This opinion piece was written by Brooke López and Adrianna Maberry, co-founders of the Lone Star Parity Project.
Women make up 51% of the United States population — but serve in just 20% of elected offices across all levels of government.
Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to the United States Congress, told us that if women don’t have a seat at the decision-making table, we have to bring our own folding chair. Women are showing up in masses with their folding chairs, yet there has been no progress made at the leaders’ table. The vast spectrum of women’s intersectional identities are being overlooked in legislative settings. Instead of speaking our truth, women are commonly silenced and spoken for by our male counterparts.
But why should we care? It might seem obvious that it’s “unfair” when women and men don’t serve at the same rate in elected office, but does the disparity have an impact on politics as a whole?
Serving in elected office gives different voices an opportunity to amplify their endorsements and grievances about policies affecting our rights and limitations. When women make up a lower percentage of elected office-holders, we are stripped of our right to voice our thoughts on crucial legislative actions. And we aren’t just limited to the stereotypical “women’s issues” like abortion rights and education reform.
It is essential that women have a fair playing field to advocate for their views on all policy issues. The more women serve equally to men in elected office, the more women can amplify their voices.
Stories that matter
So what do we do — encourage more women to run for office? Elections in 1992 saw a spike in women candidates — so much that observers called it the Year of the Woman. But since then the number of women in office has been a stagnant 20%.
We began to notice that few approaches to electing women went beyond the federal level. Many programs we encountered didn’t adjust their tactics to each individual state, but instead introduced nationwide standard practices. A new approach was needed, that tackled the localised obstacles preventing women candidates from running and winning.
We must start by asking women in smaller communities to pave the way for other women entering the political sphere. In December 2017, we decided to start filling these gaps through the magic of storytelling in the state we call home — Texas.
The Lone Star Parity Project is a nonpartisan, online publication dedicated to sharing the stories of women and femmes in Texas politics with a goal of discovering useful trends and tools that, once utilised, can educate the public regarding political parity across all levels of government.
We maintain two important components: research and features. The Research aspect provides a one-stop location for trends and patterns related to women elected to office, as well as works that help understand the underlying influences that affect women and femmes in politics.
Our Features section brings our research to life by gathering the stories of those who are currently involved within the Texas realm of politics and provides unique insights to illustrate the rich fabric of women’s experiences.
By combining these two facets, the Lone Star Parity Project will create a platform of quantitative data and qualitative advice for women hoping to seek office from all corners of Texas with specific information catered to their geographic location.
When women make up a lower percentage of elected office-holders, we are stripped of our right to voice our thoughts
During our first 10 months of operation, the Lone Star Parity Project has shared the stories of more than 50 women involved in Texas politics, from student activists to career politicians. We’ve uncovered noteworthy qualitative advice from experienced women in the field that can’t be extracted from number crunching alone.
We noticed that the information we were seeking about the day-to-day campaign operations were intertwined with each individual candidate’s story — we were gathering information that was untapped. For example: when a woman runs for office in El Paso, her advice for successful campaigns can look drastically different from the advice we hear out of Dallas.
Bringing more women into elected office requires a higher amount of diligence and research in the field; it requires the gathering of stories from women in politics and pulling out major data points that are specific to each region of Texas.
We’ve recognised that this combination of storytelling and data has made a small but powerful impact on the political sphere here in the Lone Star State — an approach that can and should be replicated in each state and territory across the country.
Through the power of storytelling, we are uncovering previously unshared insights that can help more women run and win seats in elected office. It is essential that individual communities start harnessing the qualitative advice from women on the ground, and begin taking localised approaches to getting more women elected — we have to. When we humanise our candidates, we humanise their message. — Brooke López and Adrianna Maberry
(Picture credit: Flickr/Jonathan Cutrer)