Jan Perry. Women, Politics and Power

 Business Insider did a study in 2015 ranking the top 25 countries where women hold the most power. America didn’t make the list. 

According to Apolitical Group, of the top 10 countries around the world, where women are represented in the top echelons of power, four are from Latin America (Bolivia #2, Cuba #3, Nicaragua #5, Mexico #7)

No country has a higher proportion of female government ministers than Finland. 63% of high ranking politicians are women, a female-to-male ratio of 1.67.

In Iceland, women hold 44% of the government minister positions and have also led the country for 20 of the past 50 years. 

44% of Italy's ministerial positions are held by female politicians, the 10th highest proportion globally. 

In Mozambique, 40% of politicians sitting in the country's Assembly of the Republic are women. It also had a female head of state, prime minister Luisa Diogo, for six years between 2004 and 2010.

Yet in America women hold only 19.4% of the seats in congress and we all saw what happened when a highly qualified woman decided to run for the presidency. Her lack of purity was Trumped by a man with no political experience, who had a business practice that considered not paying his illegal immigrant workers a winning strategy and who harbored cringe-worthy opinions of women.   

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles, one of the most important international cities in the world, there are currently only two women in City Council.

Apr18Jan2Jan Perry sat on the Los Angeles City Council from 2001 to 2013 representing the 9th District.  She also served as President Pro Tempore. She is currently General Manager of the Los Angeles Economic & Workforce Development Department (EWDD), leading an agency of 180 employees. Mayor Eric Garcetti selected Ms. Perry to run EWDD shortly after his election in July 2013. TNN approached Jan Perry, who kindly agreed to a sit down for a discussion about women, power and politics.  

TNN:So I wanted to talk to you because of your long history of community service, engaging the community in significant ways and gaining power at City Hall. You’ve been elected three times and been up there in the highest echelons of political power in Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the world.   So, I think I want to start with: what is power? Not just political power, but power in general?

Jan Perry:  I think power is the ability to bring resources or wield influence over people and places. You can make people's lives better; you can help put people's lives on a path that is positive rather than negative.

TNN:So power would be the ability to influence?

JP:  By bringing resources to a community.  For instance, take infrastructure. If you fix every single park and build new parks, especially if you're in an area where it's very dense and there's not a lot of open space, you can give people relief; bring them respite.  So that's a form of wielding power.

TNN:I think a lot of women feel uncomfortable with owning their power.  I'd be curious to know when you began to recognize that you had power. At what point did you go, "I have some power." 

JP:    As a small girl I'd ask my parents questions like, "Why are people having problems? Why are they suffering? Why doesn't someone help them?" And so when I was able to start helping people with resources, and I could see their lives begin to change, it was then that I realized that I actually had some power to do something substantive. 

TNN:But what was that like? Did you ever have an issue feeling uncomfortable with it?

JP:   No, it was never an issue for me. I feel normal asking people to vote for me.  You're supposed to ask for people's support, just not assume that you'll get it.  You need to connect with them on some level, so that they know something of you, you know something of them and hopefully you resonate with each other, and they feel they're supporting someone who will embrace their issues and listen to them.

TNN:Where did you get this natural confidence to lead?

JP:   Well, my parents were both very active in civil rights, and  voter registration, and fair housing, and we very rarely had babysitters. My sisters and I, especially my younger sister and I, always went to meetings with them. The adults would be sitting down and discussing issues while we brought them food and drink and handed out fliers and papers while listening and observing. 

TNN:   It sounds like you were a natural because of your background and your inclinations. Yet when we look around we don't see a lot of women running for office here. 

JP:   Politics has changed a lot, and you have to look deeply to find the gratification in it for it to be a fulfilling vocation. 

TNN:  In what ways has it changed? 

JP:  When I first started out, people came from the community and began at the local level like maybe the school board, community college board, or the city council.  They had continuous and very heavy contact with the constituents. Every day was problem solving day as people knew how to find their local elected officials and talk to them. They still want to talk to them but now representatives and the community have to work harder than they used to in order to be connected. 

TNN:But it seems to have always been difficult for women to run or get elected in Los Angeles. 

JP:   Well, first of all, it costs money to get elected. Women have to establish their own networks for fundraising which may require different strategies than men have used.  

TNN:Why is that more difficult for women? 

JP:   I don't know that it's necessarily more difficult for women, but it's part of the political process. If you're new to politics, or if you're looking into politics and you think, "I want to help people, I want to do all these great things. I have great ideas," you run into this wall of  "Now, I have to sit on the phone eight hours a day and basically ask people to give me money." 

TNN:   I also wonder if there is something else about political power that's uncomfortable for women?  The kind of game playing that’s demanded.   

JP:   Well, I think when you're in elected office you have a duty to be responsible and present yourself in a professional manner.  You should be consistent and have your words match your deeds. That's the wise use of power. I don't think you need to hold back on who you are.  People elected you for a reason, and hopefully they chose you because you presented yourself in a way that makes you shine. But there's an element of conflict in this process that does not go away.  It is a competition, unless you run unchallenged. 

TNN:  People are going to push back at you. 

JP:   Or try to intimidate or marginalize you. 

TNN:  The pushback women experience seems to be more challenging. 

JP:   Well, you've had many battles. As a journalist you take on controversy and people don't necessarily like that. In both of our professions we step into an arena that has the potential for conflict, and we knew that going into it, and we still stepped in.  I wasn't going to be a woman who regretted my decisions so I always ran everything through a filter of, "Would it be beneficial or detrimental to my constituents?" And so that was my filter. 

TNN:   Do you ever get emotional? Reactive?  Do women have that side where they'll feel more easily than men feel and respond emotionally? 

JP:  Well, I know I've certainly responded to happiness and anger and all the emotions many times during those 12 years. Still do. Especially if I see people getting hurt, or I know that their futures have been compromised, I get very upset. I still do. I mean, that's normal. If you're invested and connected. It's not just a job. 

TNN:   I keep going back to women running and gaining political power and the fact that there are only two women on the city council. Is there anything you think that needs to change? 

JP:   Well, okay, here's one thing to remember when you run. You need a support system.  I remember when I ran and my daughter was young, and I had to have childcare, and I needed help. When men run, they may have a spouse who is not in office who can provide that support. You've got to have some system in place because women nine times out of 10 are running the show at home, too. If you don't have that support, running for office can be something you'd like to do but find difficult to juggle. You can't shy away from the reality of that. 

There is never an easy time to run for office.  Women across our country are being encouraged to run and are running in record numbers. If you want to serve you will find your path...then follow it. 


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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