By Kristie Wolff
One hundred years after some women* achieved voting rights, some North Dakotans are still working for complete political equality.
Since the 19th Amendment became part of the US Constitution, many incredible milestones have been realized for women in politics. Not only do women participate in democracy by voting, they engage in political activities like lobbying, marching, initiating ballot measures and running campaigns. More and more women win elections at various levels, breaking new ground every year.
However, full equality in the political sphere has not been achieved. For example, the United States has never had a woman president, North Dakota has never had a woman governor, and women make up just 21 percent of the North Dakota legislature.
When the Legislature recognized the upcoming anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Rep. Karla Rose Hanson of Fargo said women have realized many political milestones since 1920 but not yet equal representation.
“Someday, after 45 or more presidents, there will be a woman in the highest office of the land,” she said. “Someday, after 33 or more governors, North Dakota will have a woman in the governor’s office. Someday, this legislative body will be representative of the citizens of this state – meaning that 49 percent of lawmakers will be women and 12 percent will be people of color just like North Dakota is now. It is good when the people inside this chamber reflect the demographics of the people outside this chamber.”
The North Dakota Women’s Network is one organization working to change those numbers. NDWN is a statewide, non-partisan advocacy group that is helping increase women’s political engagement and their representation in elected office.
One NDWN program is WE (Women Empowered) Rise, a lobby day at the Legislature. The goal is to demystify the legislative process by providing behind-the-scenes insight and training. Participants learn how to talk to their legislators and how to testify at a hearing. Once women get a better understanding of the political system, they often remain engaged and continue to advocate for policies that benefit women. Some even run for office themselves.
That’s what happened to Jessica Haak of Jamestown. “WE Rise inspired me to run for the legislature,” she said. “I served four years and continue to stay politically active by helping other women.”
Another NDWN program is Ready to Run, training for women who are interested in serving in elected office. Participants get real-world advice about public life as well as specific tips on campaigning, like working with volunteers, developing a budget, raising money, and crafting a message.
Rep. Shannon Roers Jones of Fargo said Ready to Run gave her many skills for her successful legislative campaign. “One memorable lesson was learning that most women don’t consider running for office until they are asked. That was true for me,” she said. “So now I tell other women – don’t wait to be asked!”
Rep. Ruth Buffalo, also of Fargo, participated in both WE Rise and Ready to Run before winning her legislative seat. She is the first Native American Democratic woman in the legislature. “These trainings have consistently shown what possibilities exist through increased representation of women in every level of government,” she said.
The November 2020 election may see even more gains for women at the ballot box, thanks to the work of the North Dakota Women’s Network and other advocates who help women picture themselves as political leaders.
*The 19th Amendment largely benefited white women – not women of color. Native Americans, Asian Americans and African Americans weren’t afforded the same legal right to vote or the effective ability to vote for years or even decades later.
Kristie Wolff is the Executive Director of the North Dakota Women’s Network
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