By Bret Clark
Women may bring important traits to the Utah political scene, face barriers at entry that discourage many from running for political office.
Although most women involved in Utah politics say they have not been discriminated because of their sex, there are reasons more women do not become involved in the political process attribution.
Lieutenant Gov. Olene Walker said a reason women stay out of politics is the traditional stigma.
“There is a feeling we (women) do more mundane work, but the trend is changing,” she said.
Although there has been a stigma that women should not be closely involved in politics, Walker said things are changing and more women are being elected.
Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Orem, a homemaker turned legislator from Provo, said her biggest obstacle in coming to work in the Utah legislature has been leaving her family to do her duties as a state representative.
The Utah State Legislature runs for 45 days from Jan. 15-Mar.
Lockhart said she stays in Salt Lake City for most of that period, usually coming home on the weekends.
She leaves her three young children with their grandparents when she is away.
“It is very difficult for women to leave their families for six weeks, especially in the middle of the school year,” she said.
Rep. Margrette Dayton, R-Orem said she has an easier situation than Lockhart because her children are older, but she still has a hard time leaving her family when the legislature is in session.
However, in terms of discrimination, Dayton said in many ways male legislators are discriminated against more than female legislators.
Walker said that statistically women who run have a small advantage in winning than men who run. She said the problem is that more women do not run.
Dayton said the women in the legislature have a women’s caucus each year and leave out the men, but she thought if the men did the same thing many women would protest.
Dayton said the real test of a legislator is not whether they are a man or a woman, but how well they serve.
“Gender does not qualify you to serve, nor does it disqualify you. It’s all about whether you are willing to serve,” Dayton said.
Women are important to the legislature because they are part of the people. The legislature needs to be representative of the people, Dayton said.
The legislature would be deficient if they didn’t have rural people and urban people and men and women, she said.
“All types of people have different perspectives that are important to the political process,” Dayton said.
Lockhart said the women at the legislature are a valuable asset.
“I believe there are differences between men and women and I think it should be that way.” Lockhart said. “Women contribute to discussion in important ways. Women think about things differently.”
Lockhart said men tend to focus on a single issue while women are better at seeing the whole picture.
Utah was the first state to elect a woman to the state legislature.
“That gives us a heritage to live up to,” Walker said.