A Return to Representation: Increasing Female Voice in Policy Making and Legislation
“My male co-sponsors could not have been finer advocates, but a woman’s voice is different; a woman brings a different perspective: different thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. If our democracy is to be truly representative, all our voices must be heard, and heard equally.”
- Dr. Bernadine Craft, former Wyoming Representative and Senator
The Equality State, a fiercely proud title, setting the standard for the rest of the country, as Wyoming was the first state to give women a right to vote. Staying true to their history, Wyoming women led the country in state legislative representation up through the mid-1990’s, helping to give a voice for half the population. Yet over time, this representation has dropped, with Wyoming now being one of 10 states with the lowest percentage of female legislators.
“In partnership with the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) and the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center (WYSAC), the Wyoming Women’s Foundation (WYWF) funded a policy brief, Wyoming Women in Elected Roles, to review the status of women in Wyoming elected office,” says Marissa Carpio, Policy Associate for the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.
The Wyoming Women’s Foundation launched their Power Advocate Program in order to help provide a voice for women in policy making. The program also provides advocacy training, legislative updates, action alerts, and notification of new research to the advocates so they are best equipped to influence positive change for women and girls in Wyoming.
“At the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, we know that the Legislature, the courts, agency decisions, and structures, can be confusing and feel inaccessible. We break those processes and issues down to equip Power Advocates with the information they need to confidently reach out to their officials. It has a growing membership, but we are always looking for more Wyomingites interested in women’s economic self-sufficiency,” explains Carpio.
The Power Advocates Program isn’t the only way to get involved in female representation in Wyoming. The last week of February, the Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus hosted their 16th Annual Leap Into Leadership conference: an opportunity for women to meet with statewide policy makers, form connections, and go through leadership development training. The conference seeks to resolve the issue of underrepresentation of women in government in Wyoming.
“Shortly after I decided I was interested in running for office (thank you Leadership Wyoming) I attended the Leap into Leadership conference,” says Wyoming Representative Trey Sherwood. “The training helped me establish a game plan, understand best practices, and build out a framework for my campaign. The second time I attended, I met another woman from my community who became my campaign manager! Not only was the material presented practical, but the conference broadened my social network. I became friends with women who ran for, and now serve on city council, as county commissioners, and school board members. All are making an incredible difference in their communities.”
“Women are disproportionately impacted by the wage gap, cost of childcare, coordinating healthcare, and the debate regarding reproductive rights. Thus, women are uniquely positioned to find practical and creative ways to solve them. When those impacted by a problem are absent from the policy making process, we end up with impractical or theoretical solutions,” expounds Sherwood. “If the decision makers are not reflective of the population they serve, we get policies that may not be in the best interest of Wyoming's people.”
Wyoming women are strong, independent, and incredibly capable, and they deserve to voice their opinions and influence policy making in their large and varied state. Marissa Carpio offers guidance for the next generation of female legislators.
“Start paying attention to the state board and commission meetings, attend legislative meetings, city council meetings, and more. Getting really involved and becoming knowledgeable about the work that is already being done is an important next step. From there, talk to other women who have been in similar elected positions and reach out to organizations, like the Wyoming Women’s Legislative Caucus, the Cowgirl Run Fund and RepresentWomen, to get a full understanding of the resources (financial and educational) you have at your disposal.”
“It’s so important to not only provide a voice for women, but to set a precedent and provide leaders for future generations,” explains Molly Hughes, Executive Director of the Hughes Charitable Foundation. “The Hughes Charitable Foundation is proud to support these organizations working to return Wyoming to its role as the standard in equality.”
It’s time to give women a stronger voice in Wyoming politics. Working together, we can foster urgency, provide support and resources, and return our State government to one of strong female representation. The power is in our hands!