The name says it all: Kentucky Women in Action (KYWA). A band of resolute women is pushing women's issues to the forefront of the political scene. Only three months old, the nonpartisan organization is already steamrolling its way into the limelight of the Kentucky political arena.
The brainchild of Covington business owner and KYWA president Diane Brumback, the group's mission is "to empower women in society, the economy and politics." The overriding issue on KYWA's agenda is remedying the unequal representation that characterizes Kentucky politics.
"Kentucky is the third worst state for females to live in," says Brumback, citing 2002 statistics from the Institute for Women's Policy Research (visit www.iwpr.org.). "Women make up 53 percent of the population. Without us, a candidate can't expect victory. Why aren't we better represented? I knew right then and there (after learning this) what I was going to do."
The answer? Make politicians accountable.
"Once you understand the political arena, you understand what it takes to make changes," she says. "They need to talk specifics and then have a plan of action. They're so busy ducking from their opponents' shots, they've forgotten about the people who vote for them. The candidate who can personalize the agenda will get people to the polls."
Kentucky has the third lowest level of female political participation in the nation, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Consequently, it also ranks in the bottom 10 states for female representation, as well as in the bottom third of the United States for percent of college-educated women and rate of female labor force participation.
When Brumback wanted to establish a retail space for her business, Encore Gift Designs, last month, she found that few incentives are offered for female and minority entrepreneurs. She says this is just one example of how limiting politics can be in everyday life.
"Politics affect absolutely everything in my life," Brumback says. "I step outside my car onto a public parking lot — I'm in politics. The elections determine the future of Kentucky for years to come, and I couldn't stand idly by and not have a voice."
It seems this frustration and passion for change is widespread, as more than 50 people have contacted the organization about getting involved or starting affiliates in far-flung parts of the state.
"The growth has been great," says Leslie Connors, KYWA secretary. "I think (women's issues) is a topic that hasn't been talked about before. Some of these statistics about women in Kentucky just came out, and I think they surprised and mobilized people."
The group has even caught the attention of statewide politicians such as Linda Greenwell and Crit Luallen, who are running for state auditor. It's no surprise then that KYWA is being trumpeted by some political minds as "the hottest thing to hit Kentucky," Brumback admits with a smile.
"People are thirsty for this," she says. "They don't quite have the confidence to step up and do this right now, but they won't be alone. We're going to empower them."
Between monthly meetings, members exchange ideas and flesh out particulars through a slew of nonstop e-mails. Plans are in the making to provide seminars for aspiring politicians and to endorse candidates who embody the KYWA mission of advancing equality for women.
Still, the group believes the hotbed for change lies in education. Connors recalls times at the voting booth when women would turn to their husbands and ask which candidates they were supposed to vote for.
"Personally, I like the education part of our mission," Connors says. "I would like to see more women voting their conscience. I hate the apathy. We're lucky to be able to vote, and that's why it is important to educate voters."
Brumback is quick to note that men are a necessary part of the equation for KYWA.
"We are striving for equality in every area, so we want to make sure that we have that same balance in this organization," she says. "Lots of males are in elected positions. We don't want to be exclusive, because that's why we came together — we were being excluded."
This is also the reason that KYWA is nonpartisan — the status of females in Kentucky isn't better in either party.
"What I like best about KYWA is that we are all concerned with the primitive state of politics, not only in Kentucky but throughout our nation," says Ellen Deaton, a KYWA member. "Many of us are educated, ambitious, organized and aggressive enough that we believe we can make a difference. It's a very powerful force. How can I not be involved?"
Brumback, who had been developing the skeleton for the group for almost a year before its first meeting, is pleased with KYWA's progress.
"My hope is that those in attendance have fun, because then you'll come back," she says. "But we're also very serious. This group will have a tremendous impact on every single person. We're going to be watched and scrutinized. It's not all fun and games, but we're not here to make people happy; we're here to take care of the residents of Kentucky."
For more information on Kentucky Women in Action, contact Diane Brumback at 859-581-4912 or [email protected]. KYWA's next meeting is at 7 p.m. Aug.21.