percent of women in the US Congress remained stagnant at a lowly16.8 percent. Nearly twenty years after 1992’s landmark “Year of the Woman,” women were still struggling for equal say– even while they comprise more than 50 percent of the population.

With a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective, the cab an incubator of idealism, Hunt – Clinton’s former Ambassador to Austria – and Wilson – founder and President of The White House Project – hatched an unconventional plan: unite women from both sides of the aisle to advance gender parity and women’s leadership in high-level political office. Together with Ellen Malcolm, founder of EMILY’S List, the three turned a small dinner with women leaders into Political Parity, a bipartisan effort to accelerate the energies of dedicated advocates, researchers, and funders changing the face of US politics.

With former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey as co-chair and a Leadership Team of more than 50 Republican and Democratic women, Political Parity brings together leaders and advocates; exchanges information, strategies, and resources for female candidates; engages donors; and supports groundbreaking research to elevate the number of women in the halls of Congress and capitols across the country.

We know that women legislators have a dramatic impact on governing. They bring differing perspectives from the men they sit next to, broadening the policy-making focus, and they’re perceived as less corrupt. A 2009 Stanford/University of Chicago study says women not only sponsor more legislation, but also attract more co-sponsors and more support for their districts.

Most important, women, with their collaborative approach and intuitive finesses, may be our best chance at breaking through paralyzing partisan gridlock. The national frustration with Congress is simmering; approval ratings hover around 17 percent. Meanwhile, women grow increasingly exasperated with a government that ignores their priorities. This creates an urgency to expand the ranks of women in the House, Senate, and Governor’s offices.

Our current Congress represents the greatest (albeit far from adequate) increase in women’s representation since ’92, from 17 percent to 18.6 percent in both chambers combined. But worldwide, we’re an ignoble 90th or so in women’s parliamentary representation, far behind countries like Rwanda, Cuba, Kosovo, Nicaragua, and Vietnam.

We’ve seen the difference women make in high-level leadership positions in countries around the world. Our foundation’s sister program, the Institute for Inclusive Security, advocates for the full inclusion of women in conflict prevention, resolution, and rebuilding after deadly conflicts, particularly engaging them in policy development, political transitions, and peace processes. Political Parity is a domestic reflection of our international work. We would never tolerate women’s exclusion from or limited participation in nation building in Syria or Iraq: nor will we in America.

As a like-minded friend, we need your input. Share your thoughts. Send riveting stories. Tell us about inspiring candidates. Forward our ideas, research, and strategies for increasing gender parity in the political sphere. If you’re so inclined, read our blog, comment, share, tweet, like us, but most of all – continue the conversation. Keep women’s political leadership in the public consciousness.

Together we can change the news from “Senate women hail Capitol Hill win – a bigger bathroom” to “The nation wins – full political parity finally reflects the real fabric of America.”