Each August 26, we take time to commemorate women’s suffrage. On this date 89 years ago, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which added voting rights for women to the U.S. Constitution. The women’s suffrage movement, which was actively supported by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), broke through the disenfranchisement barrier so that all Americans—not just men—could engage in the most fundamental right of citizens in a democracy: the right to vote.
But women also have the right to hold office, and though we make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, we hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress. That’s staggeringly low, and I know we can do better. We need to mobilize our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and maybe even ourselves, to run for office. It’s never too late or too early—just look at the first-ever woman Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a grandmother of eight, or at Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who has a young child and just became co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.
And when it comes to inspiring the younger women in our lives to run, AAUW can help. We’re offering a campus-based program called Campaign College, which trains women college students to run for student government. Research shows that women who run for student government positions are more likely to pursue public office later. Your daughter may be the next Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) or Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), so encourage her to get an early start with a run for campus office.
In a few years, thanks to these efforts, we should see a marked rise in the number of women in elected positions. But in the meantime, women of my generation, what are you waiting for? Issues that women care about need allies, and who better than women of all ages to rise up, speak truth to power, and champion those issues?