NEWS

With 'Run As You Are,' Women's Fund of RI seeks to encourage, train female political candidates

By ARDEN BASTIA
Posted 8/4/21

By ARDEN BASTIA Although 51 percent of Rhode Island's population is women, "we are nowhere near having equal representation in political office," said Kelly Nevins, CEO of Women's Fund of Rhode Island. For Nevins and other advocates, getting women on the

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NEWS

With 'Run As You Are,' Women's Fund of RI seeks to encourage, train female political candidates

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Although 51 percent of Rhode Island’s population is women, “we are nowhere near having equal representation in political office,” said Kelly Nevins, CEO of Women’s Fund of Rhode Island.

For Nevins and other advocates, getting women on the ballot and elected into office is a key step toward achieving gender equality. To encourage more women to run, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island is partnering with Vote Run Lead to host “Run As You Are,” a virtual workshop that will teach women how to translate their passion, experiences, and drive into political power.

The free event will take place on Aug. 18 from 4 to 7 p.m.

“Run As You Are” will be led by Colorado state Sen. Faith Winter and the Women’s Fund of RI CEO Kelly Nevins. The interactive training is for any woman thinking about entering the political arena, those ready to run, as well as campaign managers and volunteers looking to support women candidates.

Women in political roles

“If you aren’t at the table, where decisions are being made, you are likely on the menu,” Nevins wrote in an email on Tuesday, emphasizing the importance of an event like “Run As You Are.” “Getting more women elected to office will help us to close the gender equality gap in many ways, since these women will use their lived experiences to craft better legislation.”

The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island (WFRI) hosts the Women’s Well-Bring Index, a collection of data and local statistics highlighting gender inequalities in the state.

The data shows that only eight cities and towns in the state have equal representation, while 21 cities and towns have less than 25 percent representation.

The Well-Being Index indicates that Warwick’s voting population is 46.1 percent women, a higher percentage compared to other cities and towns, but falls to the bottom of the list when it comes to women in local political roles.

In Cranston, 51 percent of voters are women, and in Johnston 47 percent of voters are women. Both join Warwick at the bottom of the list for women in local political roles.

“Many times, we hear women say, ‘I’m not qualified,’” shared Nevins. “The truth is everyone is qualified by virtue of their life experience. Once individuals realize that they do have what it takes, then it’s a matter of helping them to think about the things they would like to see happen for their communities. We also try to help them understand the process for running. Many who have participated in this program in the past have run – successfully – for office; others have determined that they want to help women get elected.”

The “Run As You Are” training is free, but does require pre-registration. To register, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/run-as-you-are-powered-by-womens-fund-of-rhode-island-tickets-161793056387 or visit the Women’s Fund of RI Facebook page.

From 4 to 5:45 p.m. during the event, women will learn how to articulate their experience as expertise, demystify the campaign trail, identify roles for a women’s “squad,” expand local networks, and outline a path to political leadership.

Angela McCalla Sen. Meghan Kallman Sen. Sandra Cano Nirva La Fortune Stephanie Winslow

At 6 p.m., female legislative leaders will join the session to share what made them decide to run for office and the challenges and successes they’ve had along the way. The panel will be facilitated by Angela McCalla, director of policy and advocacy at the Women’s Fund, and feature Sen. Meghan Kallman, Sen. Sandra Cano, Providence City Councilor Nirva La Fortune, and Newport School Committee member Stephanie Winslow.

US earns B-, F for women’s equality

According to the Women’s Fund website, the United States ranks No. 53 in gender equality worldwide, lower than previous rankings from the 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report.

According to the World Economic Forum, “Gender parity has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive. None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. That’s the sobering finding, which reveals that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years.”

The WEF measures gender parity by analyzing economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

At the current rate at which at gender inequality gap is being closed, the WEF estimates that it will take 135.6 years to close the gap worldwide.

In an email, Nevins added, “If we were giving the U.S. a grade, we’d get a B- for gender equity. In particular, women in the U.S. struggle with health and survival (we rank 87 in this category, or “F” grade) and 37 in political empowerment.”

According to data from Vote Run Lead, after nearly 50 years, only a single statehouse, Nevada, has women in the majority.

The national average of female legislators is 31 percent. At the current pace, it will take multiple generations for most states to have women in the majority. Vote Run Lead’s goal is to achieve women in the majority within the next ten years, thanks to a project called Run/51.

In Rhode Island, 45.1 percent of legislators are women. At this rate, it would take six years for women to achieve the majority. In Massachusetts, however, only 31 percent of legislators are women, and it’ll take the state 36 years for women to reach the majority. In Connecticut, where 34.2 percent of legislators are women, it is projected to take the state nearly 40 years to for women to make up a majority in the state legislature.

Vote Run Lead is an organization based out of New York City and Minnesota with a mission “to train barrier-breaking women to unleash their political power, run for office, and transform American democracy,” according to their website.

Founded in 2005 by Erin Vilardi when she was the vice president of programs and communications at The White House Project, the group has since reached over 36,000 women. In a single day, the group has trained over 3,000 women across 20 cities.

In the press release, Nevins said, “While the state legislature has made significant gains towards gender equity in the House and Senate, that gender diversity is not reflected in our local school boards and town councils. Moreover, women of color are not well represented in any level of government in the state.”

Pandemic impacts

When asked about the COVID impacts on women, Nevins said she could “talk for days about the ‘she-cession’ that the pandemic and resulting economic crisis has caused.”

Nevins explained that the jobs were lost were predominately lost by women, and pointed out that women were significantly more likely to stay home to care for family and children as schools and daycare centers closed.

Before the economic shutdown, women made up 64 percent of workers in the 40 lowest-paying jobs in the state, according to data from the WFRI Well-Being Index. Often, these jobs do not include meaningful paid medical and family leave.

Nevins also shared that the pandemic is reversing some of the progress made in recent years to close the wage gap. As of July 2020, nearly one in three mothers aged 25 to 44, and one in 8 fathers of the same age, were not working due to childcare issues. Workers in low-paid frontline and essential jobs, disproportionately women of color, are doubly impacted, according to the Well-Being Index.

Based on this information, the WFRI reports that they “expect to see the gender wage and wealth gap widen over the next few years.”

The WFRI reported in their 2021 policy brief that that 14 percent of women in Rhode Island live in poverty, slightly higher than the national average. In Warwick, 17 percent of women live in poverty. The unemployment rate among women in the state is 4.1 percent.

The Well-Being Index also reports that the median earnings for women employed full-time, year-round is $46,177, compared to $64,350 for men.

To learn more about Vote Run Lead, visit voterunlead.org or the organization’s Facebook page or Instagram (@voterunlead). To learn more about the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, visit www.wfri.org or follow the organization on Facebook and Instagram (@womensfundri).

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