Training Is Only The First Step

By Cynthia Terrell on June 16, 2016

By Anjali Bhatt

The 21st century has been marked by a renewed effort to increase women’s representation in politics, ranging from partisan programs to state and even nationwide efforts to expand the proportion of women in government. Representation2020 has been able to document these efforts, and follow programs around the country.

One such initiative is that of the New American Leaders Project, a New York City-based organization founded by Sayu Bhojwani. Liz Robbin’s New York Times articleFor Women of Immigrant Heritage, the ABC’s of Running for Office” follows Bhojwani as she helps train people of immigrant descent who want to run for elected office, and focuses on all-women training conferences she has implemented to bolster the confidence and knowledge of women of color who want to run for offices of all kinds, from school board to city council and beyond. The participants are diverse-- women from El Salvador, Vietnam, Mexico, and more gather to learn essential components of candidacy: speeches, fundraising, and how to talk about their unique experiences in the current political climate. The first Latina speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, as well as the first Asian-American Representative from New York, Grace Meng, were present at one such event, lending their advice and experience to build up their peers for the future. The trainers of the New American Leaders Project encouraged their women attendees to connect with their electorate, drawing on their multicultural experiences that many New Yorkers share to garner support.

Programs like this are becoming increasingly common across the nation to encourage the participation of women and other minorities in the political process. Representation2020 has put forth additional options that can work together with these bottom-up ideas to level the playing field-- structural reform that allows the electoral system to be more inclusive of these minorities. As the Representation2020 2015-2016 report on The State of Women’s Representation states, more is needed than just training programs to boost the number of women in office. Training women has the underlying goal of overcoming social barriers, which can be a daunting and difficult task. This kind of work can be aided through structural measures such as creating or institutionalizing women’s caucuses or committees, having political parties or PACs institute measures that make it easier for women to access positions of responsibility, and most importantly, adopting fair representation voting systems that increase the proportional number of women running and winning elections. While training programs like New American Leaders Project are a valuable asset to women and minorities, these initiatives must work in tandem with broader reforms to the American political system to create a sustainable and representative government.

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