It is Women’s History Month and we have much to celebrate. Women continue to enlarge their roles as advocates, inventors, entrepreneurs, educators, journalists and scientists — and the list goes on.
But not one woman belongs to Pennsylvania’s 20-member congressional delegation. Only one woman serves in an elected statewide office, Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Pennsylvania has never elected a woman governor or U.S. senator. Pennsylvania’s Legislature has plateaued in the proportion of women representing the state at 17.8 percent (45 women out of 253 seats). Only 27 percent of our judges are women. Women make up only 19 percent of municipal executives.
There are bright spots locally in Pittsburgh City Council (four of nine districts are represented by women) and Allegheny County Council (women occupy five of 15 seats, both district and at-large).
These may be surprising statistics to many, given that girls and young women not only have closed the gender gap in educational achievement, they have pulled ahead. According to the U.S. Department of Education, women now are earning nearly 60 percent of bachelor degrees.
Girls and young women also rank ahead of their male counterparts on many indicators of civic engagement, including volunteering, voting and membership in community associations. Higher Education Research Institute surveys show that female college students spend more time than male students helping others in need and take more courses that involve community service. Women are overrepresented in service programs such as AmeriCorps and Teach for America.
These achievements in education and love for public service have not closed the gender gap in electoral politics, however. The Higher Education Research Institute also found that male students were more likely to say they have worked with political organizations and expressed their political opinions by contacting elected officials or members of the media. So, while college women are outperforming college men on a number of civic-engagement measures, they are falling short on turning that engagement into political service.
The relative dearth of women serving in public office and of young women interested in electoral politics is worrisome. And that is why the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University seeks to educate and empower women for public leadership.