A Woman’s Place Is in Government

Robyn Hammontree
What if you’re the person for whom your community is waiting?

What if you’re the person for whom your community is waiting?

Hill Street Studios / DigitalVision via GettyImages

Where I live, in Alabama, our legislature is 14 percent women. That number is shocking, and living in this reality doesn’t just hurt women—it hurts everyone. There are so many issues our legislature doesn’t consider or fund simply because the problems do not impact them directly, or they can’t see how they do. We have one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the nation. The pay gap persists despite women being more likely to hold a Bachelor’s degree. Access to healthcare for women is limited if it’s attainable at all. According to a 2016 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Alabama ranks as the worst state in the South for women, with Ds and Fs in political participation, employment and earnings, work and family, poverty and opportunity, reproductive rights, and health and well-being. Yet, we’re still here, making up 52 percent of the population. How can women change all of this? By getting involved in the political process

Perhaps you’ve thought about this or felt its impacts, either in Alabama or where you live. You’ve complained or despaired about the state of women’s rights or the political sphere in general. You’ve justified your political inaction: you’re too busy, don’t know enough yet, or couldn’t possibly be qualified. You’ve brushed people off when they suggest you should come to a local meeting or run for office. You’ve made excuses for why you’re not the person for the job. What if you are?

What if you’re the person for whom your community is waiting? Studies show that while women are often more qualified than men to run for office, they need to be asked multiple times before they’ll consider it. That’s why I make it a regular habit to ask my friends if they’ve considered running—not because I think they’ll say yes right now. Instead, I’m hoping to plant a seed for the future we all so desperately need. Nothing will ever change unless women get involved—by volunteering, running for office, and taking political action in their communities. There are numerous programs designed to help women do this. Emerge, the program I completed, recruits, trains, and connects women who want to run for office, and the value of these programs cannot be overstated.

We have to stop waiting for someone else to save us. I look around Alabama, and I see so many women who have stopped waiting—who are fighting for important causes like racial equity, access to healthcare, justice for oppressed communities, and dignity for the poor. They inspire me every day to do better—to ask myself how I can better serve the people around me. The more I learn from them, the less it seems optional: I understand that this is the most important thing we can do with the time we’re given. In the past several years, I’ve used my graphic and instructional design experience to assist in campaigns. I’ve volunteered with my local party to host fundraisers. I’ve co-founded a community bail fund to combat the injustice of the cash bail system. None of these are things I could have imagined doing 10 years ago—because I didn’t know someone like me could help. Now, I understand that our political system desperately needs more women in it, and I feel an obligation to use whatever skills I can to change the political landscape so that our legislature looks more like our population. For that to happen, we need more women to volunteer, take political action in their communities, and run for office.

If you’re interested in running for office or are looking to serve your community, here are some tips to get involved:

  • Take an inventory of your skillset. What credentials, education, certification, work experience, or skills do you have that might allow you to help others? Don’t limit yourself here—list everything from your law degree to your social media savvy to your graphic design experience.
  • Consider the issues about which you’re passionate. What keeps you up at night? What drives you?
  • Seek out groups online and in your community that care about the issues you listed. Follow their social media pages, attend their meetings, and get to know the people who want the world to change in the same ways you do. You’ll be surprised how quickly your network will grow after just a few meetings. Community organizers are great connectors of people.
  • Run for something. Yes, you! It can be as small as a treasurer position in a local organization or as big as a political position in your community.

We’re not going to change the world overnight, but if we’re brave enough, we’ll look back at this time in 50 years and be astounded at how much has changed. You can be a part of it now—you just have to be bold enough to begin.

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Robyn Hammontree

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Robyn Hammontree is a senior instructional designer at the University of Alabama and a graduate of Emerge Alabama. She may be reached at @Hammontreers on Twitter.