The 2012 election is finally over, and Rachel’s Network congratulates the number of women that will be joining the ranks of the 113th Congress. It was a record-breaking year, with more women than ever running—and winning. A total of 98 women were elected to Congress—20 serving in the Senate and 78 in the House—making the total percentage of women in Congress 18.3 percent. At the state level, with the election of a woman to the South Carolina Senate, all 50 legislatures now have a woman serving in their chambers. While the country is still far from reaching gender parity, the strides women made in 2012 are worth celebrating.

Rachel’s Network is proud to have partnered for the past two years with The 2012 Project, a national, non-partisan campaign to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures. Rachel’s Network worked with The 2012 Project to identify women leaders in the environmental movement and enourage them to consider a run for office. We recruited 16 prospective candidates to The Project. Of these women, three filed to run for their state legislatures, with one in North Carolina and two in Ohio, but unfortunately all three were defeated. However, our outreach piqued interest among a large subset of women in the environmental community who opted to defer a potential candidacy, and one-third of those not running in 2012 have already expressed an interest in running in 2014 or 2016.

Our collaboration with The 2012 Project helped recruit women from fields largely underrepresented within policymaking bodies – including health, science and technology, energy, and the environment. Efforts like The 2012 Project contributed to a record-setting year for women’s participation in races for the U.S. House and Senate.

In addition to recruiting women to run for elected office at the state and national level, one of the most promising outcomes of The 2012 Project’s efforts is the proliferation of state-level coalitions uniting prospective candidates with training resources and mentorship. With 12 of these coalitions established over the past year, The Project has observed that the number of women running in those states has far surpassed previous records.

Mary Hughes, founder and director of The 2012 Project points to another valuable result of the campaign: the development of an infrastructure that links women’s organizations across the nation. Mary hopes to continue to collaborate with these like-minded organizations in the ongoing march toward parity.

According to recent research, women must make up approximately one-third of an agenda-setting body before they truly can begin to shape policy and make their presence felt in an institution. To help reach this tipping point, Mary emphasizes the importance of women pursuing open seats, where they consistently win 66 percent of the time.

We are pleased to have leveraged the collective power of our community to help launch this national movement.

For more information on women’s representation in Congress and their support of environmental causes, please see the 2011 Rachel’s Network report, When Women Lead: A Decade of Women’s Environmental Voting Records in Congress.

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