By Lynn Yeakel
“No taxation without representation” was the cry that ignited the American revolution. Women in Pennsylvania may have no representative of our gender in Congress after the current session. Allyson Schwartz, the only woman in the tri-state Congressional delegation, gave up her seat to run in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. There are six women across Pennsylvania running as major-party candidates for the state’s 18 U.S. House seats in the general election but they are facing male incumbents. Also, the Pennsylvania general election for Governor in November will be a Tom-Tom race, as Inquirer columnist Karen Heller cleverly noted.
How can it be that so few Pennsylvania women are engaged in the political process? Let’s start with voter turnout. Only 20 percent of all female and male registered Democrats went to the polls Tuesday. (In 2010 when the Republicans had contested primary races, 27 percent voted.) In addition, about 15 percent of the voting age population is not even registered.
Yeakel is Founder and Executive Director of Vision 2020, a center within Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.
Imagine what the suffragists would think of this dismal percentage of participation by women. They marched, they demonstrated in front of the White House, they went to jail, they went on hunger strikes and alienated friends and family – all to gain the right to vote for our half of the population. As Vision 2020 works with Mayor Nutter, the National Constitution Center and civic leaders to make Philadelphia the site of the national centennial celebration of the 19th amendment that granted women’s suffrage, we must register, educate and mobilize women to vote in our state and across the nation.
We must also encourage more women to run for office. It’s hard on many fronts – personal, professional, financial. And it’s no fun to lose. Ask Schwartz, McGinty, Margolies and Arkoosh how they feel following Tuesday’s results. But if women don’t run, we cannot complain about the lack of gender representation.
It’s been 22 years since I ran for the U.S. Senate. All that I learned from that experience, which changed my life in many ways, influences my work today. Yet so little has changed during that time in the Commonwealth. I was only the second woman in Pennsylvania history to win a major party nomination for U.S. Senate and no woman since has done that. Pennsylvania remains in the bottom of the pack in terms of women in state-level elected office.
From a positive perspective, there’s great opportunity for growth in civic engagement of Pennsylvania women. If women run and women vote, women will win. And all of Pennsylvania will win, too.
Lynn Yeakel is Founder and Executive Director of Vision 2020, a center within Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.