Powerful Women in Government
Someone who got all her news from TV could be excused for thinking that women were making major strides toward equality in elected politics. Sadly, the increasing visibility of political women (Christine O’Donnell, Sarah Palin, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Nancy Pelosi) doesn’t actually point to any great strides in gender equality in this arena, especially around here.
In January the number of women in the 160-member Massachusetts House fell from 40 to 36, and the number in the 40-member Senate dropped from 12 to 11, according to data compiled by the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. In addition, there have been only six women in the history of the commonwealth elected to statewide constitutional office, including newly elected state Auditor SUZANNE BUMP; MARTHA COAKLEY (attorney general); KERRY HEALEY (lieutenant governor); JANE SWIFT (lieutenant governor, and later acting governor); SHANNON O’BRIEN (treasurer); and EVELYN MURPHY (lieutenant governor). THERESE MURRAY now sits as Senate president, which is indeed a powerful role but isn’t an elected position. Although women represent about half of the population of the state, they hold only 20.6 percent of the municipal governance positions here, based on data from 2007.
Part of the problem may be women’s unwillingness to run: According to a study done by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, women have to be asked an average of seven times before they will agree to run for public office. Men need be asked only once, if at all.