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Earlier this week I attended a panel discussion with an intriguing name, New Founding Mothers: Women’s Changing Path to Political Power. Sponsored by the New America Foundation, the panel included two women Members of Congress, as well as a political observer, journalists, and the head of a group supporting women running for office. Coming from the League, whose founding mothers were the suffragists, it was exciting to learn that some important changes may be underway to increase the number of women in elective office.
The launching point of the conversation was the fact that all of New Hampshire’s top political jobs (Governor and Congressional Delegation) are currently filled by women. This is a first in American history. The program for the event, based on an article for More magazine, began with an assessment of what made that possible, and then progressed to explore how the New Hampshire experience was similar to and different from that in other states. The consensus was that while the state structure in New Hampshire is unique (400 seats in their state assembly provide a good training ground!), other characteristics are not.
Panelists addressed both internal and external barriers to women’s political advancement. But the overall tone of the event was positive and hopeful. Despite the ongoing challenges for women of lack of self-confidence about running, difficulties with the “old boy” network in the parties and fundraising, and cultural pressures and expectations (especially for women with young children), the speakers highlighted the new ways that younger women, in particular, are moving into the political arena. The panelists highlighted the importance of a pipeline to engage women in politics and leadership roles, as well as the invaluable role of mentoring relationships with other women in politics who have gone before.
The event was informative and interesting and fun to attend, especially just a few weeks before the League’s 94th birthday. It was great to see how far women in politics have come, but it was also a good reminder of how far we have left to go.