West Jordan • Even if women choose to stay out of the workforce to take care of their children at home, they should get as much education as possible, says former Utah Gov. Olene Walker.
That's because a mother's education is the "best determiner" of their children's academic performance, Walker said Thursday during an International Women's Day observation sponsored by Soroptomist International of Salt Lake, a chapter of the worldwide organization for business and professional women.
Sworn into office on Nov. 5, 2003, shortly before her 73rd birthday, Walker was Utah's first and so far, only, female governor. A former Republican House lawmaker, she also served as the state's first and only female lieutenant governor. During all her time in elective politics, she made education a prime objective.
So it disturbs her, she said, to see Utah lawmakers fail year after year to allocate enough money to public education to lift the state off the bottom rungs of the nationwide per-pupil spending ladder.
Recently, she said, she spoke to a pro-education lawmaker who told her, "I can't make it through the caucuses and conventions if I make that [stand] known."
It's time, she said, for women to exercise their power at the caucus level instead of waiting to vote in November. "Most of the [election] decisions will be made next week in caucuses," she said. "We, as women, need to step up. We, as women, need to be greater advocates for what we believe in."
Approximately 100 women attended Thursday's lunch at Gardner Village to celebrate the 101st anniversary of International Women's Day.
But Walker's keynote speech was more about ambition and achievement than celebration. Walker pointed out that when she was elected to the House in 1980, she was one of just six women in the Legislature. By 2003, there were 23. She assumed the number of women in the Utah House and Senate would continue to grow.
"That has not happened," she said. Today, of the 104 Utah lawmakers, 17 are women 12 in the House and five in the Senate. "We have an obligation," she said, "to see that that changes."
Each year since 1911, International Women's Day has been observed around the world on March 8.