In the most recent episode of Politico’s podcast Women Rule, Mayors Jennifer Roberts, Catherine Pugh and Jackie Biskupski (of Charlotte, Baltimore, and Salt Lake City, respectively) met to talk about the ways that labeling policy of importance to their constituents as “women’s issues” is holding back progress.
Politico reports that in the discussion with host Carrie Budoff Brown, the Mayors took umbrage with the fact that reproductive rights and education are considered issues pertaining only to women, and thus considered of less importance than their cities’ other needs. It’s a sad reality that policy which affects everybody is given less weight when defined as concerning “women.” It sounds like these politicians have to constantly break down such delineations if they don’t want important issues to be ignored:
“Everybody cares about schools – just because more teachers are women doesn’t make it a women’s issue,” Roberts said. “And everybody cares about health care. And women’s health care.”
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who also joined in the Women Rule interview, added: “It’s not just our issue. It’s everybody’s issue.”
Mayor Pugh is the third consecutive black woman to serve as mayor in Baltimore, which she said has aided her at work:
“When women chose to lead in Baltimore, it’s okay because we’ve seen it,” Pugh says. “There’s not a question of whether a woman can lead or does she have the capacity or can she galvanize supporters and can she be heard when she speaks — because we’ve had a long history of women in position.”
Pugh was elected to office in 2016, but served Baltimore as the Maryland State Senator Majority Leader during protests over the death of Freddie Gray. Charlotte and Salt Lake City have also faced community outrage over police violence, and Roberts told Brown that she deliberately reached out to other women mayors while navigating her response:
“I reached out to some men as well,” the Charlotte mayor said. “But I knew that they wouldn’t understand how hard it is to walk that fine line between looking like you’re in charge, but also having to work with the police and the police chief and having to understand the community disruption, which had been building across the nation.”
Pugh also identified some of the challenges women face in politics—mainly that there aren’t enough women in politics. For instance, she shared an anecdote about going to a Women’s Leadership Workshop at the US Conference of Mayors in Miami and finding that a man was speaking at the podium. Biskupski replied that at the same conference, she noticed the women’s organization also framed its work as “women’s issues,” which annoyed her because she says “there is nothing about the work I’m doing that is women’s issues.”
All the mayors urged women considering a career in politics to start right away, saying there’s never a right time, and they even urged women to delay having kids until they’re in office. They observed that their male contemporaries got involved in their mid-to-late 20s.
“You need to set an example for your own children or your siblings’ children or your friends’ children,” said Biskupski, “That women should not wait. That the time is right, that there is never a perfect time.”