By Kelly DiNardo
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Women Under Forty Political Action Committee is working to put younger women into office. The bipartisan group says its strategy will help women overall and is aimed at positioning some for future White House bids.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Which country has the fewest women represented in its government? A) Sierra Leone B) United States C) Vietnam
If you answered the United States you'd be correct.
The United States ranks 60th worldwide in women's representation in government, according to this year's book "Closing the Leadership Gap:Why Women Can and Must Help Run the World," byMarie Wilson, founder and president of The White House Project. Only 59 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 14 of the 100 seats in the Senate are held by women.
While organizations such as Wilson's White House Project are working to close the gap and advance women's leadership in both business and government, Women Under Forty Political Action Committee is focusing solely on putting women into federal office by helping young women raise money and network with Washington's power brokers.
Their essential idea: women have to start young if they're ever going to fill out the ranks and make it to the top-levels of government.
"We're trying to get more young women elected to federal office," says Susannah Shakow, president of the group. "We're trying to do everything we can to encourage young women to become more interested in politics, take politics more seriously and understand the impact of politics in their lives. We need to have more women in the pipeline in order to end up with more women who want to run for Congress."
In 1999 Shakow and several legal associates were lobbying for their clients, which included state governments and trade groups, on Capitol Hill. They noticed that few members of Congress were women and that none was young. The lawyers and lobbyists began to talk about the discrepancy and from their discussions the group was born.
Unlike EMILY's List, which supports pro-choice Democrats, the group supports female candidates, without regard to whether they are Republican or Democrat. The "big-tent" approach puts off some potential members and donors who don't want to mix with an effort that could wind up helping an opposing political camp. But many candidates endorse the approach.
"It's key that they are bipartisan," says Lisa Marie Cheney, 39, a Republican from Virginia running for a House seat. As a mother, for instance, she says she is particularly interested in education and can benefit from bipartisan ideas on the subject. "When you bring a lot of women together we speak about things more openly, we put more ideas on the table and share more. That's important because that's how you grow policy."
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, 37, a Democrat in the Florida state legislature for 12 years who and is now running for Congress, believes that regardless of party, women of prime child-caring age can have a lot in common. "If someone who is 35 or 36 and I don't agree on an issue, we can put those differences aside and focus on those things we do have in common," says Schultz. "Because of our similar demographic there will be several other issues we do agree on."
The similar concerns--suc