Women Face Political Obstacles, but Can Overcome Them

Two Winners Point the Way at DC Forum

Written by Sruthi Palaniappan and Kaelin Delaney on May 22, 2017


Two women who’ve seen firsthand the institutional and structural barriers that confront women running for political office - and have demonstrated that those barriers can be overcome - shared their insights on women in politics this morning with an audience of politically minded women.

Speaking at a Center for American Progress forum, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-WA, described how she fashioned a winning campaign by tapping into her experience as a fundraiser for a nonprofit group to build a network of small dollar donors. Though her average contribution was just $23, Jayapal raised almost $3 million. And because she was elected without relying on  the large dollar donors who typically dominate congressional races, Jayapal is able to stay focused on representing all her constituents, not just a handful of people with fat bankrolls.

Jayapal and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-CA, who also spoke at the event, said they had to overcome skepticism among party leaders about their prospects and stereotypical descriptions of their candidacies in the local press. Barragan said she was particularly fearful about fundraising at the outset of her campaign, noting that it’s often particularly challenging for women of color like her and Jayapal.

The special challenges facing women candidates are one reason Common Cause supports fundraising systems that combine small dollar donations from individuals with grants and matching funds from specially-designated public funds. You can read more about those systems, which are in place in Connecticut, Maine, Arizona and numerous localities across the country, here.

The second half of “Beyond the Ambition Gap: Challenging the Systems That Keep Women off Ballots and Out of Office,” was led by Kate Black, chief of staff for EMILY’s List, Glynda C. Carr, co-founder for Higher Heights for America, and Jessica Byrd, founder of Three Point Strategies. They identified a growing movement of women who are politically engaged and mobilizing at increasingly high rates.

Carr noted that the 2016 election saw an increase in the number of women of color, particularly black women, taking office at the local, state, and national level. There is real opportunity to create a pipeline to higher office for women of color if the current gatekeepers and political parties prioritize investing in women, she said.

At the current pace of change in our country, women will need more than 100 years to reach gender parity in government. After the 2016 election, more than 13,000 women contacted EMILY’s List expressing an interest in running for office. We must reshape the narrative surrounding women in leadership positions and break down the unique barriers that hold women back from attaining office. A more diverse and representative Congress will create a government that is more accountable and attuned to the interests of people in our diverse nation.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Fighting Big Money, Empowering Small Donors

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