By Sara Jane Rose
If a society’s health were measured by the health of its women and children, then Oklahoma is on life support. The statistical rankings regarding (#1)women’s incarceration (#1), child abuse deaths (#5), and teen pregnancy to mention a few, consistently designate us as one of the nation’s unhealthiest states for women and children (and by extension, men.) While the reasons for this sad state of affairs are many, there is one area in particular that is being directly addressed by Sally’s List, a group founded in 2010.
Neighboring states (Kansas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas) all boast anywhere from 21-28 percent female representation in their legislatures, while Colorado comes in at a whopping 40 percent.
At 12.8 percent female representation, Oklahoma ranks 49th in the country. We can thank South Carolina’s 9.4 percent for preventing us from placing dead last.
According to a study done by the Rutgers Center for the American Woman and Politics, women state legislators not only give priority to and work on legislation that reflects the concerns they bring to the floor as women, but also are successful in using the established process to get this legislation enacted.
As the numbers of women legislators increase, the attention that legislators give to women’s rights issues and issues pertaining to healthcare, the welfare of children and families and other concerns related to women’s traditional roles is likely to increase. Given the low number of women in our state legislature (four in the senate, 15 in the house), it does not require a huge leap in logic to see why issues that affect women have long been given the back burner, and in some cases, are yet to even appear on the stovetop.
Increasing the number of women in the Oklahoma Legislature is dependent on two distinct tasks. First, most women will not pursue elected office without being asked. In a state like Oklahoma where the legislature is perceived to be an old boys’ club, most women simply do not see themselves on the floor. However, according to a study by Brown University, there is great success in recruiting female candidates when they are encouraged to run; by their party, community leaders or current elected officials. Second, the campaign process is incredibly daunting until properly dissected and explained.
If women are willing to run and are educated in what to expect on the campaign trail, they perform as well as men and are elected in equal numbers. In other words, the Oklahoma electorate is not picking male candidates over female candidates; there simply are not enough women for whom to vote.
With the election of Mary Fallin as governor, the hope is that more women will see themselves as viable candidates for public office and will step forward to serve. By increasing the number of female senators and representatives serving in our state legislature, perhaps the myriad problems facing the women and children of Oklahoma will get the proper attention they deserve.
Editor’s Note: Sara Jane Rose, President of Sally’s List, http://sallyslist.org a web site dedicated to encourage more women to become involved in politics.
Mary Fallin is Oklahoma’s first woman governor and highest ranking state official. Oklahoma statistics show the state has some of the nation’s highest rates of teen pregnanacy, domestic abuse, and infant deaths. A new women’s advocacy group wants to help elect more women to public office so they will fight for women.