How Essential is Increasing the Number of Female Elected Officials to Ending Violence Against Girls and Women?

We asked immigrant rights leader Pramila Jayapal (see full interview): If we want to accelerate our goal of ending violence against women and girls, how essential is it to increase the number of women in federal and state elected office? What are the benefits and pitfalls of getting engaged in political work?

Here's what Pramila had to say:

Essential! The challenges of the political system as it exists today is not exactly the most democratci or gender-neutral system! Women have to work really hard to get attention in politics--still. There's huge inequality--and it only increases if you add the race piece on top. So--that just means we have to be more diligent, more focused, more attentive to finding every possible opportunity to develop women's leadership at all levels and build the pipeline. We also have to get political donors--including women--to recognize that we'll have to take on some risks and some uncomfortable things to get where we know is right. Like, we might have to support a woman who is taking on a male incumbent that may not be terrible but we know she could do better. The political infrastructure doesn't always look kindly on such things but if we keep telling women to wait --for an open seat, for the time when they can get enough donations, etc.--we'll never get to the goal. Let's be bold!

So, when it comes to this movement - the movement to end violence against girls and women, how does this play out? We know of only one C4 organization within the movement. Other movements are much more political and engaged in vetting, supporting and holding elected officials accountable to advance their issues. What holds us back from this strategy? We'd love to hear your insights. Please share in the comments section.


Monique Hoeflinger (not verified) replied on February 14, 2014

   I totally agree with Pramila on this point.  As a movement, we have to get serious about building political power.  I think it starts with investing in organizing—we need more organizers in our movement!  Organizers focused on building our base of supporters that can be mobilized in a wide range of contexts—including elections, ballot measure campaigns, direct actions, boycotts, legislative campaigns, protests, petitions and any other calls to action made by us and our allies.  The bigger our base, the more power we have to leverage behind our agenda.  With an organized base, we can elect candidates who understand that freedom from violence is a fundamental right that must be secured for all people and in particular women, children, LGBT people, low-income and communities of color who are the most impacted.  Not surprisingly, the communities most impacted by violence—both interpersonal and systemic—are those most disenfranchised from our political system.  Electing more allies to office is an important step in overcoming these challenges.  Of course, this is only part of our agenda.  While we need allies on the “inside,” we also need an “outside” strategy that holds these folks accountable and creates change more broadly by shifting social norms in our communities, families and relationships.  This outside strategy needs to be informed by a bold and clear vision that goes well beyond current notions of what is politically possible.  This is critical to avoid the pitfalls of being engaged in political work—that is, believing it is enough.  Political work is necessary, but it is never enough. So here’s to more organizers in our movement—and to embracing a more comprehensive set of social change strategies that create change in both the political sphere as well as our communities, families and relationships. 

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