As names are being thrown out to the public for possible candidates to run in the upcoming senatorial and gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania, it is important to note that the number of women’s names is disappointingly low. This allows us to expect little to no change in Pennsylvania’s abysmal ranking of 46th in female participation in state legislatures. Democratic U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Republican Peg Luksik of Johnstown are the only known female candidates who may possibly run against Sen. Arlen Specter. No women have announced their candidacy in the gubernatorial race.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published an article exploring several possible reasons for Pennsylvania’s low rank in female political participation. Firstly, Pennsylvania is a large state, geographically speaking, making a commute to Harrisburg potentially difficult for women juggling a political career and family. On top of that, history shows that mothers who do run in Pennsylvania face judgment from the media and the public in general. In the mid-1990s, Judge Joan Orie Melvin was asked (by a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, no less) who would be home taking care of her children if she were elected. And the article notes that times haven’t changed much: “State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said she frequently was asked who was home taking care of her son when she first ran for office in 2004.”
Pennsylvania is also a traditionally harsh political climate for women, being a Rust Belt state whose political atmosphere is dominated by men in positions of leadership. As women tend to wait until they are asked to run or think they need to be trained first, it is important that party leaders are put under pressure to encourage female candidates.
According to the article, studies have shown that unless the gender mix is at least 30%, the minority’s voice will likely not be heard. Gender diversity is important and effective in politics, allowing more voices to be heard and incorporating various styles of leadership into political decision making processes. An increased number of female policy-makers also usually corresponds to higher emphasis being placed on issues that affect women, children, families and health. The state of women in politics is also a national issue, which we blogged about here. We need to put pressure on our state and national leaders to urge women to run for elected office, from city council to the U.S. Senate.