Rhode Island women politicians talk politics at RIC, Nov. 9

Six former and current female leaders discuss the progress, perils and pitfalls of campaigning and winning a political office.

Grace Diaz

Susan Farmer
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, Rhode Island College’s The American Democracy Project presents “Through the Looking Glass: Trail-Blazing Rhode Island Women Talk Politics,” on Tuesday, Nov. 9, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Alger Hall on the RIC campus.

Six of Rhode Island’s most prominent women politicians will offer a first-hand, honest and introspective view of the climate for women’s political participation in Rhode Island.

Panelists include Grace Diaz, House Representative and Deputy Majority Leader; Susan Farmer, former Secretary of State; Elizabeth Roberts, Lt. Governor; Susan Stenhouse, Director of Community Relations/Governor’s Office; M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Senate President; and Myrth York, former R.I. State Senator.

Elizabeth Roberts

Susan Stenhouse
NBC-10 news anchor Gene Valicenti will moderate the discussion.

This year’s milestone celebrates women's progress over the last century, but it also raises questions about why, some 90 years later, women have not achieved parity with men in the political arena.

To search for the answers, some of Rhode Island’s most politically accomplished women will assess women's political role in our state and the obstacles to be overcome by the next generation.

“Led by such stalwarts of equality as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns, three generations of committed activists gave their time, their energy, and their fortunes to the cause for women’s suffrage. Some went to jail. Many died before the battle was won,” said Valerie Endress, RIC political communication professor and one of the ADP coordinators at the college. “These great women inform our political perspectives even today. In the same vein, we cannot lose sight of the valuable lessons of our own great women of Rhode Island.”

M. Teresa Paiva Weed

Myrth York
To underscore the challenges, research shows that women are still under-represented at all levels of government. Nationwide, women hold an average of 31 percent of state cabinet and high-level government positions. In Rhode Island, the number is 15 percent. And women are 52 percent of the population.

The statistics, providing by the Women’s Campaign Forum, a non-partisan national network dedicated to achieving parity for women in public office, are staggering:

• The United States trails behind the rest of the world, ranking 84th in the number of women in our national legislature.
• Women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress.
• Women constituted 54 percent of voters in the 2008 elections, but only 24 percent of state legislators.
• On average, male cabinet appointees outnumber women cabinet appointees by a ratio of 2 to 1.
• Only 6 out of 50 states have a female governor

Gene Valicenti
• 50 percent less women than men consider of running for office. Of those, 30 percent less run, with only a fraction seeking higher office.
• Women of color are only 5 percent of all state legislators.
•The numbers of Democratic women legislators have continued to increase while the numbers of Republican women legislators have declined (1981-2009).

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact RIC’s Office of News and Public Relations, (401) 456-8090; onpr@ric.edu.