CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Why aren't more West Virginia women running for political office? Nationally, women are slowly increasing the number of elected offices they hold in their state governments; but in West Virginia, the number has not increased in over 20 years. It remains at 16.4 percent.
"Only one woman is serving in West Virginia's state senate, the lowest number of women serving there since 1979," according to the Center for American Women & Politics at Rutgers University.
Women's participation is no higher at the county and municipal levels of politics: No woman serves on the Kanawha County Commission. The Charleston City Council has five women serving out of a total of 27 members, and not one of the three largest cities in the state has a woman mayor.
What are the reasons for this imbalance in political office-holding between women and men in West Virginia? Is it lack of money, or lack of interest?
First, a woman needs to decide to run for office, a decision she may not make if she isn't educated about politics early in life. Running Start, an organization dedicated to bringing young women to politics has the emphasis on "young" because many politicians choose their career path before the age of 35. Surprisingly, many women who do run for office are recruited, and have not independently decided to enter a race.
Seeking political office requires a financial commitment. Many women in West Virginia do not possess, or have access to the kind of money necessary to win a political race. West Virginia women suffer from the third-worst gender gap in wages in the nation -- she earns an annual $29,000 to his $42,000 ("Status of Women & Girls in WV," 2013). Although women in the state are earning more bachelor's degrees and starting more businesses, they are still playing catch-up with men in income, and consequently, in politics too.
And politics can be a "blood sport," cruel and brutal to office seekers, and sometimes to their families and friends as well. Running for elected office may have limited appeal to a young woman who values collaboration over conflict in achieving her career goals.
U.S. Representative Shelly Moore Capito's opinion of women serving in Congress appears on the Center for American Women & Politics' website: "What I find with my female members of Congress is that we tend to work very hard. While we're very focused, we can also multitask better ... it would be an interesting experiment, and also probably very successful if we took over the reins of leadership at all levels and moved it forward. Because we have a tendency to cut through the B.S. a lot better than guys do."
Clarkson lives in Charleston.