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Another View -- Tanna Clews: We need more women on the ballot

September 13. 2017 11:53PM

Last month, the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation released the latest installment of our Gender Matter series, an edition on women and politics.

Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or one of New Hampshire’s many independent voters, you’ll want to take a look.

It’s been nearly a century since the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote. Since then American women have fallen far short of achieving equal representation in Congress or in state legislatures across the country.

Women hold just 19.6 percent of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress, and around the country, only 25 percent of state legislative seats are held by women.

When it comes to electing women, New Hampshire has had some notable successes. In 1999, we were the first state to have a female governor, Senate president, and speaker of the House at the same time. In 2008, we elected a majority-women state Senate. Four years later, we were the first state in the country to send an all-female delegation to Congress.

Despite this impressive list of firsts, New Hampshire still has a long way to go. There are only 117 women in New Hampshire’s 400-member House of Representatives. Seven of 24 state senators are women. That amounts to a Legislature in which women occupy less than a third of the seats.

When women run for office, they are just as likely to win as men. The problem is that women are significantly less likely to run in the first place, creating a massive gender gap in political ambition.

Experts cite many reasons for this gap, but two stand out: women feel less qualified to run than men despite having similar education and experience, and women are less likely than men to receive positive encouragement to run for office.

The New Hampshire Women’s Foundation wants to knock down these barriers, and this fall we’re launching our Women Run! program to increase New Hampshire women’s political participation.

We’ve partnered with Vote Run Lead and She Should Run, two national nonpartisan organizations committed to increasing the number of women running for office, to provide training, education, community, and mentorship to New Hampshire women thinking about or planning to run for elected office. We’re kicking off our Women Run! program on Sept. 23, at Manchester Community College, with a day-long Vote Run Lead training for women planning to run for office in 2017 or 2018.

We’ll also host a series of community conversations across New Hampshire, talking with local women about the value they can bring to local government. In partnership with She Should Run, participants will engage with current and former local leaders about their experiences running for and serving in municipal office.

Women will hear directly from their own friends and neighbors about how to begin thinking about elected office and how to fit public service into their already busy lives. We want New Hampshire women to know that they have the background and skills to run for city council or school board or to seek an appointment to a local commission.

We believe women’s representation in government matters. Women make up half the Granite State’s population, and they out-register and out-vote men. It’s common sense that 50 percent of our elected officials — regardless of party — should be women. It’s past time to ensure that women feel ready to run. The New Hampshire Women’s Foundation is committed to helping build pathways to elected office for Granite State women, including transgender women and women of color. If you’re a woman who is ready to step up and serve your community, we want to help get your name on the ballot.

Tanna Clews is CEO of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation.

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