Editorial by Kimberly Ellis – If you were to compare the percentage of women serving on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors (just 27 percent, or three of 11 seats) with the percentage of women serving in office in other nations, San Francisco’s government would fall somewhere behind Rwanda, Angola and Ecuador. As District Five Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi vacates his seat to become San Francisco sheriff, Mayor Ed Leehas a real opportunity to move city government closer to parity.
We know that San Francisco women make great leaders – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and California Attorney General Kamala Harris are among the nation’s most respected and capable politicians. Additionally, studies have shown that women practice politics differently from their male counterparts – often with less acrimony and better results.
There is evidence that when legislation is presented that threatens a core value, women will transcend their political allegiances to vote their conscience. For example, during the extremely partisan health care debate in 2009, Republican and Democratic women in Congress united to beat back the Nelson-Stupak amendment, which would have sharply limited access to reproductive health care.
With all of the economic and political challenges San Francisco faces in the next few years, greater female perspective and experience would be a huge benefit. And equal representation is consistent with “San Francisco values.” So why aren’t we walking the walk?
To be fair, the underrepresentation of women in government is an endemic problem in the United States – more than 83 percent of Congress is male, and the number of women in Congress declined after the 2010 midterm elections. The United States now ranks 69th out of 188 countries in terms of female representation in government – behind Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sad reality is that there are still some very subtle, powerful messages sent to American women: You don’t have what it takes, you would be abandoning your family, you won’t win. We need to do everything we can to combat those messages and encourage a new generation of female leaders to step forward.
San Francisco’s women, who make up 49 percent of the city’s population, deserve a stronger voice in local governance. Appointing a woman to fill the District Five seat would be a good step toward better representing San Francisco residents – and our values.
Kimberly Ellis is the executive director of Emerge California, a nonprofit organization that trains Democratic women to run for office.