By Alexandra Johnson
Jennifer O’Mara was elected to represent the 165th district of Pennsylvania in 2018, solidifying her as the first women to hold office in this district in 30 years.
She notes that a lack of funding and support from her own party stood in her way, and that the road to election was laden with challenges. “My own party wanted someone male and rich,” O’Mara said.
In addition to convincing her party that she was a viable candidate, she also had to convince her district to vote for a Democrat in an area that had elected a Republican representative for the past 40 years.
“My campaign knocked on 50,000 doors and I knocked on 7,000 of them while working full-time,” O’Mara recalled. “With all of that work, I won by 530 votes.”
O’Mara is not the only woman who struggled on the road to election, and many others do not even attempt to run.
Only about 24 percent of government seats in the United States are held by women, according to recent political censuses in 2020, despite women representing more than half of the U.S general population.
This number, however, has actually grown significantly since older data from 2017 confirms that only about 19 percent of seats were filled by women at that time.
Nevertheless, women are still underrepresented in government at a national level; in fact, in 2021 the United States currently ranks 87th in the world for the representation of women in government, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The United States also lacks official legislation that requires policies like gender quotas, something that more than half of all countries have already enacted, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Because women statistically face more barriers than men, especially if they are women of color, many organizations have been set up to address overcoming these barriers.
Running Start is a nonprofit bipartisan organization that is solely devoted to helping women get elected to public offices.
According to Concordia, a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to actively fostering, elevating, and sustaining cross-sector partnerships for social impact,” Running Start was formed in 2007 by current CEO Susannah Wellford. The company grew from a previous nonprofit Wellford began in 1999 titled Women Under Forty Political Action Committee.
The organization offers multiple programs designed to give young women the leadership skills and confidence needed to execute a successful campaign for a public office seat.
Programs advertised on Running Start’s website are nationwide, and comprise seminars aimed at high-school students, college students, and young professionals.
They rely heavily on mentorship, with a large and committed network of past students and other successful women in the world of politics today.
The organization also states that when women run, they win at the same rate that men do, which indicates the need for strong female candidates.
As many as 20,000 women have trained in this program, according to their website, and many have gone on to successfully run for office.
Successful candidates include Allyson Carpenter. the youngest women elected in Washington D.C and Avery Bourne, the youngest elected legislator in Illinois.
In the past five years, the United States has seen a spike in women not only running for offices, but winning their elections, according to official polls. Experts attribute this surge directly to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, a candidate who many believe has been openly sexist and misogynistic.
Today, O’Mara has been elected official chairwomen of Pennsylvania’s Southeast Delegation for the current legislative session. She is currently working on two major pieces of legislation, an equal pay law for the state of Pennsylvania, and a law that makes it mandatory for employers to provide fertility coverage.
She still believes there needs to be more women’s representation in governmental seats. “Women tend to be more empathetic, and more likely to work together and compromise,” she explained. “And also, when women are in office we finally talk about women’s issues.”
O’Mara continues to address the issue of how to get more women in political offices. “I always said be like Nike and just do it,” she said.
“We need women to get involved at every level and every position so that we can stack the bench of qualified candidates when higher seats are opened up.”– Jennifer o’mara
She encourages young women who are interested in politics to reach out to local campaigns and organizations and get involved in any way that they can.
“I’m not alone in feeling that now that I am through the door, I want to pull other women through,” O’Mara added. “I know a lot of other women feel that way.”
Contact Alexandra Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org