If women hope to achieve equity at work and financial parity with men, it’s important to get women in office—because that’s where the power is. Studies show that both Democratic and Republican women do more for women than men in either party. Women bring a different viewpoint, attitude, and skills to the debate; they often focus on different issues than men. Women in Congress have fought for gun control, championed an IRA for homemakers, increased funding for breast cancer research, and will shape the fight over Social Security (because women are the ones most impacted by it). To achieve structural change, it’s vital to elect lawmakers who have a deep understanding of women’s issues and pledge to support them. Women are changing the political landscape and there are many ways that any woman can get involved:
- Change perceptions. Laura Liswood, a Harvard graduate, pioneered the effort to change the narrow perception of political leaders. Using mostly her own money, Liswood chronicled and videotaped women presidents and prime ministers around the world. In 1996, she co-founded the Council of Women World Leaders at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and in 1997, she co-founded The White House Project, dedicated to electing a woman president of the U.S.
- Serve. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington state served in Congress, then left to join Seattle software start-up RealNetworks. There, Cantwell made her fortune and helped create 1,000 jobs in Washington state. She then returned to public service and won her senate seat. Cantwell is one of a new breed who understands the power of the Internet, e-commerce, and entrepreneurship.
- Mentor other women and help them develop their career strategies. Madeleine Albright, the first woman U.S. Secretary of State, worked with other women world leaders to develop “The ‘Win with Women’ Initiative”: they conceived, endorsed, and had ratified by political party leaders from 27 countries the specific, detailed, and practical strategies that have been established to open genuine avenues for women’s leadership and make a difference in the future of their countries.
- Raise money. Ellen R. Malcolm is the founder and president of EMILY’s List. An acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” because it “makes the dough rise,” EMILY’s List is a political network for pro-choice Democratic women candidates that raises early money to make women credible political contenders. It is the largest PAC in the country and the largest single contributor to candidates in the country.
- Develop and put forward policy to support women. Barbara Kasoff is the COO and co-founder of Women Impacting Public Policy, Inc., a non-profit, public policy advocacy organization advocating for more than 430,000 women in business. She’s also the president and co-founder of GrassRoots Impact, Inc. a public policy strategies firm.
- Get a woman in the pipeline to the presidency. Several organizations are supporting the agenda of accelerating the time table for electing a woman president of the U.S. Beverly Neufeld is executive director of The White House Project (WHP). A lifelong advocate of women's and children's issues, she has been a leader at non-partisan organizations such as the League of Women Voters, and she has worked for U.S. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Under her guidance, WHP has conducted forums with women leaders in the business and political worlds to increase the visibility of women as leaders and to help women leaders connect and share strategies.
Think you’re not in the same league as these powerful movers and shakers? Think again: here’s what you can do to make a difference, through grass-roots activism:
- Run for office. It can be for your school board, city council, or state representative. Lupe Valdez was 1 of 8 children of migrant farm worker parents—yet she became the first woman sheriff of Dallas County.
- Learn the issues that impact your life and livelihood. Visit web sites and subscribe to newsletters that educate you on issues such as equal pay and equal representation for women. Send messages to your elected officials and major corporations expressing your views.
And there are even things you can do from your home:
- Spread the word. Circulate petitions. Distribute literature. Let others know what you have learned.
- Write letters. If a newsletter includes an address of a person influential in a particular issue and asks you to write, do it. Write to your representatives in Congress and ask for their support. Write letters to the editor of your newspaper when you read articles that "just don't get it."
- Vote. Hand out voter’s registrations. Take others to the polls.
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