By Gisel Kordestani, COO and Co-Founder of Crowdpac. Originally posted on The Hill.
If there’s one positive thing to have come out of the horrific examples of violence against women that we’ve been witness to these past weeks, it’s the unprecedented attention paid to the issue. And about time too. This is a plague that afflicts millions of American women every day - and it’s a plague we can and must eradicate.
So much for the grand declarations: we’ve seen many of those recently. What, in a practical sense, can we do about it?
Here’s an unfashionable idea: let’s use the political system. Domestic violence might mostly happen at home, but in the end the battle for meaningful action to fight it takes place in our political chambers. By all means let’s debate whether the head of the NFL should lose his job. But it’s also vital for us to debate the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Up till now, our representatives in Washington could get away with ignoring domestic violence. Who ever knew which members of Congress cared about it, worked on it, made a difference on it? It was impossible to find out unless you were a Capitol Hill insider.
Well, my company, Crowdpac, has changed all that. One of my co-founders wrote recently about our aim to put political power in everyone’s hands. Better information - information that is objective, non-partisan and above all that you can use to take effective action - is at the heart of it.
So when it comes to domestic violence, our data can tell you, at a glance, which members of Congress are most vocal and which are most silent. Better than that, you can take action: depending on your point of view, you can use Crowdpac to donate to the campaigns of the candidates on these lists - or their opponents.
At Crowdpac, we don’t take sides. We present you with objective data and leave the rest to you. But there is one issue where we do express a point of view: the state of our democracy. We all know the arguments about big donors and special interests controlling the political system. We started Crowdpac to fight that, and with your help we’ll win.
But there’s another aspect of under-representation I want to highlight, and it relates directly to the issue of the moment - domestic violence. Look at our objective data on the members of Congress most vocal on this issue: all women. Look at those who are most silent: all men.
The truth is, we will never get the action we need on domestic violence and gender equality unless we elect more women to Congress.
Superficially, women are moving up in national politics. Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House and is today the House Minority Leader. Sarah Palin was on the GOP ticket in 2008. Hillary Clinton is front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2016. But beneath these famous standard-bearers, the situation is dire: only 20 women Senators out of 100, and 71 Representatives in the House, out of 435.
Crowdpac's data shows us the dynamics in more detail - both in terms of the current position and the potential for change. In the mid-term elections for Congress in a few weeks, just 18% of all candidates are women. OK - what if you exclude Independents, minority candidates - those who are less likely to win? Any better? Oh yes. If you consider only Democrats and Republicans, the proportion of women candidates is - wait for it - 20%.
But that overall figure masks a significant disparity between the parties. Overall, there are 128 women Democratic candidates out of 452 - 28% - as opposed to 59 out of 474 women GOP candidates - 12.5%.
By any measure this is pathetic. The US is actually behind Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, China, Sudan, Iraq, Belarus, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda when it comes to female political representation - although, to be fair, I should point out that we are ahead of South Korea and Japan.
Jeannette Rankin, America’s first woman in Congress, was elected in 1917. The first woman to serve in the Senate, Rebecca Latimer Felton, was elected in 1922. In a hundred years, we’ve gone from zero to around one in five. How long before we reach what any reasonable person would surely agree is the right target: parity?
Well, I’ve had a look at our data. At the current rate of increase, we would reach 50% female representation in the Senate and House in 2047. When I will be in my seventies! Why should I wait that long? Why should you wait that long? Why should any of us tolerate the voice of women being relegated for a single second longer - never mind over thirty years!
As with our data on domestic violence, Crowdpac gives you a practical way to do something about it. We’ve created a list of the female candidates with a chance to win. If they all get elected, and if we continue that trend, then we can bring forward the date of gender parity in Congress to 2024.
If everyone on this list is elected in November, we would add 21 women to the Senate and House in this cycle. That’s not just a good thing in itself. It would mean more practical action on the issues that matter to women - especially, violence against us.
Gisel Kordestani is co-founder and COO of Crowdpac. She is a former director at Google and has an MBA from Harvard University and an BA in international Affairs from the American University of Paris.