It’s been almost 100 years since women in the United States gained the right to vote but the US still is yet to have a woman elected as president. What do you think needs to change for there to be the first woman elected to the White House?
Amy Pope: I think it’s coming soon. In the last election, the woman candidate won a majority of the votes of the popular vote. Now, because of the way the US system works, she didn’t win a majority of the electoral college, which is what she would have needed to become president. But, the evidence suggests that she had the votes to get there, and so, one should assume that when the right woman comes along, she’ll be able to make it too. It’s a matter of time.
Stacey Abrams: First and foremost, I think it’s recognition by the body politic that women, not only have the capacity for executive leadership, but that we’re ready for it.
We’ve seen that through the increased number of women elected as governors and attorney-generals and the increased level of participation by women in the body politic.
Then, in the upcoming election, what we need is to have an adequate number of women running so that a woman has the chance of becoming a nominee and I believe that will happen.
Following the US midterm elections last year, a record number of women, including women of colour, are serving in Congress. What do you think are the reasons behind this growth in women running for, and being elected to, political office and what challenges remain?
Amy Pope: I see this as the silver lining of the Donald Trump presidency. It’s similar to the Anita Hill hearings in 1991 who was grilled by a Senate judiciary committee when she alleged that she was sexually harassed by a Supreme Court justice nominee. Many women were angry about the way that she was treated during those hearings and a number of them decided to run for Congress and won in what was called ‘the year of the woman’ in 1992.
I think we saw a repeat of this last year but on a much larger scale. Everything that has surrounded Donald Trump – his rhetoric about women and the allegations that he sexually harassed and sexually assaulted women – all of that has driven women to realize that if they don’t get involved, then things won’t change. So, on some level, it’s actually good news that when women realize that they need to be part of the conversation, they stand up, put their names forward and get elected.
Now that’s not to say it’s all settled. We don’t have a Congress that’s 50:50 or a Congress that represents the proportion of women in the country. But the good news is that young women are seeing terrific examples of women winning elections and making a significant difference. For example, right now you have Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House and you have women in all sorts of leadership positions who are demonstrating how well women can do the job.
Stacey Abrams: Electoral politics is usually a lagging indicator of social and demographic change. We have seen, not only more women coming into the body politic through the 100 years of suffrage and the 45-year history of the Voting Rights Act, but an increased opportunity for participation because of their inclusion in the workforce and in leadership positions.
The more the opportunity for leadership has grown, the more it has translated into electoral power. We have an increasing number of women – especially women of colour – in mayoral positions, and each time we see this increase, it galvanizes others to believe it’s possible for them too.
So whether we’re looking at the election of a record number of women to Congress, or what we saw happen in a number of states this year where more young women and more women of colour were elected to state legislative offices, those are the people who open the door for others to follow.
They demonstrate that it can be done and – what is often unremarked upon – they then open the door for others by hiring more young women of colour and thereby creating an ongoing machine that creates more opportunity for women.
What I see happening right now, is the fruition of what was begun with Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan and others – founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971 – and I believe it will continue.