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Legislatively Speaking – Women’s Equality Day

By Senator, Lena C. Taylor

State Senator Lena C. Taylor

The 2012 U.S. Senate election results were cause for celebration! Women now fill 20 percent of the seats in our nation’s Senate. As we commemorate Women’s Equality Day on August 26, the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, we are reminded that the right to vote was not extended to women of color until several decades later.

This August we must support and reaffirm our national commitment that all women, regardless of race, have the opportunity to be completely involved in our political process – voting, campaigning, winning, and leading.

Women’s participation in the American political arena has made great strides. As a legislator, I have witnessed many of my women colleagues place a high priority on addressing women’s issues, family concerns, and policies regarding those adversely affected by violence and poverty. It follows that women from states home to visible and competitive female candidates have higher levels of political involvement.

Here in Wisconsin women legislators have been taking significant steps to continue to move women’s progress forward. Many women legislators have assumed important leadership roles throughout both the Senate and Assembly. In 1975, Kathryn Morrison broke the barrier and was the first woman to serve in the Wisconsin Senate. Following in the wake of her inauguration, there have been twenty six women senators, seventeen of whom have previous experience in the assembly. Representative Sandy Pasch is the Assembly’s highest ranking woman legislator.

She is currently serving as assistant minority leader in the 2013 Assembly.

However, according to a National Democratic Institute (NDI) report, “women continue to be under-represented as voters, political leaders, and elected officials.” Here in the U.S., we do not operate in isolation. In our relations between foreign nations, women comprise less than ten percent of negotiators and less than three percent of signatories to peace agreements. Including women in the conversations about peace and security has frequently been at the bottom of the list of priorities.

A majority of our peace agreements are made in areas of recurring conflict; 50 percent fail within the first 10 years. The ethos of our peace process is missing a critical ingredient – women are not invited to the table. The United Nations addressed this situation with Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (UN SCR 1325) in 2000. SCR 1325 asks nations to adopt and implement National Action Plans which provide women equal access to, and participation in, peace processes in conflict-affected areas. In 2011, the United States adopted its own National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) via an Executive Order signed by President Obama.

The U.S. NAP states, “Deadly conflicts can be more effectively avoided, and peace can be best forged and sustained when women become equal partners in all aspects of peace-building and conflict prevention, when their lives are protected, their experiences considered, and their voices heard.”

This has huge importance for women’s political participation on the international stage of decisionmaking. Although the U.S. NAP is careful to consider women’s meaningful inclusion and participation in matters of peace and security, it is not enough. Its very existence depends on the efforts of this current administration and is not guaranteed to survive much longer than that.

On July 31, 2013 the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2013 (WPS Act), H.R. 2874 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Mike Honda (CA-17) and Niki Tsongas (MA-03). The WPS Act is a key step in integrating women into negotiation processes which hold hope for improving the lives of women and increasing overall global stability and prosperity. The WPS Act ensures that the U.S. NAP becomes more than just an Executive Order, establishing it as law that will survive past the duration of a single presidency.

On August 26 we will observe Women’s Equality Day. It is our collective goal to broaden political participation and embrace the overarching goals envisioned by the women, peace, and security agenda. It is in our power to further women’s leadership and political participation so that peace can mean more than an absence of tanks and deployed troops. Let us help security take on the dimensions women leaders in the U.S. are demonstrating it can have – economic security, opportunities for education, and pathways to leadership. It all begins with the political participation of women now.

Lena C. Taylor is a state Senator in Wisconsin and an active member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL)– a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).