Women Need More Than the Vote

By Judy Patrick, CEO & President, Women’s Foundation of California

A couple weeks ago, I celebrated the 91st anniversary of US women getting the right to vote. I had the opportunity to celebrate this historic day in Wisconsin and joined the Wisconsin Women’s Network  launching the Wisconsin Women’s Policy Institute, which is modeled after our own Women’s Policy Institute (WPI). Our Institute has trained more than 200 women leaders in how to shape public policy and resulted in thirteen legislative wins.

My trip to Wisconsin gave me a chance to reflect on my experience of working in Sacramento and helping to train and support more women getting involved in public policy.

The good news is that more women in the US than ever are voting – in fact, more women than men vote. Yet, at the same time, women are missing in other aspects of the public policy process.

Women need to be civically engaged in three key ways:

1) As voters,

2) As office holders and

3) As advocates

The US is lagging behind most of the world, coming in at 71st, when it comes to women in political office.  We have just six governors. Only 15 percent of our city’s mayors are women. And just 24 percent of our state legislators are women. The thing is, not just women lose when there isn’t more equal representation. Communities lose.

After years of working on public policy in Sacramento and helping to bring more women into the public policy process, I can tell you that having women involved in all aspects of public policy makes a difference to the quality of public conversation.

Women’s attitudes about public policies differ. They tend to believe in a more activist role of government. They tend to oppose military intervention. They support restricting firearms. They support programs guaranteeing good health care and the meeting of people’s basic needs. And they support efforts to achieve racial equality.

Not only do attitudes differ, but style of advocacy negotiation differs. The tone of debate tends to be different because women are more willing to work across the aisle and bridge difference. And lessons learned don’t stay with the individual. Women go back to their communities and teach – they get kids and others involved, and make sure that their elected officials hear about community needs and community solutions.

In California, the bills crafted and passed through the efforts of the WPI fellows have been transformational game changers for organizations and have helped to build lasting relationships and cross-issue collaborations. It is a joy to see this training model brought not just to Wisconsin, but to four other states — Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, thanks to the support of Atlantic Philanthropies.

In these challenging times, as states struggle with crushing deficits and legislators battle over when and how to raise revenues and cut life-line human services,  it is more important than ever that women and grassroots leaders are engaged in the work of thinking about and shaping the policies and laws that govern our lives for years to come.

For more information on Judy’s trip to Wisconsin and the work of the Wisconsin Women’s Network, please check out the following news coverage:

WISC TV (Madison CBS Affiliate) Morning Show, Thursday, August 25, 2011 WISCONSIN WOMEN’S NETWORK CELEBRATES WOMEN’S EQUALITY DAY IN MADISON

Editorial: The Capital Times, Friday, August 26, 2011  On Women’s Equality Day, Wisconsin network announces plan to further education, advocacy of women’s issues

WKOW TV (Madison ABC Affiliate), Monday, August 22, 2011 Brief web item on Women’s Equality Day

Carol Koby “All About Living:” (Scroll down to August 27, 2011 – Women Celebrate Equality: A Day & a Journey  http://carolkobyradio.com/

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