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Politics & Government

Number of Women in Elected Office in U.S. Expected to Increase this Year

The U.S. is ranked 71st in the world for the number of women in elected office. A Thursday afternoon panel at Duquesne University examined the role of women in politics and activism.

For the first time in 30 years the number of women in elected office dropped in 2010. The U.S. now ranks behind nations like Turkmenistan in terms of the number of women holding office. A panel of women, including Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, said there are efforts underway to try and improve that. It's a grand undertaking for Pennsylvania, which ranks in the bottom 10 in the nation in the number of women in office.

"We know that as of 2011 elections we have 38 counties in the state that do not have one woman on the county council, and that's pretty shocking, and that's a decrease from where we were before," said Dana Brown, executive director for the Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.

Beyond politics, the Duquesne panel also tackled activism and women's roles in society. It's part of Women's History Month. Panelists include Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughn, and Heather Arnet with the Women and Girls Foundation.

While the numbers of women in office has declined, Chatham's Dana Brown said signs point to women increasing their role in politics in the 2012 elections on the national level.

"2012, given that it is a year of redistricting, that generally yields new and open seats. While that may not be true in Pennsylvania because we're losing a Congressional seat, we know that in other states there are new opportunities and that women do particularly well in those open seat races," she said.

The overall goal of panels such as the one at Duquesne is to think about how policies affect women and children, and what women can do to help craft better policies, according to Michelle Gaffey, a graduate assistant in the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at Duquesne.