My Turn: New Hampshire and the nation need more women in politics
The recent shutdown of the federal government was an unnecessary and costly embarrassment. Of course, there are strongly held views in our nation’s capital and in every American community. Some of the political issues are difficult. That really hasn’t changed, though, over the course of American history. There have always been strong differences over how we should govern ourselves.
In an age where we are facing fierce international competition from the likes of China and many other countries, one would think that our federal government should be as united as ever to put our people in the best competitive position. It is folly to think we can thrive without a strong national government leading us into the future.
And that brings me to the way in which the government shutdown was finally brought to an end. We can thank many of our female U.S. senators and congresswomen for communicating with each other and reaching a compromise solution. Time magazine recently wrote, “Women are the only adults left in Washington.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but the point is worth noting.
Women make up more than half of the entire U.S. population, but the U.S. Senate is only 20 percent female. In the U.S. House, it is less – only 17.9 percent. Many make a case that we need more women representing us in Washington and in all levels of government. Certainly, New Hampshire, with its all-female federal delegation, is doing its part.
There is hardly any political issue that does not warrant compromise. We’ve all heard the axiom that politics is the art of compromise. That has been in short supply in Washington. For whatever reason, women in politics seem to have more of an ability to negotiate and compromise than their male counterparts. Surely, at least, the influence of women in the entire negotiation process is important, just as it is to have Democrats, Republicans and independents contribute to the decision-making.
Not only will our country benefit from higher participation of female elected representatives, so will our states and municipalities. According to the November edition of Gender Matters, a publication of the New Hampshire Women’s Initiative (nhwi.org), New Hampshire women make up 51 percent of our population, with a respectable 34 percent of our representation in the State House. Women are underrepresented in municipal government, though. We have only 198 women out of 734 elected officials in our cities and towns, only 21 percent female. Only two of our 13 cities have female mayors.
Over many years in New Hampshire political office, I have observed the leadership styles of female governors, female presidents of the Senate and female speakers of the House. Without disparaging the leadership by many fine male officials, I have seen the contribution of their female counterparts to a debate process that is less acrimonious but still effective, and legislation that has strengthened our state.
There is a lot to be said for the contribution made by women in politics. If we could approach the point where the percentage of female elected officials in all levels of government nears the 50 percent mark, more proportionate to the overall population, we would all benefit.
(Executive Councilor Debora B. Pignatelli of Nashua is a former state representative and state senator. She is also a board member of the New Hampshire Women’s Initiative.)