In 1997, The United States ranked 52nd in the world for representation of women in national legislature. By 2017, we had fallen to 104th, falling behind nearly all developed nations.
Women are drastically underrepresented at all levels of our government, holding down just 19% of U.S. Congress and 24% of state legislatures. There have been 39 female governors in the history of the United States. Unsurprisingly, representation for women of color is even worse, chalking up to roughly 5% of all state legislators.
So, why don’t more women seek office? And who is working to get them there?
Recruitment is critical for women. Nationally, only 26% of female state legislators report they sought office of their own accord, whereas nearly half of their male counterparts had done so. Women experience structural barriers to their candidacy; public office is painted as financially inaccessible, socially foolish, and a “man’s profession” from a young age. Consequently, by adulthood, men are twice as likely to feel prepared for office as similarly qualified women.
Women are far less likely to be recruited. Only 1 in 3 American women have been encouraged to run, compared to over half of all men. About 1 in 3 women in state legislatures recall discouragement from candidacy, as often from an elected official as a member of the woman’s immediate social circles.
Women can be recruited nationally. Republicans have done it.
For the 2015-2016 cycle, a Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) initiative called “Right Women, Right Now” located and recruited 690 new women to seek state office. On the flipside, progressives have engaged in this effort in an ad hoc manner, tacking recruitment arms onto existing organizations or relying on state parties to develop their own programs.
This project is well-timed, as progressives are newly focused on the party’s strength at a local and state level, with an eye on the 2020 census and subsequent redistricting. The next three years are ideal to capitalize on the desire for more progressives in local office, as well as more women. The Republican Party controls 67 of the country’s 98 state legislatures. Many local offices are held by Republicans who continually run unopposed.
In 2018, Democrats are challenging those seats for the first time in unprecedented numbers--
why shouldn’t those candidates be women?
That’s the core vision of First Ask -- we are founded by women and supported by women who are, first and foremost, community organizers. We’ve spent countless hours getting to know people and their communities and being inspired by them every step of the way. Time after time, we’ve seen strong, hardworking, progressive women decline to run for office because it seemed to hard, or too time-consuming, or, maybe, because no one they care about ever thought to ask them.
Well, we’re here to ask.