Citing the need for increased political participation by women, five local and national proponents of women's leadership urged an audience of Harvard undergraduates to challenge the "tyranny of gender imbalance" in American politics at the Kennedy School yesterday.
"Washington is still a man's town as far as power is concerned," said George Dean, founder of the grassroots organization 50/50 by 2000, at a panel discussion on women in politics sponsored by the Women's Leadership Project.
Dean, whose group works to increase the proportion of women serving in the federal government, cited the fact that women account for only 6 percent of the House of Representatives and 2 percent of the Senate.
"There is a great under-utilization of talent," he said, "and the time has come for change."
Panelists said female political leaders who aspire to bridge the political gender gap face unique challenges.
"Unlike men, women have to constantly prove that they are credible candidates," said Mimi Castaldi, membership director of EMILY'S LIST, an organization which raises funds for pro-choice Democratic women candidates.
"Culture is very different in terms of expectations [between men and women]," said Julie Peterson, a representative in Vermont's state legislature for the past eight years.
"Male politicians with children in the same age-group as mine did not get the same questions as I did," she said, referring to questions about how she balanced her legislative duties with her family responsibilities.
To overcome these special obstacles, political consultant Jan Preus said women must establish a supportive political network.
"Capability is not the question," said Dean. He urged his overwhelmingly female audience to find a "passion for equality" and utilize their skills to increase the political power of women.
The panel discussion was part of the Third Annual Women's Leadership Project Conference, a five-day event slated to culminate Wednesday, sponsored by Harvard College, Radcliffe, College, and the Institute of Politics.
The approximately 30 students who attended the discussion in Land Hall submitted applications to the Women's Leadership Project last spring.