The platform for women who want to speak out, effect change, and become leaders for the next generation of women and girls has never been bigger. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have propelled hundreds of women into the spotlight whose voices needed to be heard. Women across the country are answering the call to be the change they want to see in their communities, their workplaces, and within their government.
In the last year, hundreds of women running for public office have been featured and highlighted nationwide. After the 2016 election cycle and 2017’s special elections, the number of women in Congress is at an all-time high. This is a welcome change in Washington, but this all-time “high” is still exceedingly low. Women still make up less than 20 percent of Congress and the gender gap in Washington is far from being closed. It is time that Congress, and its agenda, adequately reflect the population it represents.
That’s why I started the Women2Women Conversations Tour. Since then, with the leadership of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif.; Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.; Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind.; and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; we have traveled nationwide to speak directly with women about the issues that matter most to them.
During our tour stops, we were reminded by local moms, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and business owners that every issue is a woman’s issue. Strengthening our economy; ensuring that small businesses can thrive and create jobs; keeping our country safe from terrorism; and building better roads, bridges, and transportation systems are women’s issues. Training and equipping the next generation of workers, improving access to healthcare and addressing health crises like opioid abuse and the need for more mental health services are women’s issues.
This varied interest and concern from women voters was on full display in the first focus group of 2018 that I hosted in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this month. In partnership with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the Society for Human Resources Management, we spoke with local women about what’s keeping them up at night. We will be returning to Charlotte to kick off the Women2Women Tour on March 8, International Women’s Day, and to discuss the issues highlighted in the focus group with a panel of local women leaders.
Listening to our focus group participants, I heard women discussing the issues that keep them up at night. Finding affordable healthcare for themselves and their children, caring for aging parents, and ensuring their children have access to good education were among the top topics discussed that afternoon in Charlotte.
Not surprisingly, these concerns don’t stop at the Charlotte city limits.
In the last full week of January, we commissioned a poll of 800 registered voters across eight key suburban districts from coast to coast. We found that among those polled, the main concerns were accessing adequate health services and being able to afford care. About 77 percent of participants said the cost of healthcare was the single most worrisome issue. Also included was access to mental health services, as well as treatment and funding for the opioid crisis that claims nearly 100 American lives every single day.
But when broken down by gender, a significantly greater percentage of women voiced concern about the access and affordability issues facing them and their families. This increase in concern should not be surprising, considering that among women who work and have children under the age of 18, 94 percent make healthcare decisions for themselves and their families.
If Republicans in Congress want to keep their majority, a commitment to addressing these issues has to be at the forefront of their agenda. In a year that has consistently seen women in the driver's seat of the national discussion, it’s imperative that we continue to influence the policy making in the halls of Congress.
Sarah Chamberlain is the President and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership and the founder of the Women2Women Conversations Tour.
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