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The challenges and opportunities for women in politics

From left, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-MA, Massachusetts state Sen. Linda Doreen Forry, and Jennifer Nassour, founder and president of Conservative Women for a Better Future, comprised the panel at Monday's Women who Inspire Speaker Series event.

The College of Social Sciences and Humanities and several of its units partnered with the Women who Inspire Speaker Series and the Social Justice Resources Center to bring to Northeastern a panel of female elected officials who spoke about their careers.

The three female polit­ical leaders who com­prised the panel for the fall semester’s first install­ment of the Women who Inspire Speaker Series, held Monday night in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room, had a clear, col­lec­tive mes­sage for women con­sid­ering a career in pol­i­tics: Do it.

One of the biggest hur­dles to increasing female rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the polit­ical sphere, they noted, was the dif­fi­culty of recruiting women for the job.

Studies have shown you have to ask a woman at least nine times to run for office before she decides,” said Mass­a­chu­setts Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. “How many times do you have to ask a man? Once. That is some­thing we have to get over.”

Forry was joined on stage by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark and Jen­nifer Nas­sour, founder and pres­i­dent of Con­ser­v­a­tive Women for a Better Future. The event was mod­er­ated by Rhon­della Richardson, AS’90, a reporter with WCVB-​​TV.

Monday’s event, titled “Women in Public Office: Chal­lenges, Progress, and Impact,” was co-​​sponsored by the Social Jus­tice Resource Center, a hub of justice-​​minded thinking that works to advance North­eastern stu­dents’ socio-​​political con­scious­ness and pro­duc­tive engage­ment with con­tem­po­rary social issues.

The Women who Inspire Speaker Series was cre­ated to inspire the next gen­er­a­tion of women leaders by learning from accom­plished women–thought leaders pre­senting their diverse points of view,” Henry J. Nasella, chair of Northeastern’s Board of Trustees, said in his wel­coming remarks.

Improve­ments to gender bal­ance in Congress

One hun­dred and four women are cur­rently serving in the U.S. Con­gress, including Clark, who was elected in 2013. How­ever, women only account for 20 per­cent of Con­gress’ total mem­ber­ship, while they make up more than 50 per­cent of the U.S. population.

I really believe firmly that our democ­racy is stronger when our rep­re­sen­ta­tives reflect our country,
—Clark said.

And our country demo­graphics are not reflected in Con­gress, cer­tainly not in the amount of women or people of color. We need that diver­sity because that is who we are as a people.”

Progress of women in politics

Forry said women have made progress on the polit­ical stage in the last decade, par­tic­u­larly in Mass­a­chu­setts, where four of the Commonwealth’s six con­sti­tu­tional offi­cers are women.

But she added that there is still more work to be done, noting that women need to ingrain them­selves in the com­mu­ni­ties where they live.

To the stu­dents here, you are going to live in com­mu­ni­ties out­side of North­eastern,” Forry said. “And when you settle in a com­mu­nity it is impor­tant to show up. Knowing your neigh­bors is impor­tant. It shows folks that you care.”

Iden­ti­fying the best opportunity

During the Q&A fol­lowing the panel dis­cus­sion, a stu­dent asked for tips on building a net­work and then run­ning for polit­ical office in a com­mu­nity or state in which they did not grow up.

Nas­sour joked that the stu­dent must have read her biog­raphy, as she was on track to run for the New York State Assembly before moving to Massachusetts.

You still run,” Nas­sour said. “Run­ning for office and being involved are about the rela­tion­ships you make. Ulti­mately it is about win­ning, but your heart has to be in the right place. You have to want to be there. And those rela­tion­ships will out­stand any polit­ical career you have.”

-By Joe O’Connell

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