Women’s Equality Day- How far have we come?

In celebration of Women’s Equality Day this Sunday, Speak Out California has asked the state Chair of one of Calilfornia’s most influential Women’s groups to share the goals and work of her organization. The National Women’s Political Committee (NWPC) is a non-partisan organization dedicated to electing women nationwide who share its vision. Celeste Weingard, its current state president, has provided this entry in honor of the 87th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment giving women the right to vote after a 75 year battle.
Although we’ve seen women make great strides, there is still much to be accomplished to achieve parity in all fields of endeavor. Until we see an equal number of women in public office (and one finally as Commander in Chief), women reaching pay equity, equal opportunity and respect in the workforce, full control over their reproductive decisions and equal partnerships at home, there is still much work left to do.
While this is no time to be complacent, with the US Supreme Court systematically working to undermine women’s hard-fought gains, it is still a time to acknowledge that women are making strides in the battle for equal rights. We here at Speak Out California and all progressives in California, share in that celebration.

NWPC and Women’s Equality
When women gathered in August 1971 to form the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), we shared a vision of women united across party lines to support and elect our own. Our common ground was three equally important, bottom–ine issues: Obtaining reproductive freedom, providing affordable childcare, and passing the Equal Rights Amendment. These three issues, coupled with parity and diversity at the decision-making table, are the foundation for true equality. The NWPC has been a key player in building that foundation.
Since the inception of NWPC thirty-six years ago, the number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled. Important bills, such as the Family Leave Act, have become law. We still have much work to do, though, with pay equity, reproductive rights (look at what the Supreme Court has done to a woman’s right to reproductive self-determination this year!), the glass ceiling, equal access to education and equal opportunity.
Our progress has been mixed.
Ø 31 California women have served in the Congress of the United States. Of those, 21 are currently serving.* With the special election of Laura Richardson (CD-37) this week, there will now be 22 women representing California in the House of Representatives.
Ø CA ranks 15th compared to other states representation by elected women in state assembly/senate, down from 6th place in 2003/4.*
Ø CA currently has 19 women senators, down from the all time high of 20 in 2004/5 and 24 assemblywoman, down from all time high of 25 in 2003 through 2005.*
Ø Six of the 11 California Assembly leadership posts are filled by women, including Speaker Pro Tempore Sally Lieber, Majority Floor Leader Karen Bass and Majority Whip Fiona Ma.
Ø In California, 308 legislative candidates from the two major parties qualified for the June 2006 ballot, but only 91 of them were women. Even as women are surpassing men in college enrollment, starting more businesses and vote in larger numbers than men, women are still less likely to run for public office.
Ø Women aren’t running in sufficient numbers for a variety of reasons, including low public opinion of our current legislative system. Relaxing term limits, open primaries, instant runoff voting, redistricting that keeps communities intact and campaign finance reform are all ideas worth exploring. A fairer, cleaner, more open system will encourage more women to take a turn in public service.
50/50 by 2020
In 2000 Sharon Ball, past president of NWPC of California, created the 50/50 by 2020 Campaign. The Campaign was birthed out of the realization that if we kept on the current trajectory of women entering elected office, it would take some 200 years for us to reach gender parity in elected government. In response to this staggering thought, NWPC launched a campaign to put a tangible date behind our goal of seeing more pro-choice women hold public office. The year 2020 was selected as it marks the 100th year since women retained the right to vote.
50/50 by 2020 is not about us versus them; it is about sharing responsibility, sharing leadership and creating a truly representational government.
Women must be willing to assume political power and responsibility, not just as informed voters and community activists, but as candidates for local, state and federal office; as legislators and members of the judiciary, as high level appointees — and as chief executives.
What NWPC Does
We recruit, train and support women candidates, regardless of party. We hold vigorous candidate interviews and only qualified women candidates meeting our bottom line issues are chosen to be endorsed. Once endorsed, we provide campaign volunteers and financial contributions.
NWPC hosts some of the most comprehensive campaign training workshops throughout the country providing women with the tools to run successfully. We recognize that we need to fill the political pipeline at the local level of government in order to have these women skilled and in place for higher office when the opportunity arises. NWPC recruits, trains, and supports pro-choice women from all political parties to run for political office.
Many women who learned politics, developed personal networks and honed their leadership skills in NWPC have gone on to elected office at the local, state and national levels. We nurture and train tomorrow’s leaders.
To learn more about the National Women’s Political Caucus, go to www.nwpc.org
Celeste Weingardt, President
*Stats From www.cawp.rutgers.edu
*Women in Statewide Elective Executive Office 2007
77 (45D, 29R, 3NP)
*includes nine GOVERNORS (6D, 3R)
AK Sarah Palin (R)
AZ Janet Napolitano (D)
CT M. Jodi Rell (R)
DE Ruth Ann Minner (D)
HI Linda Lingle (R)
KS Kathleen Sebelius (D)
LA Kathleen Blanco (D)
MI Jennifer Granholm (D)
WA Christine Gregoire (D)
*And 11 Lt. Governors
*As of January 2006, of the 243 mayors of U.S. cities with populations over 100,000, 35 or 14.4% were women, including two African Americans and five Latinas. Of the 1,137 mayors of U.S. cities with populations over 30,000, 197, or 17.3%, were women.