Leading women members of Congress spoke about women’s leadership yesterday at an event on Capitol Hill organized by Feminist Majority Foundation interns. Senator Barbara Boxer, Congresswoman Hilda Solis, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney addressed a full room during the Taking the Lead: From Campus to Congress event. The event also featured Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) president Eleanor Smeal and Howard University Student Association (HUSA) president Jennifer Owens. FMF interns also presented preliminary research on women’s leadership on college campuses to an audience of mostly young women.
Delivering a reality check, FMF interns shared their preliminary results from a survey of over 150 colleges and universities, examining the roles that women take in student government leadership. The preliminary results are alarming: only one in every four schools had a woman president. More encouragingly, over half of the schools had a women vice-president, HUSA president Owens confirmed this, saying that Howard usually sees student government tickets with a male president running with a female vice-president. Owens decided to run for the highest seat, however, because she had a vision for her campus and quickly saw that no one else was working for the changes she thought were necessary. She encouraged the young women present to get involved in leadership, reminding them, “Do not doubt yourselfÉ Be yourself. You know that what you’re doing is right in the end.”
The elected members of Congress spoke from their own experiences and reminded young women that leadership qualities need to be developed early on. Senator Boxer spoke of the struggles that earlier feminists endured to ensure the status that women enjoy today, but emphasized that there is more to win. Congresswoman urged young women to get out and “stir the pot” by encouraging feminists to run, registering women to vote, and voting. Finally, Congresswoman Maloney spoke personally about her experiences challenging a male incumbent and gaining the confidence necessary to develop into the leader she is today.
Taking the Lead is part of FMF’s Feminization of Power campaign, a project designed to encourage women of all ages to participate in leadership and to change the face of power. “Young people who go into government get active in college,” Smeal said, encouraging young feminists to run for student government. Congresswoman Maloney closed with her advice to young women: “If you don’t like the system, you have to take some responsibility [for] changing it.”