By Amber A. Small
Across our country, the number of women holding elected office has slowly ticked upward to the point where women hold almost 20 percent of congressional seats and close to 25 percent of state legislature seats. Clearly, we have a long way to go and progress is not moving as fast as it should. But at least our country, as a whole, is moving in the right direction.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the City of Buffalo and Erie County. In our diverse Western New York community, there are zero female elected officials on the City Council, none in citywide office, and only three out of 15 county officials are female. On the state level, the City of Buffalo is represented by only one assemblywoman and has never elected a female as state senator.
In an effort to evolve our representation to better match the makeup of our communities, WomenElect has spent the last several years working to engage women in our political process through advocacy, training and mentoring.
The results of our programs have been stunning. Given the opportunity and encouragement to run for office, intelligent, accomplished women across our region have been inspired to truly consider a career of public service and leadership in elected office.
So, how is it that we in Erie County are lagging so far behind the already-too-slow progress being made across the country? The answer lies in the old-boys club of structure and power.
Time after time, when women step up to the plate and volunteer to put their name on the ballot, they are shut out and told they would be better suited for roles behind the scenes, or that they should “pay their dues” and “wait in line” or that perhaps they should be more concerned about raising a family than their career. Their qualifications and abilities are severely discounted because they are women and have chosen to serve their community through the nonprofit sector or community engagement rather than as career politicians, working their way up through a system that does not welcome them and, frankly, sees them as a threat to power.
Although those in power may benefit by maintaining the status quo and limiting choice on the ballot, this does an extreme disservice to voters. In Buffalo, women make up 53 percent of the population. We are mothers, teachers and nurses. We are also lawyers, doctors, police officers, business leaders and community advocates.
As our region stands on the edge of immense economic opportunity and the potential for sustainable growth, we need new ideas and perspectives from our elected officials. We need the talents of our best and our brightest. Most importantly, we cannot afford to continue to shut out the majority of our citizens from the political process to serve the convenience of a select few.
Amber A. Small is vice chairwoman of WomenElect, a political action committee.