Colorado now leads the nation in the number of women elected to its state legislature, with 42. Colorado’s 42 have been heavily involved during the 2013 session in sponsoring or co-sponsoring bills that will create significant changes. Is it enough to persuade Colorado women of all ages to step up and insist on equal political representation at all levels of government?
Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, believes that having women more evenly represented in the legislature this year has made a significant difference. “I’m proud to be a woman serving in the state legislature with the highest percentage of women in America,” Ginal wrote in an email interview response. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our legislature, where 42 of the 100 members are women, has become a leading voice driving debate in our state, and even in our nation, on important economic and social issues.”
But being effective drivers for change has not translated into equal political positions, and therefore equal laws, for women in Colorado or anywhere else in the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up 50.8 percent of the total population and 47.2 percent of the working population; conversely, figures from The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers as well as the National Conference of State Legislatures show that women make up only 24.1 to 24.2 percent of all state legislators nationwide. While the numbers are an improvement over past years, it’s a far cry from equal, and current laws about women’s healthcare choices, tax benefits for middle-class single mothers, equal pay and more show an ongoing bias and disparity.
Colorado’s 42 have confronted controversial, messy and sensitive issues during this session, resulting in bills that allow for stricter measures for gun control, legalized civil unions, comprehensive sex education for all school age children, and the potential for a statewide health cooperative.
Local women’s organizations agree that the women legislators are making an impact with the type of bills they promote. Lisa Radelet, Communications/Pubic Policy Director, Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center, said women understand how legislation affects their lives.
“Women seem to understand the real world impact that legislation has on the lives of women and families – whether it be the negative impact of abortion restrictions or the positive impact of access to birth control and preventive health care for women and comprehensive sexual health education for teens,” Radelet said. ” Women get it when it comes to these issues. ”
In spite of their accomplishments; Colorado has never elected a female governor, senator or mayor of any of the larger cities. There are no women in statewide elected office now, and only one, Rep. Diana DeGette, in Colorado’s nine-member federal delegation. Lieutenant governor is the highest state political office held by a woman in Colorado. Besides New Hampshire, which has an entire female congressional delegation and governor, most states are experiencing a similar disparity in representation.
This disparity in representation is one of the key threats to women’s rights.
Monica McCafferty, Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, said: “It is critical that women are adequately represented in the government so they can protect women’s personal and economic rights. Without female representation, basic rights such as access to birth control have become a symbol of equality instead of a personal choice.”
Women have demonstrated that they are effective politicians; women’s rights are at risk, what will it take for women to move forward and insist on equal working relationships in politics?
Katie Groke Ellis, board president for the Colorado Women’s Lobby, and past member of The White House Project, believes that many women have become so politically disenfranchised that they don’t see themselves as political leaders; “At the White House Project, we used to say ‘a man wakes up in the morning, says I can do that and runs for office. A woman has to be asked three different times by three different people, before she will seriously consider running for office.’”
Colorado’s 42 seems to have achieved part of the answer, but if history is an accurate indicator, they can’t succeed alone. It’s time for Colorado women to recognize how important equal political representation is, step up and say, “Yes, we are enough.”
Genevieve Berry: As more women pursue leadership roles, they are finding it necessary to reframe themselves. Debbie Svitavsky, a local women’s counselor, talks about the reason many women struggle with this process.
Debbie Svitavsky: Most women don’t really understand their own worth and their value. They’ve grown up believing that they’re less than, they almost put themselves in a box instead of really understanding their greatness and their power.
Genevieve Berry: Recognizing that things must change, that equality is not option and that old stereotypes do not work anymore, women are stepping up and doing whatever it takes to create a better world for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Debbie Svitavsky: For a woman to really move from a place of victimhood into a place of empowerment really needs to take, there is a shift that needs to take place, in how she values herself. How she looks at herself and how she can actually heal those parts of her that are telling her that she is still small and still invisible.
Genevieve Berry: By embracing personal power, today’s women are taking the most important step towards making a difference.
Genevieve Berry. Unfinishedbusinessblog.com