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The Decline of Women in America?

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We are mothers, sisters and daughters. We are multi-taskers, leaders and advocates. We are care-takers, Governors and executives. We are 51% of the population. Yet still, in 2012, women are seeing vicious attacks on basic (some might say "unalienable") rights. How did this happen? How, in the 21st century, are we having conversations that move the debate further away from equality?

The current generation of young women has often been told that our mothers and grandmothers did the fighting for us. Because of their determination, we have the right to vote, we have access to contraception and abortion is legal. We grew up thinking that the fight was over and that we could live our lives in equality. We believed that after decades of effort and sacrifice by brave women who came before us, that being a woman would no longer be the reason we couldn't do something. Sadly, in just one day, there were more than enough examples to tell us that our fight is far from over.

On Thursday, February 16, 2012, five middle-aged men in Congress held a hearing about our access to birth control. No women were allowed at the table, and no women who support birth control were allowed to testify. This travesty of misrepresentation ignored the fact that 98% of women in the United States use some form of birth control. Congress was proposing to make decisions about our bodies, but no one thought to ask what we thought.

Meanwhile, just a little to the south, the State Legislature in Virginia passed a law requiring that women receive a trans-vaginal ultrasound, which includes inserting a probe inside of the woman, if they want to get an abortion, even if it is against their will. Put another way: this past week, the Virginia State Legislature approved state-sanctioned rape.

On that same day, a major political donor gave an interview on national television, blaming the fact that we even have to have conversations about birth control on women and offered a an offensive suggestion, saying "Back in my days they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly." The donor didn't mention how women are hyper-sexualized in the media and constantly criticized about their appearance. Instead, he simply suggested that women close their legs, and seemed annoyed that women's health would consume precious hours of the 24-hour news cycle.

As frustrating and offensive as these past days have been to women across the country, these examples also help to highlight the work that needs to be done. Enough is enough. It is time for a new generation to take action. It is time for a new generation to build on the victories won by of our mothers and grandmothers and to acknowledge that our fight is not over. It is time for a new generation of women to get politically engaged, and there is an obvious place to start -- we need to elect more women to office.

While there are many men who stand as feminist allies, the reality is that women and men govern differently. Women and men approach decision-making differently, build consensus differently, and have different experiences that inform their opinions. This is not to argue that one gender's approach to governing is better than the other's; it is to point out that, in a democracy, a group that makes up more than half of the population should have its unique approach to governance represented by more than half of the legislators. Unfortunately, we aren't even close to that level of fairness.

Currently, only 17% of the members of the United States Congress are women -- that's less than 1 in 5. There are only 6 women serving as governors in the United States -- about 1 in 8. If this past week has taught us anything, it should be that we cannot expect equality to exist in either our laws or the national debate surrounding lawmaking, if women are not at the table as legislation is considered. So then, the question confronting a new generation of women is simple: why aren't women represented equally in government? Why so often do we not have a seat at the table?

One possible answer to this incredibly complex question is that women are not represented equally in government because we don't have many role models to look to and know that "we can do it." Political role models and mentors are often the ones who help first-time candidates make the difficult decision to run for office, and without role models, many women never get the urging they need to launch campaigns.

There are a few solutions to this problem. We need to do a better job of asking other women to run for office. We need to remind women that they can run for office, that they have what it takes to be an elected leader and that we will support them if they take that critical step. Women need more mentors. It isn't enough for women to simply serve in elected office -- achieving equality requires foresight and planning. It is incumbent upon all elected women to mentor other women, so there is a pipeline of talented young women who are ready to run when the opportunity presents itself.

We need to support each other -- not just emotionally, but monetarily as well. Women do not give as much money to political candidates as men do. Running for office is an expensive journey to take, and women need to be able to rely on other women for financial support when they run for office.

We need to vote for one another. When women vote, women win. If we are going to achieve gender equality in elected bodies, we need to get out the vote. We need to exercise the right our grandmothers fought so hard for and vote for women who are courageous enough to run for office.

We need to support women candidates in these ways because women face many difficult challenges when running for office. Often, women are still the primary caretakers for their children and elderly parents. Women are criticized for our appearance much more than men. Questions about what we are wearing, how much make-up we have on and how much we weigh are constant and are only questions that we as women have to face. We are asked questions about how we plan to serve in elected office with children and, at the same time, we are criticized if we made the choice not to marry or have a family.

We face many roadblocks. And yet, as women what we know to be true is that we can do anything. We can be full-time mothers and work outside of the home. We can take care of our elderly parents and serve in Congress. We can be single parents and executives. And it's about time, in 2012, that we can make up 51% of the elected leadership.

So what can you do to get involved today? There are many organizations working hard to ensure we achieve equal representation in government. Running Start, WUFPAC, Off the Sidelines, National Women's Political Caucus, The 2012 Project and Emily's List, just to name a few. Do research. Get involved. Ask a woman to run. Run for office yourself. Talk to your friends about getting involved.

Enough is enough.

It is time for our generation to take action. To build on the success of our mothers and grandmothers, and acknowledge that we have our own war to fight. And there is so much to do.

Lindsay Bubar is the Campaign Manager for California State Assemblymember Betsy Butler and the President of National Women's Political Caucus, LA Westside. She is a tireless advocate for environmental reform and equal representation for women in politics. She serves in leadership positions for Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, LA Running Start, Planned Parenthood and San Fernando Valley Young Democrats.

Nomiki Konst is a Congressional Candidate for Arizona's 2nd District this fall. She's the founder and former President of Alliance Hollywood, an organization dedicated to training members of the entertainment industry on how to speak civilly about politics. She's an advocate for civil discourse, Millennial politics and equal representation.