Women’s Groups Will Host Summit Meeting Before D.N.C.

March 12, 2020

The New York Times: Women’s Groups Will Host Summit Meeting Before D.N.C.
By Lisa Lerer

WASHINGTON — A coalition of the country’s most prominent women’s advocacy groups will host a meeting of top female organizers, activists and officials on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July, part of an effort to raise the influence of female political leaders and voters who make up the backbone of the party.

The hosts of the event include diverse organizations, including abortion rights groups like Naral Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, political groups that foster the participation of women of color in politics and Emily’s List, one of the country’s oldest organizations funding women in politics.

The meeting is the first such event scheduled around a national party convention, say the organizers, and aims to pressure the party to place greater focus on issues affecting American women, including equal pay, sexual harassment, paid family leave, access to abortion, birth control and child care.

Female voters, activists and candidates have powered the Democratic Party’s gains during the Trump era, both running for office and voting for the party in record numbers in recent years. Yet, a female candidate failed to crack the top echelons of the presidential race. Only one of the six women running in the primaries remained a viable contender until Super Tuesday. None of the female candidates won a single state.

They also could not count on backing from female voters. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who dropped out last week, ranked third among female voters in Super Tuesday contests, losing to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders by more than 10 percentage points.

The losses of major female candidates has sparked an aggressive push for a woman on the ticket as vice president, as well as a robust discussion within some quarters of the party over how to better support female candidates at the highest levels.

“It felt important to do something that brought women’s groups together,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion rights organization Naral Pro-Choice America, a host of the event. “We’re all coming to grips with the fact that there is some deep-seated stuff we have to deal with as a country in order to not just elect a woman but create policy that is centered around women.”

A record number of women serve in Congress, yet female candidates still struggle to win more executive posts like governor or president. Republican women face an even larger gender gap: Of the 37 women who won House seats in 2018, only two were Republicans.

“Voters are still somewhat reluctant to see women in executive posts, and the challenge is both a likability competition and a competence component,” said Gov. Kate Brown, the first female governor of Oregon elected in more than two decades.

For black, Asian, Native American and Latino women, some of the most reliably Democratic voters, the numbers are even starker: Forty-seven of the 127 women serving in Congress in 2020 are women of color. The decision by Senator Kamala Harris of California to drop out of the race before the first round of voting sparked a wave of frustration from some black female activists and politicians over their political standing in Democratic politics.

“Democrats need women of color, plain and simple. They need our votes, organizing, strategic insight and energy to mobilize voters to win in November,” said Aimee Allison, president of She the People, a political advocacy organization for women of color. “Now it’s time for the nominee and the entire Democratic establishment to back our leadership if they want to win.”

Leaders of the organizations hosting the summit say they also wanted to send a message to the party as reproductive rights issues make their way to a majority conservative Supreme Court.

Last week, the court heard its first sustained arguments over abortion since President Trump’s appointments of Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh shifted the court to the right. Next month, the justices will take up whether the Trump administration may allow employers to limit women’s access to free birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

While the organizers are planning for an in-person summit, they are exploring options for a virtual gathering should the spread of the coronavirus force the cancellation of events around the national convention. So far, officials at the Democratic National Committee, which is scheduled to take place from July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee, say there are no plans to reschedule the convention or move the proceedings online.

Ms. Hogue said the organizers were not planning a similar effort around the G.O.P. convention, arguing that the Republicans have little interest in issues of gender equality.

“We used to do that,” she said. “But now, we’ve just given up the ghost.”