Esther Kiaaina
Esther Kiaaina

BY ESTER KIAANA – As the U.S. House and Senate races in Hawaii continue to take shape, it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the legislative attacks across the country against the right of women to make their own reproductive choices.

These cringe-worthy attacks have been turning the airwaves into toxic waste sites for bills that propose to do everything from repeal abortion rights, to limit women’s access to birth control, to insert governmental control into women’s bodies.

The degree to which state and federal lawmakers have decided to take away the rights of women to make their own reproductive choices and control what happens to their own bodies has reached an intolerable level.

Women who are against the actions of these lawmakers have to be more vigilant about reminding government that it must serve the people, not take away the rights of people.

The point is not the enormous and negative impact on the ability of women to protect their own health, from being able to access basic health services to protecting their lives in the cases of unsafe pregnancies; instead, it’s what doing nothing about this implies.

Put another way, it’s really not about what’s happening to women’s rights; it’s more about what we are going to do about it.  From my perspective, we must stop the legislative attacks on women’s reproductive rights.  And we can begin by electing more women to public office.

This is a necessary first step towards blocking political agendas that can violate the rights of women, who make up more than half of the nation’s entire population.

Already, women are playing significant roles in boardrooms and executive suites due largely to the eagerness of talent-hungry employers to appear more female friendly. But judging by their sheer numbers, women still have a long way to go in the corridors of political power.

In Congress, for instance, women make up only about 17 percent of the lawmakers.

At the same time, a woman has never been elected president or vice president of the United States. On top of that, the national average for the number of women who hold public office in state governments fell to 23.6 percent in 2011, from 24.5 percent a year earlier.

In Hawaii, that figure stands at 35.5 percent, which is significantly above the national average. But there is no reason why we cannot bump that figure even higher.

From making peace to crafting economic policy in the midst of economic uncertainty, women have been providing solid evidence every day that their increased representation in leadership positions correlates directly with positive results.

Lack of gender diversity in public office hinders political progress and our efforts to look beyond the status quo and question traditional ways of doing things or trying new ideas.

While it may be unfair to generalize entirely across gender lines, it is equally vital that we create concrete opportunities for women to gain political standing that would make them formidable contenders in seats in Congress and other public offices.

With good women candidates, hard work and community involvement, we can increase the political clout of women.  Just as important, we can defend the great strides that have been made in terms of opening minds that have been closed.

Above all, we can provide a full-fledged political asset for our stance against unfortunate attempts to roll back women’s rights with appalling and intrusive bills that can adversely affect our health, lives and rights.

If ever there was a time to seize the moment and elect more woman candidates, it is now.

Esther Kiaaina is seeking the Democratic nomination for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District seat