Encouraging more women to run for elected office in Utah is a fitting way to commemorate the state's 100th birthday, and, while a group's goal of 100 women candidates seems appropriate, the number is probably too low.
With a long-range goal of equal parity for women in government throughout the state, a group of current and former office-holders and community activists is working to enlist people who know the election process to mentor women interested in seeking office.It's time for women to offer their talents, expertise and knowledge to improve state, county and local governments. Politics in Utah has become a more friendly environment for women recently, but more women are needed at all levels.
Participation in government by both men and women is necessary for government to be fair and effective. Women's responsibilities in the home sometimes make it impractical to serve in time-consuming political positions, but where family circumstances permit, they should consider becoming involved.
Utah has more female mayors, county commissioners and school board members now than in the past, but they're still substantially outnumbered by men. The Legislature is overwhelmingly male, with only 15 women among its 104 lawmakers. Utah ranks 39th among the 50 states in percentage of women in state legislatures.
The fault lies not only with men who tend to perpetuate the status quo by helping each other into leadership positions. Women themselves are not seeking office or offering to serve on community boards as often as they should.
In 1992 the state's gender balance law took effect. It requires those who make appointments to government boards to "strongly consider nominating a qualified individual whose gender is in the minority . . . " Since then the number of women appointees has risen from 20 percent to 39 percent of the total.
Lt. Gov. Olene Walker has been a positive factor in getting more women appointed. When county commissioners sent up 33 male nominees for 11 Central Utah Project appointments, Walker returned the list, requesting some female nominees be added.
Women bring a different perspective to governing. Their backgrounds are not the same as those of men, and they often represent particular groups better than men can.
Utah's pioneer women were leaders on the political scene and in the suffrage movement. Utah women were among the first in the nation to vote, and Martha Hughes Cannon was the first woman ever elected to a state legislature.
The women who have served in Utah politics and those who currently hold office have been generally effective and productive. They are qualified and enthusiastic leaders, and the state needs more of them.