Many of our conversations for the past few months have been framed with some optimism around wins and advances with issues that we care deeply about. After the 2012 proclamation of another Year of the Woman (and some visible evidence that the title was valid when we saw the highest number of women ever elected to the US Senate, and other wins by women in several areas even beyond elected office) we have seen other signs that seem to say the time continues, that this is time for women to expand our efforts.
As NWPC has worked for more than forty-one years to help recruit, train, and elect qualified women to office, and when we began, fewer than 5% of members of Congress were women. After our 2012 Year of the Woman, as of January 2013, the percentage of women in Congress is 18.3%, according to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University. Progress, absolutely. Enough? No way.
We have seen the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed. That Act reinstates the rule in place prior to Ledbetter, frequently called the paycheck accrual rule, so that the 180-day time limit for filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC begins to run anew after each discriminatory paycheck is received. Thank you for supporting fair pay and nondiscrimination.
This spring we watched the news of President Obama signing reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act (finally reauthorized, again!) and felt pride that our calls and emails and other means of support to encourage this Congressional Act passage made a difference. Thank you for your efforts.
In January we marked the 40th Anniversary celebration of Roe v. Wade, and while we rejoiced that it happened, we all also felt slightly uncomfortable because we know that it is not won forever, and that it can be taken away unless we remain on vigil. Thank you for staying vigilant, and continuing to speak up.
I have been impressed with NWPC state and local caucuses’ news lately in new projects and new efforts, in finding newer approaches to reaching more women who want to support others to run, or who choose to run for office themselves. You are reaching out in more partnerships and collaborations, and I applaud you for that. You are growing in number but also in method for reaching out, but we must redouble our efforts, because the progress we have made is definitely not enough. The goal of 50/50 by 2020 was adopted by one of our biennial conventions a few years ago, and recently at a large coalition of women’s organizations, someone remembered that slogan and said that it was such a good one, and why shouldn’t we all begin thinking of what kind of results we could see by 2020 if we coalesced our numbers and powers and made the earth move. 50/50 by 2020 is ours, but we will gladly ask others to adopt the NWPC goal, and join in the effort. So again, thank you for what you have been doing, and for what you are still doing, and for what you will continue as we move to the future. We can do this. We can get to 50/50 by 2020.
A book by Sheryl Sandberg, an executive with Facebook, wrote a book that is getting lots of visibility and buzz, Lean In. Local groups have been formed for discussion, online Lean In discussions seem to be growing, and the concept seems to be well received in many circles, although in others, Ms. Sandberg is getting plenty of criticism. One of her statements just jumps out to me. “Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry....”
This week a group of elected women here in Central Texas who meets quarterly to discuss issues important to women, and they discussed the Lean In concept. This group, established about five years ago by women Trustees of the Board of the community college that employs me, expands throughout our college service area, designated by the Texas Legislature to cover most of eight counties in this region. The total number of elected women, who are from local school district boards, county and city offices such as mayor or councilmember or commissioner, county clerk and other county elected offices, is 191. The area of External Affairs of the college provides staffing for these meetings, and my staff attends these quarterly meetings. What we heard in the discussion and interaction was very much what I have said earlier here—there are lots of areas where we can declare wins, and celebrate laws that are passed (or bad ones that we have helped prevent from passage), and there is a feeling that this is our time, a time for women to achieve and move into our own. This group also felt that while we are seeing momentum, and do feel some success, we should expand efforts, reach further, and they agreed to meet more often, so that all could provide better support for each other!
This August we will have our biennial Convention, and we need each of you to come, and to be prepared to speak up, to help as we define our next steps, and then to step up as we increase our efforts.