Encouraging more women to run for office as Greens
by Ann Link, Green Party of New York State
“Mommy, what did you do in the War on Women?”
From a speech given by Ann Link, a long-time Green and feminist at the 2011 New Jersey Green Party convention.
What’s the current situation for women in office in the United States and in the Green Party? As of 2008, the U.S. ranked 68th out of 134 nations worldwide in representation by women (according to The Nation that ranking has now dropped to 98th out of 185 countries). Only 17.2 percent of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives are women, and only 17 of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate are women, 13 of whom were appointed (in 2013 women only represented 20 percent of U.S. congressional seats). In 2010, 79 women ran for office on the Green Party line out of a total of 355, which is 22.3 percent (for 2013 that only increased to 33 percent). Clearly, the Green Party has a long way to go toward 50 percent equity.
Numerous studies have shown that countries with a high proportion of women in office have better economic opportunities and protections for women and children. How can we encourage more women to run for office?
First, women must organize themselves inside and outside of the Green Party. Being organized provides valuable experience for women and gives them a power base on which to build if they decide to run for office. The national Green Party Women’s Caucus invites women to participate.
Second, Green Parties at all levels must seek anti-oppression training. This training is designed to make people aware of the systems of privilege and oppression whereby a privileged group benefits at the expense of people without such privileges. Without an awareness of these systems, Green Party candidates will remain predominantly white and male.
Third, the Green Party must make a sustained effort to recruit women to run for office—for internal party positions as well as government office. Women come to the electoral table with additional hardships: lack of political experience, less socialization for public speaking and self-promotion, and less time to devote to campaigning because of family, work and party obligations. I’ve found as I recruit for the [National Green Party] Speakers Bureau that men on average are more likely to make the initial approach and are more confident in their ability to fulfill the requirements. Women on average require more contacts before considering it and more encouragement regarding their potential for success. This does not relate to ability, however, because once in the position, women do as well or better than men.
Fourth, the Green Party must set clear and equitable rules for candidate selection, and then follow those rules. When the rules of the game are clear, it’s possible for women to develop strategies to improve their representation. When the process is dominated by patronage, rules can be vague and shifting and decisions made by a limited number of persons. Some of the unequal treatment that the Green Party candidates for the 2008 presidential nomination experienced during the period leading up to the national convention related to this issue. Rules were put into place but were not followed consistently with every candidate.
Fifth, the Green Party must support electoral systems that support women. Here are several examples: a) by supporting proportional representation systems for elections—of the 10 highest-ranking countries in terms of women’s representation, all utilize proportional representation electoral systems; b) by reserving a certain number of party offices and candidate positions for women—my state Green Party in New York requires a certain percentage of party officers to be women; and c) by utilizing instant runoff voting for internal Green Party elections—instant runoff voting levels the playing field for women because it favors candidates who run positive campaigns, and allows voters to make better choices without fearing the worse candidate will win.
Sixth and finally, Green Parties must give equal financial support and access to party resources to the campaigns of women, regardless of their chance for winning. The resource issue came up during our decision-making process for allocating funds raised by the Green Senatorial Campaign Committee. We debated over whether to give all the money to a few male senate candidates who were polling well and getting a lot of media attention. We decided to divide it up equally among all the senate candidates, including three female candidates, who demonstrated viability by having a website, treasurer, and making visible efforts to campaign. It’s vital that women are at the table when these decisions are made.
In closing, the Green Party offers a unique opportunity for women to make a meaningful difference in how our world is managed. I hope all women in the Green Party will seriously consider running for office, and that they will get full support from the Green Party in doing so. Women have the strength, the life experience, the integrity, the leadership, and the vision to make the political changes necessary for our country and the world.