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Monday, November 27, 2006                    x

Number Of Women In Govt. Rated Unsatisfactory

By PATRICK L. FANELLI

11/19/2006 - Women are under-represented in Chautauqua County government, according to a study released earlier this month by the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership at the University of Rochester.

The center rated every county in the state on the number of women elected to county legislatures, and Chautauqua County received an ‘‘unsatisfactory’’ rating along with 25 other counties out of a total of 57. Six others received a lower grade.

‘‘Women still have not reached ‘critical mass’ in local governments,’’ said Nora Bredes, center director. ‘‘Our study indicates that there’s still much work that needs to be done for women to reach equal representation in local government.’’

Of 25 Chautauqua County legislators, only four are women. Three of them are from Jamestown — Democrats Victoria James and Maria Kindberg, and Conservative Tina Hallquist, representing half of Jamestown’s legislative delegation. The other is Sallie Pullano, D-Fredonia.

The study, entitled ‘‘Women Lag as Local Leaders,’’ did not include any other local governments, such as town, villages and cities — with the exception of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Syracuse.

However, the numbers are roughly the same all across the Chautauqua County landscape, according to a count by The Post-Journal. There are a total of 189 seats on town boards, village boards and city councils across the county, and only 43, or 22.75 percent, are occupied by women. Towns rate worse than villages and cities — 17 percent compared to 37 percent respectively — even though one third of all town supervisors are women compared to only two out of 17 mayors.

That’s in stark contrast to women as a percentage of registered voters — 52.7 percent, according to the Chautauqua County Board of Elections.



‘It Hasn’t Caught On’

It’s difficult to pinpoint what the cause might be, though Mrs. Halquist believes it might be because many women in Chautauqua County are simply too busy to run for office.

‘‘I would say women in our area are struggling. Managing the household and any additional jobs outside the home as well consumes every moment they have,’’ said Mrs. Halquist, the mother of two teenagers. ‘‘You have to have the time, you have to have the energy and you have to have emotional support.’’

And that is a luxury many women might not be afforded, she added.

Neither Mrs. Halquist nor Mrs. Pullano believe the political institutions in Chautauqua County keep women out of politics. Mrs. Pullano isn’t sure whether women simply don’t want to run or aren’t actively sought by political parties.

‘‘It can be kind of a tradition and culture thing,’’ Mrs. Pullano said. ‘‘I think there hasn’t been a tradition of women in the County Legislature.’’

But they both believe Chautauqua County has more than enough women to do the job. In fact, Mrs. Halquist believes women run the greater part of the community — they just do it behind the scenes.

See WOMEN On Page A-3

‘‘We sure have the women to do it,’’ Mrs. Pullano said. ‘‘It just hasn’t caught on yet.’’



Consequences

There are two inherent consequences of women’s small role on legislative bodies, according to Mrs. Bredes — herself a former county legislator in Suffolk County on Long Island.

‘‘When women are included, it brings a distinct perspective to government work, and issues that are left out or are not paid attention to in traditional government ... become the work of government,’’ Mrs. Bredes told The Post-Journal.

Issues such as women’s health, child support, community sustainability and family life receive more attention when women play a greater role in the legislative process, Mrs. Bredes explained. In fact, it wasn’t until women began playing a greater role that domestic violence safeguards began taking shape, she said.

The other consequence is the nature of politics — something women could change, but something that also deters them from participating at the same time, according to Mrs. Bredes.

‘‘Politics is a highly aggressive, very masculine enterprise,’’ she said, noting the high number of women in non-profit and philanthropic organizations. ‘‘It’s something that, with the way we’re socialized, women are uncomfortable with.’’

Mrs. Bredes believes 35 percent is the ‘‘critical mass threshold,’’ where women’s representation is high enough to have a significant impact on policy. Both Dutchess and Westchester counties in downstate New York, as well as New York City itself, received ‘‘A’’ marks with women’s representation at 35 percent or more.

A total of 11 counties fall within the 25-to-34-percent range, but women’s representation in the other 44 counties is below 25 percent. The study also found that only three counties in the state have women as county executives, and only six have women as their county legislature’s presiding officer.

The study can be found at the Susan B. Anthony Center For Women’s Leadership Web site at www.rochester.edu/sba

Send comments to pfanelli@post-journal.com


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