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Women in politics: Electing to lead

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The United States ranks as the 59th country in the world in percentage of women holding elected office, as published in a study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Women comprise 52 percent of the U.S. population, yet the United States is behind countries such as South Africa, Cuba and China when it comes to electing women to office.

Since 1971, the number of women serving in state legislatures has increased more than four-fold, yet the progress has slowed at both the statewide elective and state legislative levels.

According to Rutgers University's Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), there are 14 women in the U.S. Senate and 65 in the House of Representatives. Only 79 women hold statewide elected executive and currently eight states have women governors.

"Women have significantly increased their numbers among state government officials over the past several decades," said Susan J. Carroll a senior scholar at CAWP. "However, despite a recent increase in the number of women governors, women's overall increase in women elected to office has slowed, especially at the statewide elective and state legislative levels. Findings such as these suggest that the future for women in state government will depend, at least in part, upon the strength of efforts to actively recruit women for both elected and appointed positions."

The College of Arts and Letters at San Diego State University (SDSU), in cooperation with its Women's Studies and Political Science Departments, is taking action on this matter and presenting "Women in Politics: Electing to Lead" during SDSU Month this March. The three-day nonpartisan event is a high-caliber political training program geared toward teaching women the skills necessary to obtain elective office.

Backed by an honorary committee that includes more than 50 women who are current or former office holders from throughout the state, the Women in Politics program is geared to educate women who are considering a career in public service, as well as furthering the education of those who are already office holders.

With topics ranging from developing a campaign strategy to fundraising to campaign laws, participants will leave the program with the knowledge to run for office, or work in the business of politics, in the future. Making this program stand out from others is the "Mastery of the Media" class in which women will be given the skills to handle television, radio, public forums, debates and press conferences.

Here in San Diego County, there are almost 40 women elected to positions at the local, state and federal level (this does not include school and other special districts). Within the 18 cities that make up the county, all but one has at least one woman on the City Council.

Future gains may very well depend upon the strength of efforts to actively recruit women for elective positions. Many women find themselves volunteering for campaigns or political groups but are unaware of the professional opportunities that are available to them. San Diego State University believes this training will contribute to the recruitment of women who are interested in the political process and are looking to make a contribution to public service.

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