BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — From the national and state levels to local government, statistics show women are underrepresented in public office.
“It sometimes feels lonely,” said Kathy Hochul, New York’s Lieutenant Governor. “It’s tough and women need to find other women who are running for office.”
Finding women holding positions isn’t easy. The United States ranks 95th in the world for women represented in office. Rwanda, Bolivia and Cuba lead the list; our country’s neighbors – Mexico and Canada, show better numbers as well.
While women make up 51% of America’s population, they only have 19% of the voice in Washington D.C.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Hochul. “I will do whatever I can to get people to consider a career in public service – young women – telling them it’s an opportunity to make a difference and to have a positive impact on people’s lives.”
The Lieutenant Governor’s interest in politics began in middle school. She spent several years working behind the scenes before she says she had the confidence to enter the arena herself.
“Confidence breeds more confidence,” said Hochul. “When you play the role, you have to walk and be confident in any setting.”
While the settings have changed for Hochul through the years, spending more than a decade on the Hamburg Town Council and now being Governor Andrew Cuomo’s right hand woman, Hochul says the comments and questions posed to her have always been different than the men in her field are receiving.
“People comment on clothes and hair and all and I ignore all of that; I really do,” said Hochul. “You just focus on the end game which is serving the community.”
At lower levels of government, like student government, young women in leadership positions say they’re being treated differently too.
“‘Oh you need to calm down or you’re being too dramatic’ or anything like that,” said Minahil Khan, the student body president at the University at Buffalo. “I think it kind of speaks to how society thinks about elected office and the gender they’re used to seeing.”
Khan is a senior and her interest in politics started freshman year; she began rising through the ranks, holding a Governor appointed leadership position her junior year before becoming the voice for UB’s students.
“I think just learning how to deal with a student body that is so large and diverse is such an invaluable experience,” said Khan.
Each year, she saw few women standing by her side.
“I think it’s just seeing yourself in that role,” said the senior who is heading to law school in the fall. “We all kind of grow up and imagine a very tall white man to be in elected office and sometimes how we look doesn’t match that.”
Khan says being the student body president has built her confidence. She feels women can hold and excel at these types elected leadership positions but they need support from everyone.
“I think it’s something that needs to be seen as a societal problem,” said Khan. “For too long I think it has been seen as a women’s right issue or female issue but everyone has a voice in making sure everybody is heard.”
Something the Lieutenant Governor agrees with and why she says she strives to be a role model for young women like Khan.
“The women who have made it, need to turn back, reach there and pull other young women. *