By Zoe Buchli
Out of the 535 U.S. Congress members, 106 are women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. And of those 106 women, 38 are women of color.
On Wednesday, Feb. 21, the Young Democrats of WWU club hosted a discussion on women in politics. City Councilmember Pinky Vargas, who is currently running for state senate in the 42nd district, and Western political science professor Shirin Deylami spoke on the topic.
“American politics is a pretty gendered game,” Deylami said.
Deylami began by sharing the statistics from the Center for American Women and Politics illustrating the rate at which women are underrepresented in American politics.
“[The numbers] are definitely not on parr with the gender demographics of the country, where women make up about 51 percent of the population,” Deylami said.
Deylami said research shows people are willing to vote for women, and that the bigger problem is some women tending not to show interest in running.
One reason explaining this trend is because women gravitate towards perceiving American politics and the electoral environment as being both competitive and biased against women, Deylami said.
“If you feel like you’re going up for a job and you know people are biased against you, you’re less likely to go for that job,” Deylami said.
She continued on to discuss solutions to this mindset.
“Given these obstacles, how do you change women’s minds? How do you get them to run?” Deylami asked.
She said research shows that change starts with college students, and cultivating young adults as leaders early on.
“Our future lies in the students’ hands, and if you start talking to people when they’re younger about the possibility for running for office, their chances of it being part of who they think they can be is a lot higher,” Vargas said.
Vargas shared her experiences with being passed up for a promotion over her male coworker, and how in a story covering a City Council meeting, she was described as having a “temper tantrum” for trying to maintain decorum.
Vargas said a common misconception is that people need a degree to run for office. She said that while an education is important, it is not necessary to run.
“It wasn’t something I thought I could do. Why? Because I didn’t finish my degree,” Vargas said.
Vargas has held a City Council position for five years, and ran in smaller elections prior to being elected.
“Sometimes politics is about being in the right place at the right time, because a window opens, and you just have to take that window when you can,” Vargas said.
Women in Politics is the first speaking event organized by the Young Democrats of WWU’s events committee.
Junior Claire Devine is a political science major at Western and the president of Young Democrats of WWU.
“We wanted to bring politics of diversity to campus and talk about not just white males in politics,” Devine said. “We wanted to focus on the other people that are underrepresented in politics.”
Junior Gabbi Nazari is a political science major at Western and on the speaking events committee of Young Democrats of WWU.
Nazari said they asked Deylami because they wanted someone who represented Western faculty, and chose Vargas because of her involvement in local politics.
Young Democrats of WWU is planning more diversity series talks for future quarters, Nazari said.
The club meets every other Tuesday at 6 p.m in Academic Instructional Center West room 304.