We are intrigued by the sudden surge of Republican women candidates at the national level. As founders of EMERGE AMERICA, an organization that trains Democratic women to run for office, we are keenly aware of the ebb and flow of support for increasing the percentage of women in elected office. But if creating a more transparent government and moving a progressive agenda are the goals, increasing the number of women Democrats in elected office should be a central strategy.
Traditionally, women are viewed as more liberal than men. This gives the advantage to Democrat female candidates and hurts their Republican counterparts. When women are elected, they play a significant role in shaping progressive policy. They are more likely than men to bring citizens into the political process, to opt for open government, and to be responsive to groups previously denied access.
Women also introduce more legislation and co-sponsor more bills than male members. While female electeds lead the charge on "women friendly" issues like child-care, they also are at the forefront of policies regarding the economy, health care, the environment and human rights. Looking at the recent Senate land mine ban, 68 members supported it, which included 100% of the women but only 51% of the men. With President Obama's landmark health care reform, all Democratic female senators and members of the House except for one congresswoman insured its victory. And the historic American Clean Energy and Security Act passed with a tight vote supported by 66 Democratic congresswomen's votes, while 40 Democratic congressmen opposed it.
While the United States holds itself out as a model democracy, it ranks 82nd in the world for women in elected office behind Mexico, China and Pakistan. We push other countries such as Iraq to insert a 25% quota for female representation into its constitution, but the United States opposes such requirements for its own government and at 17% falls far short of its mandates for other countries.
What's missing? Women, like men, need to be recruited to run for public office. Emerge America is the only organization that gives Democratic women the tools to win: an in-depth training program and a powerful political network. Unlike Republican recruitment, we actively outreach to diverse female leaders and 40% of our graduates are women of color. Founded in 2002, Emerge is currently in 9 states with plans to expand its program across the country. In such a short time close to 50% of our alumnae have already run for office and 60% of them have won.
While supporting women candidates may seem a secondary concern for many, electing more Democratic women is the most effective long-term strategy for shaping and passing a progressive agenda and for creating a more transparent democracy.
Dorka Keehn is the Board co-Chair and a co-Founder of Emerge America. She is currently writing a book, ECO AMAZONS, on American women environmental leaders to be published in Spring 2011. Marya Stark is the Board Chair and a Founder of Emerge America.