Women’s Political Participation and Representation in the Washington Region

This month, on August 26th, we will celebrate Women’s Equality Day, designated as such by Congress in 1971 to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote.  As we approach the day to celebrate this milestone in women’s history, we see there is both much to celebrate, and much work to be done around women and civic and political engagement.

First, the good news: women are making it out the polls in record numbers. Today, women are actively voting, running for office and creatively using their individual and collective power to bring about social and community change. The Census Bureau reports that since 1996, the number of citizens who have reported voting has increased in every presidential election. As in the country as a whole, in our region women are the majority of voters, and both register and vote at a slightly higher number and proportion than men, particularly in the District of Columbia.

 Chart Voting by sex in Nov 2012

Source: The Women’s Foundation compilation of data from the Bureau of the Census, 2012

In the November 2012 election, slightly under three-quarters of DC women voted (71 percent) in comparison with 64 percent of men. This was more than ten percentage points higher than the national voting rates for women (59 percent) and  about ten percentage points higher for men (54 percent) in that election. Voting in Maryland and Virginia had lower rates than DC, closer to the national average; still, women’s civic participation was higher than men’s.

The same pattern holds for voter registration: Seventy-seven percent of DC women were registered to vote in 2012, in comparison with 72 percent of men, which was also higher than the national rates of 67 percent of women and 63 percent of men. In Virginia, 71 percent of women registered to vote compared to 66 percent in Maryland.

Now for the challenging news: While women may make up the majority of voters, there is a significant under-representation of women in political office. Today, women’s representation at the state and national levels falls short of the 51 percent needed to reflect their proportion in the population. For example, women only make up 18.5 percent of the US Congress: they hold just 99 of 535 full-voting Congressional seats, which is up from 90 in 2010.

The District of Columbia has one non-voting Congressional seat, which has been held by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton for twelve terms. In Maryland, women hold two of the 10 Congressional seats: Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Donna Edwards. Thirty percent of the state legislature is made up of women and Maryland ranks 9th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature.

Virginia holds 13 Congressional seats, none of which are currently filled by women.

The proportion of women in Virginia’s  state legislature decreased from 19 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2014. Virginia ranks 40th among states for the proportion of women in the state legislature. The governors of both Maryland and Virginia are men, and neither state has ever elected a woman governor.

Equal political representation for women at the national, state and local levels is critical as it increases the likelihood that laws and policies will reflect the needs and interests of women and their families. Last year, we hosted a brown bag lunch with Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House, to discuss this important topic. We encourage you to read highlights from the conversation and tweet your thoughts using #UseThe19th.

In the 43 years since Women’s Equality Day was designated, we have made impressive strides in the number of women who turn up at the polls to make their voices heard; however, women still are not sufficiently represented in political office – a place where, more than just having a voice, they have a platform and the power to make critical change for women, their families and the communities in which they live.  We may be celebrating Women’s Equality Day this month, but equality in political office still remains far too aspirational. What can you do to raise your voice and be heard?


Women’s History Month Q&A – March 14, 2014

Q: Who is the longest serving woman in the history of the United States Congress?

A: Maryland’s own, Senator Barbara Mikulski. Senator Mikulski has served in the Senate since 1987, and before that served in the United States House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987.  It was her re-election in 2010 that allowed her to surpass one of our earlier Women’s History Month Q&A answers, Margaret Chase Smith, as the longest-serving female senator.


Women’s History Month Q&A – March 13, 2014

Q: Which Maryland born woman in history escaped slavery in 1849 and is best known for being a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, leading more than 300 slaves to their freedom?

A: Harriet Tubman, who had to leave her family behind when she escaped slavery in 1849. Despite a bounty on her head, she returned to the South at least 19 times to lead her family and hundreds of other slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad. She spoke against slavery and for women’s rights, and during the Civil War she served with the U.S. Army in South Carolina as a nurse, scout, spy and soldier.

Sharon Williams Luncheon Remarks

Sharon-SpeakingOn October 23, Sharon Williams spoke at The Women’s Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Luncheon. The following are her remarks. After speaking, Sharon received a Visionary Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and their families. Please click here to learn more about the Visionary Awards and click here to see a video featuring Sharon and her story.

Good afternoon everyone- It is kind of strange seeing myself up there on the big screen.  As I listen to myself talk – it really does remind me of how much my life has changed. You saw a little of my story in the video, and I’d like to share a bit more with you now.

Upwards of 10 years ago, my life was very different. I spent a lot time asking God, “Why me?”

I was in high school – 10th grade to be exact when I had my first child. I’m not sure if I was afraid – but I can tell you that I was more determined than ever to be and make a difference for my child. Part of that difference was getting married – which I did at 17.  By the time I was 21 years old, I had two children, my own successful daycare business, three vehicles and I purchased my first home – with a white picket fence. I decided that having a daycare was the best thing because I wanted to spend time with my children and everything that I did was for them.

That all sounds nice, but my personal situation was not good, but as I look back on it now I still feel like I made the right decisions especially with the cards that I had been dealt.

And then – life happened.   I got divorced. I closed my business – moved out of my home into an apartment– shared custody of my children and I felt cheated. I began to ask God, “Why me? I’ve done my best – I’ve tried so hard to be a better person and now look!”

I was getting frustrated with life itself and something within me stirred up like a fire and once again – I wanted to make this situation better for my children.

I began taking classes at Prince George’s Community College.   I learned about the Next Step Training and Education Program and I wanted to try it out.

This was one of the best decisions that I could have made.  The Next Step program not only assisted me with tuition but I was also given additional supportive services and tools to aid in my future success.  One of the most rewarding on the most rewarding gift that I took away from the program is a lifelong mentor in Cecelia Knox, the program’s director.

Once I was accepted into the nursing program I was ecstatic!  You would have thought that I hit the Powerball ten times over – and I don’t even play the lottery!

I want you to understand how huge it was for me to go back to school. College was never a goal for me. So you can imagine how shocked I was not only to be back in school… not only to be passing all of my classes… but getting a 4.0 GPA!

I must say to you all – and especially Cecelia – I am so grateful that the Next Step program was in place to assist me when life happened. What do I mean by “life happening?” What I mean is this: When circumstances place you in situations beyond your immediate control. No two situations are the same, and I know everyone in this room can relate to that.

Next Step put me back in control. You see life wasn’t just happening to me but it was I that decided what life would be.

For me, that meant becoming a registered nurse at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center. It meant an opportunity to provide my children with more stability and security.  It meant taking advantage of opportunities to travel the world – and I have.

I received a full scholarship to Notre Dame of MD University to complete my Bachelor’s Degree.  I traveled to Australia and South Africa – learning about their health care systems and volunteering with TB clinics and HIV orphanages.  I visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell – I walked in his garden – I strolled in the limestone quarry – just like he did.

But what made a most lasting effect on me was my visit to a nursing home – because that’s where I met Mrs. Christian.  She was a proud elderly South African woman who grew up in the brutality of apartheid.

I sat at her feet as she told our group about seeing the horrors of families being ripped apart and how she stood on the front line with the activists in fight to end to apartheid. Although her comments were towards the group as a whole – she looked into my eyes as she spoke – and I found myself once again asking God, “Why me?”

“I have fought for you to be free,” she said. “And you are under obligation to take advantage of the education available to you and use it to better yourself, your family and your community!”

And she told me – me – that she was proud of me and in that moment my priorities in life changed and my thinking changed and I made a conscious effort to see greatness in others.

I began to believe within myself that if given the opportunity – people living in less than ideal conditions and having less than ideal situations could and would do great things – and  honestly my friends – that is the belief that NSTEP had in me.

As a Registered Nurse I have helped a lot of people old and young alike and I have found babies to be the most interesting species of them all.

Some of them come out kicking and screaming and ready to run for the world and others are born not so active.  They need extra attention – maybe some oxygen and a sternal rub in order to get them to breathe – to get their arms flailing and their legs kicking so they too can be ready to run for the world.

It’s that way for adults sometimes too –  Some are fortunate enough to have had a background and upbringing that allowed them to take off running – while Others need that sternal rub so to speak to help us breath again and give us the strength to stand up and take off for the world as it were –  And when we do – it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s been about two years now since my trip to South Africa and I have worked hard to help others. I know that I have encouraged and inspired others to go back to school.   I often have the privilege of returning to Prince George’s Community College to speaking with women in orientation for the Next Step program and I listen to their stories – I listen to their hopes and dreams without judgment – because I remember being in their seat.

Today, I work roughly 10 miles from where I grew up. Knowing my history – knowing where I come from and where I am now has caused me to ask at times:  Am I one in a million? A needle in a haystack – No.   There are many success stories emerging from the streets of S.E. Washington, DC just like mine.  How? Because we have been given an opportunity and found someone to believe in us more than we believed in ourselves and for me – that was Cecelia Knox and Ms. Myrtle Christian.

Today, my conversations with God are very different. I say a humbled thank you for my 22-year-old son who is my pride and joy – for my 20-year-old daughter who completed high school at 15 years old and is now is studying to become a child psychologist… and for my 11-year-old daughter who is smart and so talented and plays the violin exceptionally well!

Today, I say thank you to God for the courage to keep my head up despite adversity and for allowing me to become an example for those who have the potential to succeed although they may not even realize it – yet.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to be with you fine people today and have you hear my story.  I am grateful that The Women’s Foundation invests in places like Prince George’s Community College – a place that has assisted me in my present and future successes – and hopefully I have been able to show you that what appears to be impossible is possible.

Today, I place you all under obligation to take advantage of what is before you and join me in making our community better than it was yesterday.

Thank you.

New Year's Resolutions for Women and Girls

This month, we invited our Grantee Partners to share some of their New Year’s resolutions with us.  Their passion and commitment to transforming the lives of women and girls and improving our community are evident in the aspirational goals they’ve set for themselves this year.

Read on to find out what some of our grantees will be doing for our region in 2012 and tell us in the comments below what you envision for women and girls this year.  Washington Area Women’s Foundation will be sharing our own list of resolutions later this month in a special e-mail message from Foundation President Nicky Goren.  Make sure you learn what we’re planning for 2012 by signing up to get monthly e-mails today!

IWPR’s 2012 Resolutions

  • During this election year, get people talking about the issues that affect women, such as jobs and the economy, the gender wage gap and workplace discrimination, STEM education, Social Security and retirement, work/family balance, and maternal and child health.
  • Celebrate our 25th anniversary by marking the progress that women have made while highlighting areas where policy changes could make a huge difference in advancing women, families, and communities.
  • Illustrate the current status of women displaced by Hurricane Katrina through an upcoming report that also identifies their specific needs.
  • Improve success rates for student parents by sharing best practices and forging strong partnerships with administrators, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers within the worlds of higher education, youth development, and early care and education.
  • Give young women opportunities to gain career experience while expanding their knowledge of research and policy issues through our internship and fellowship programs.

Goodwill of Greater Washington’s 2012 Resolutions

  • In 2012, Goodwill of Greater Washington resolves to train, equip and place nearly 200 people into local jobs that support the local economy. We anticipate that these 200 jobs will come through the continued expansion of Goodwill’s retail stores, as well as the placement efforts from our intensive job training programs;
  • Goodwill of Greater Washington also resolves to continue providing 600+ jobs to local residents through our retail stores, janitorial contracts, and administrative and support divisions, many of which are filled by people who face significant disabilities or other barriers to employment.

NOVACO’s 2012 Resolutions

At a client Life Skills meeting at NOVACO in January, several clients set goals and made resolutions.  They included:

  • believing in themselves so that they could achieve their goals;
  • being better parents; and
  • setting small goals and telling themselves that they could accomplish those goals.

One mother, Kay, reflected on how much she’s achieved so far.  She earned her high school diploma through night classes, learned to drive and got her driver’s license, and worked with lawyers to get a work permit.  She also improved her parenting skills while she worked full-time at a restaurant and was offered a management position after just one year.  She volunteered her free time as a pen pal and greeter for the USO.

DCVLP’s 2012 Resolution

The DC Volunteer Lawyers Project resolution is that every victim of domestic violence in DC seeking a civil protection order who wants representation by an attorney will have one this year.

SMYAL’s Women’s Leadership Institute’s 2012 Resolutions

  • Provide a much-needed free space for young women to gather and form community.
  • Using that space, build our community of women and strengthen our bonds through discussion and shared service.
  • Promote further discussion about maintaining healthy relationships, recognizing unhealthy relationships, and combating domestic violence.
  • Develop connections to extend our diverse community deeper into the DC metro area and beyond.
  • Seek out community partners and collaborate on at least four service projects.
  • Connect more young women to mentorship opportunities with local volunteers.
  • Long-term resolution: Create a community of confident, empowered women through opportunities for leadership development and civic engagement.

FAIR Girls’ 2012 Resolutions

We, FAIR Girls, resolve to work as hard as we can to make sure that by the end of 2012…

  • 200 teen girl survivors of exploitation have received compassionate care, including counseling, emergency housing, assistance in finding legal and medical support, resume building and job placement, educational attainment support, and a sense of family and community at FAIR Girls.
  • 1000 teen girls and boys in high schools and youth shelters have participated in our Tell Your Friends workshop and have learned how to keep themselves safe from sexual exploitation and trafficking.
  • 1000 law enforcement officers, teachers, and social workers are better able to identify and assist victims of trafficking having attending a FAIR Girls training.
  • A law, inspired by Daisy, will have passed in Washington, D.C. ensuring that all missing teenage girls are considered “critical missing” and have access to FAIR Girls and our partners’ services when they are found.
  • 2000 hours of art therapy and economic empowerment workshops will have helped inspire and restore more than 125 girls.

Thank you to the Grantee Partners who shared their resolutions with us!  You can share your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to register for our e-newsletter to learn more about The Women’s Foundation’s plans for 2012.

Makin' the Law: Women, Girls and the New Laws That Go Into Effect on July 1 in Maryland and Virginia

On July 1, hundreds of new laws go into effect in Maryland and Virginia.  While most of the attention during the last legislative session was on laws concerning carrying weapons and speed limits, there are a number that will directly impact the women and girls in both states.  Read on for some of the highlights…

maryland flagMaryland


*A new foreclosure law will keep more families in their homes by requiring lenders to try to negotiate new payment plans.  Governor Martin O’Malley (D) told the Washington Post that the law will put families on “more equal footing with mortgage companies that too often can’t be bothered to pick up a phone before beginning a foreclosure proceeding.”


*The “Kids First Express Lane Eligibility Act” will allow the Maryland Comptroller to use tax returns to identify families with children who may be eligible for Medicaid or the Maryland Children’s Health Program.  The comptroller will share that information with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which will then send application materials to the families.  The new legislation builds on the “Kids First Act of 2008.”


*The state has established a Tuition Stabilization Trust Account in the Higher Education Investment Fund that will help stabilize tuition for resident students at public universities and colleges.  The legislation also limits tuition increases to a “percent not to exceed the increase in the 3-year rolling average of the state’s median family income.”  The bill was written, in part, because “Maryland has fallen from the 6th highest public tuition state in the nation to a current ranking of 17th.

*The state cut funding to programs for disruptive children in Maryland public schools.



*Domestic violence victims will be able to extend protective orders obtained in cases of family abuse or stalking.  Protective orders can be extended for two years and there is no limit on the number of extensions that can be requested.

Public Supports

*New legislation allows Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants to continue to receive financial support payments to which they are entitled, either on their own behalf or on behalf of a family member, prior to beginning to receive TANF.


*Residents convicted of nonpayment of child support will need certification from the Department of Social Services to renew a driver’s license or end the suspension of a license that was suspended because of nonpayment.  The law also establishes the option of home or electronic incarceration of a person convicted of nonpayment of support.

*Courts will now be able to appoint vocational experts to conduct evaluations in child and spousal support cases where the earning capacity, unemployment or underemployment of an individual is being disputed.


*Virginia residents will not be required to obtain or maintain individual health coverage with certain exceptions.


*A special license plate law authorizes the issuance of a number of plates, including one that reads “Trust Women / Respect Choice.”  Last year, “Choose Life” plates became available to drivers in Virginia.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

DefeatPovertyDC LogoIn today’s rundown: The launch of a new effort to focus the 2010 election season on the damaging effects of poverty in D.C. | Why doctors are teaming up with attorneys to help low-income patients | A new look at housing affordability

— Today marked the launch of Defeat Poverty DC, a new coalition of residents and organizations (including The Women’s Foundation) working to bring greater focus during the 2010 election season and beyond to the damaging effects of poverty on the entire city.  Click here to learn more about Defeat Poverty DCClick here to read a preview of the launch in the Washington Post.

— More doctors nationwide are starting to partner up with attorneys to provide patients with legal help if they need it. Doctors and social workers say that medical care alone is not enough to address the health issues of the poor, which are often related to diet, living conditions and stress.  Click here for more details.

— The Center for Housing Policy has released a new study that takes a look at the costs of renting and owning homes in cities around the country. According to the study, “in some high-priced communities, people who provide the bulk of vital services… cannot afford to live in the communities they serve.”  The study also found that residents in moderately-priced communities still pay an excessive portion of their income for housing.  The study found that Bethesda was the 19th most expensive city to buy a home in last year.  Washington, D.C. was the sixth most expensive rental market.  Click here for more information.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

Hopkins CheckIn today’s rundown: A Grantee Partner receives a huge check as part of a workforce development project in Virginia | Maryland’s child support guidelines may be overhauled for the first time in two decades | “Are We There Yet?” — a look a gender discrimination at work

Hopkins House — a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner — was recently awarded a giant check — both in size and amount.  The $250,000 check was presented by Rep. Jim Moran.  The money will fund Hopkins House’s Early Childhood Learning Institute, which will help 100 low-income adults earn a Child Development Associate credential and 31 credits toward a college degree.  Click here for more details.

— An overhaul of child support guidelines is on the jam-packed agenda of Maryland lawmakers, who have three weeks to wrap up the current legislative session.  If the bill is passed, it would be the first major change to the child support guidelines since 1989.  It would change the schedule used by courts to determine child support obligations and would be updated to reflect the realities of the current economy.  Many noncustodial parents would end up paying more.  Click here to read the details of the legislation.

— Three young, women journalists at Newsweek are taking a look at sexism in the workplace, comparing their experiences to those of a group of women who sued the magazine for gender discrimination in 1970.  Click here to find out what’s changed and what hasn’t.

Photo credit: Local Kicks

How about Cars for People Who Need Them But Can't Afford Them Day?

Today is Car Free Day, an international event celebrated every September 22nd that encourages people to leave their car at home.  Our region signed on last year and is participating again this year.

Car Free Day is intended to highlight transit, bicycling, walking and all alternative modes of transportation and take cars off the road so people can think about what their region, city or neighborhood might be like with fewer cars.

I want to propose a different type of car day: Cars for People Who Need Them but Can’t Afford to Buy, Insure or Maintain Them Day.

I know, I know – it’s not as catchy.

It’s not that I’m opposed to Car Free Day. 

I celebrate it nearly every day because I don’t own a car.  I am a big fan of public transportation (I commute by bus) and walking.  But I live and work in parts of town with rich public transportation options.

The frustrating truth is that many low-income residents in our region – especially low-income, women-headed families East of the River and in Prince George’s County – actually need more access to private transportation to be able to work and take care of their families.

According to Census data, nearly half (48%) of all non-elderly poor in the District lived in households without a car.  They participate in Car Free Day every day but not all willingly.

Car ownership programs for low-income families and individuals have demonstrated their effectiveness by producing significant income and asset gains for participants. Programs in our region, like Vehicles for Change, and national programs like Ways to Work and its local partners Northern Virginia Family Service (a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation) and Family Matters of Greater Washington need and deserve support.

I hope we can all agree that our region’s transportation challenges call for multifaceted solutions beyond just “more people should take public transportation.”

Gwen Rubinstein is a Program Officer at The Women’s Foundation.

We're celebrating $1.1 million in grantmaking this year!

As school lets out for the summer, there are many proud moments to celebrate, whether it’s a graduation milestone, a decent report card or the beginning of something new.

Here at The Women’s Foundation, we’re celebrating meeting an ambitious goal: maintaining our grantmaking as we close out the fiscal year!  With our most recent approval of grants, we hit our goal of granting $1.1 million to nonprofits working to improve the lives of women and girls in our region.

Our Stepping Stones grants support critical work in the areas of financial education, job training and early care and education, all of which provide the essential tools and support needed to assist low-income women and their families during these tough economic times.

Organizations like Community Tax Aid, Doorways for Women and Families, and Manna, Inc. will continue their work with low-income, women-headed families by providing them with the financial education and tax prep assistance needed to start them on a path of economic success.

SOME and Year Up are providing the job training that is essential to putting women on a career pathway.

Food stamps are an important work support and play a critical role in moving a women and her family out of poverty.  DC Hunger Solutions will continue its advocacy work to ensure that eligible women and their children are receiving food stamps.

Another key work support is access to quality child care. Montgomery College Foundation, Prince George’s Child Resource Center and WETA will work to improve the quality of early care and education.

Now more than ever, nonprofit organizations face a myriad of challenges and navigating complex systems can be overwhelming. The Human Services Coalition of Prince George’s County will work to improve public policies so they enhance, rather than hinder, the effectiveness of the work nonprofits do on behalf of low-income, women-headed families in Prince George’s County.

Through our Open Door Capacity Fund, we’re funding capacity building work that aims to shore up the long-term sustainability of organizations. This work is essential to ensuring that these organizations have the necessary resources to address key organizational and operational improvements, while maintaining the much-needed services they provide to our region’s at-risk women and girls.

Please take a moment to review our most recent grants and take pride knowing that together we’re making a difference in the lives of women and girls in our community.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is the Vice President, Programs at The Women’s Foundation.