Running in place: Women still have much ground to gain in politics

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It’s the perennial political frustration that crosses party lines. In the United States, not enough women run for office and not enough are elected when they do.

In Pennsylvania, old political habits are hard to break and ol’ boy networks are hard to beat. Yet it is any girl’s birthright, just as it is any boy’s, to aspire to public office.

A workshop on how women should approach running for office in Pennsylvania was held Monday at Widener School of Law in Harrisburg. Since women in both parties face gender hurdles, it was fitting that it was led by a bipartisan duo, Republican National Committee member Christine Toretti and former Democratic U.S. House candidate Siobhan (Sam) A. Bennett.

Their listeners will have their work cut out for them. Although women account for 51 percent of the population, they hold only 20 percent of the U.S. Senate seats and 18 percent of the House.

Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation of two senators and 18 House members has only one woman, Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Philadelphia. The state ranks 38th for the proportion of women in the Legislature at 17.8 percent. In the May primary on ballots in Allegheny County, 39 candidates will seek nomination to run for a state House or Senate seat; only one of them, Rep. Erin Molchany of Mount Washington, is female.

Such statistics have been around for decades, but in 2014 they are disillusioning. It will be a fine day when no one has to pay attention to the numbers, when candidates will be noticed solely for their proposals and not their gender. Unfortunately that moment, especially in Pennsylvania, is still in the future.

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