Alaska Women Ascend will empower women to run for public office
BY CAMPBELL SMALL
According to a report from Center for Effective Law Making, created by Professors Jennifer L.Lawless and Richard L. Fox in 2021, men were 18% more likely to consider running for office than women. Two main themes reflected in their report are that women on average are less likely to think that they are qualified to hold office in comparison to men, and they are less likely to be told by others that they are a good candidate when compared to men. These factors lead women to be less ambitious in their pursuit to run for office, causing the “ambition gap.”
Some may wonder why this problem matters. According to Swanee Hunt, a former diplomat and founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School, she notes that when women hold public office: there is a decrease in the conflict between countries, a decrease in levels of corruption, there is an increase in economic competitiveness, and an increase in socially conscious legislation. The world we are living in is filled with conflict, polarization, and a need for change. If data suggests that women will improve these things, then electing them makes sense.
One organization dedicated to increasing the number of women in governance is Alaska Women Ascend (AWA) whose mission is to train and empower women from diverse communities to run for office. To better understand the organization, I interviewed Kay Brown, the current vice chair of the organization.
According to Brown, the idea for this project started when her friends started discussing how to get more progressive women into office after the 2016 presidential election. They were aware that in Alaska the number of women in the legislature isn’t proportional to the number of men. They were aware of the problem and were motivated to make change. From these conversations came the idea to create what would become Alaska Women Ascend, a training program to guide progressive women on how to run for office.
The program today consists of eight four-hour training sessions. These are taught by women who are leaders in politics often: campaign professionals, elected officials, and managers. These professionals volunteer their time because they believe in this mission and the need for change. The program is open to non-male identifying individuals who are: pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ+ rights, pro-union, anti-racist, pro-racial justice, and environmentally minded. In an effort to be inclusive, the organization has recently started conducting outreach through civic and community organizations, and events. The training focuses on the fundamentals of running for office including public speaking, campaign design, developing a message, and working with the media.
This organization is attempting to undo the messaging that women receive that suggests that they shouldn’t run for office, and replace it with knowledge that proves to them that they are qualified to do the job. This is working, according to the AWA website after completing the training, 16 women were elected to a variety of positions such as senator, congresswoman, and city council. Many more have tried to run for office. This organization has made a dent, they have changed the narrative, and are giving women in Alaska confidence they need to run for office. If you would like to get more information or are interested in participating in their program, visit www.akwomenascend.org
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