Group Aims to Make Women a ‘Critical Mass’ in Congress

BY Judy Woodruff  January 20, 2012 at 6:09 PM EDT

The numbers are depressing, and surprising, considering it’s 2012. Only 17 percent of the U.S. Senate is made up of women. Only 16 percent of the House of Representatives. And only 12 percent of governors. An astonishing 90 other countries lead the United States in the percentage of females serving in the lower house of parliament or its equivalent.

A group called “Political Parity” launched a national bipartisan effort Thursday to change this. Its goal is to double the percentage of women in Congress by 2022, giving them “critical mass,” enough numbers they say, to have more influence. Democratic Party activist and philanthropist Swanee Hunt, who chairs the effort with a Republican, former Massachusetts Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, says it’s not just a matter of fairness, but of making the U.S. and the world a better place to live:


Joining Hunt and Healey was Mary Hughes, who heads the 2012 Project, an effort to recruit more women candidates, especially age 45 and up, recognizing younger women often have commitments to children and family. Hughes recalled 1984 and ’92 — years when women made gains in elective office, only to see them slip away later. But she said 2012 again offers opportunities:

Hughes said term limits, which some states have enacted, and the fact that this is also a presidential election year, will bring out more voters and make for a more inviting political landscape for women.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, described early signs that large numbers of women across the country are declaring interest in running for Congress this year.

After the press briefing, Tara Setmayer, another adviser to the Political Parity group, who works for California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, told me she believes there will be less partisan gridlock if more women are elected to Congress. But she acknowledged it won’t come easy:

Today, many women decide to run for office inspired by a personal cause according to Tiffany Dufu of the White House Project. She told of a young Los Angeles City Council member, whose passion it was to get a grocery store built in the inner city:

As of now, some 32 women have declared or are seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2012; and 202 for the House of Representatives — both numbers higher than at this point in the last election cycle, in 2010.

Videography by Elizabeth Shell and Jason Kane. Video editing by Paula Rogo and Justin Scuiletti. Production assistance by Saskia Chanoine.