In compliance with a request by the U.S. State Department, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero traveled to Turkey in January to speak on the importance of the involvement of women in politics and public life. On Thursday, she did the same on UT's campus.
In the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy's Toyota Auditorium, Rogero, alongside experts on female representation in politics, discussed the role of women in Congress and politics and specific statistics on voting and female leaders on an international scale.
The event, which garnered an audience of more than 60 students and Knoxville residents, began with an introduction by Rogero, who explained her involvement in politics. She outlined her decision to be a part of the Knox County Commission, how she ran for mayor in 2003 and lost to Bill Haslam and then her successful race in 2011, which made her the first female mayor in any of Tennessee's four largest cities: Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville.
"At first being a woman wasn't an issue, and then everyone talked about the first woman mayor to be elected of the big four in Tennessee," Rogero said. "But during the campaign that wasn't a topic much, it was just who was the best candidate."
To close her introduction, Rogero shared a story about Lindy Boggs, who passed away last year at the age of 97 and was the first female from Louisiana appointed to Congress. After her husband passed, Boggs took his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives before later winning her own campaign. During her time as a legislator, Boggs pushed forward the 1972 decision to allow females to take out mortgages without a male co-signer.
"You would think that the guys would say, who cares, but they didn't even think about that," Rogero said. "That's why women have to be at the table. Some guys just don't think about it, just like there are issues with men that women just don't think about.
"We're half of the world, right? We have to be there, just like we need diversity and faith and race and backgrounds. We need our government to reflect the diversity of our community."
Melanie Hughes of the University of Pittsburgh was the second to speak, enlisting the aid of Microsoft PowerPoint graphs to emphasize how female involvement in politics is low but slowly rising in many countries across the globe. Rwanda and Sweden, Hughes noted, have high female involvement, but these countries vote for political parties rather than individual candidates. This, Hughes said, shows to be more effective in representing women.
"Research shows that those kinds of countries have more women in their national legislatures," Hughes said.
The third to speak in the roundtable, Sarah Fulton of Texas A&M University, spoke on gender and congressional patterns and how gender affects voter outcomes and candidate's willingness to run. Fulton said that women are more likely to withdraw from a seemingly-doomed campaign than men are, describing women as "risk-averse."
Fulton added, however, that "when women do run they do as well as men and will wait to run until they are confident."
"Voters relate to competence, integrity, public speaking ability... these are things voters look for in their candidates," Fulton said. "Female candidates have more politically relevant qualities."
Leslie Schwindt-Bayer of Rice University spoke next, presenting on the "potential consequence of having women in office, specifically on levels of corruption with women in politics." Outlining a decision in Mexico to hire an all-female squad of traffic police to reduce the number of bribes that were taking place, Schwindt-Bayer said that when the new squad was implemented, women were still taking bribes. Although "people tend to think that women are going to be less corrupt than men," she said research shows that men and women are about equal when the context shows that there is less of a risk of being caught.
"The reason women are less corrupt than men in these contextual situations is because they are more risk-averse than men," Schwindt-Bayer said. "We also see that the consequences for women, because they're political new comers, tend to be much stronger when they do something wrong than what it may be for men."
Tracy Osbourn, from the University of Iowa, spoke on female involvement in state legislation. Osbourn discussed the positive outcomes of women running for state legislature in terms of policies women can unite around — like funding for women's health issues — parties pushing the female policy agenda and the polarization of parties.
Jana Morgan, a UT political science professor, was the last of the group to speak.
Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador are all lead by females, which Morgan said proves there have been "lots of gains in women's presence, however it may not have staying power." Since men support male leaders and party systems are not mobilized around women's issues, she said, female leadership may be passing.
"Women think men cannot identify ways to support female rights, while men tend to look past gender and focus more on policy points when voting for a candidate," Morgan said.
James Brandon Hamilton, senior in political science, said he was impressed with how the panelists discussed women's political issues in such depth.
"I think that it's really important for the politically active segments of our campus and population to urge female students to be engaged politically, not only as candidates, but also as supporters of campaigns," he said, "and not only fight but insist to have a voice in politics not only in municipal government but also on campus."
Although women hold just 18 percent of the seats in Congress and are underrepresented across the globe, female involvement in politics is higher today than ever before. This involvement, Rogero said, is important to encourage.
"Not enough (women) get on the ballot," Rogero said. "You have to be willing to run and lose and then run again. You have to get your name on there, and those who are active in the community have to find a balance with family, jobs, but it can be done.
"My responsibility to others is to encourage women to run."