Educate, recruit, fund - 3 steps for women's political empowerment

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Picture of Meghan Milloy
Meghan Milloy

Co-Founder Republican Women for Progress, 2017 North American Young Leader

Meghan Milloy is Co-Founder Republican Women for Progress and EYL40 Young Leader

When we started Republican Women for Progress in early 2017, we did so under the belief that if more women were involved in Republican politics and Republican leadership, Donald Trump never would have been our party’s nominee, and he certainly would not have been elected President.

A year later, we are faced with an incredible irony: On one hand, Donald Trump’s presidency is inspiring so many women to run for office and participate in political conversation and activities; but, at the same time, his policy agenda and rhetoric are setting women back by leaps and bounds. As we wade through what are sure to be a murky few years for moderate Republicans, especially moderate Republican women like us, our focus should be on fanning the flames of the former in an effort to combat the latter.

Probably the most frequent conversation we’ve had as we talk to candidates and potential candidates around the country is about how men and women approach candidacy completely differently.

Donald Trump’s policy agenda and rhetoric are setting women back by leaps and bounds

When men are deciding to run, more often than not their first question is, “Can I win?” Women, on the other hand, first ask, “How will this impact my family, friends, career, life?”

It is not difficult to recognise the direct correlation between women’s strength as coalition and community builders and their hesitancy to abandon the communities they have built ‒ whether family, office, church, or the like ‒ to throw their hat into an election that they may very well lose. These traits are hugely beneficial assets once women are in office, but they tend to become impediments to actually running for office.

There is so much that can be done to empower women to enter politics around the world, but there are three main areas that can have the most immediate impact: education, recruitment and funding.

Women candidates and non-candidates alike can always use more policy education, and if they tell you otherwise, they are lying. The most valuable asset for a woman that wants to be involved in politics is a deep understanding of the policy concerns affecting her community. Whether that means knowing everything there is to know about national healthcare or fully understanding the ins and outs of a water project in a rural county, to engage in politics effectively, women must be able to communicate effectively. Even for women that don’t want to run for office but that want to be more involved in political activism or just political discussions in their social groups, the best tool a woman can offer is a knowledge base to back up any political or policy opinions she presents.

As Republican Women for Progress, policy education has been our top priority. Democrats have been so good for so long at offering free policy training programmes, specifically to women, at all levels. Republicans have not, and that has set back female representation within the Republican party. Once women are equally equipped to engage in the policy conversation, the dialogue will shift dramatically.

It is often said that men ask to run for office and women have to be asked to run. That is not far from the truth, as discussed above.

Another thing Democrats have been good at and Republicans have been bad at is recruiting women at all levels to create a pipeline of strong female candidates starting at the local and state level and working their way up to the national stage. Especially in the era of Trump, there are so many brilliant women who want to run for office but just don’t know exactly how to get started. Sometimes all it takes is a non-profit group like ours to tell them that we believe they should run for office and work through their concerns. There are plenty of good candidates out there; we just have to find them.

There is so much that can be done to empower women to enter politics around the world

Last but not least, to empower women, their campaigns and the programmes supporting them have to have adequate finances to operate. Another thing we have found in talking to candidates is that women really don’t like asking people for money – even if it is to support their own campaign or their own political group. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village of likeminded donors to really affect the change we want to see in the world.

It may not be the easiest of conversations to have, but women have to stand up to ask for people’s support – both financially and not – to enter the political stage. And it should be a priority for outside groups to specifically focus on women running for office and help make those conversations easier to have.

We have learned a lot since Trump’s election, and we still have a lot to learn. To be sure, there is plenty to criticise with this administration, but the silver lining of it all is that women of all walks of life are more engaged in politics than ever. So long as we can keep that spark alive by educating, recruiting, and funding effectively, we will turn a new page of women’s empowerment and involvement in the years to come – also beyond the United States.

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