The definition of an advocate is this: A person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.
Do you participate in being an advocate for yourself? What does it mean to really be an advocate for yourself and your community?
Where do you begin? And why does it matter?
Many women may have asked themselves similar questions, and these are addressed through the experiences of other women in this article.
A few weekends ago, 16 college women from across Arizona were accepted to a conference that allowed them to understand what it meant to be a true leader, as well as to fight for women’s rights in health, well-being, and policy.
Amongst these women were various role-models in the field of politics. All were women ranging from politicians to professors. Together they came to share their stories of success in the field of law and politics, and to shed light and resources amongst these young women, soon to be leaders of this nation.
Each young leader brought a unique perspective and set of goals to the conference in order to create political change. What each of these women also brought was an open mind to learn about how they could assist in bringing more women into politics and leadership.
Throughout the conference, each woman was encouraged and inspired to draw upon their own unique experiences and personal aspirations to bring out their full potential and purpose for creating change in the world. Some of these aspirations ranged from law and policy change for underprivileged minority communities, to food politics around the globe, to reforming education in America.
This author was amongst this group of new leaders, and it became very clear very fast that the empowerment that was felt during this conference should be recreated and shared with other women -- with other possible future leaders.
It seems clear now that being an advocate for others and becoming a leader is something that each woman has the potential for. Perhaps she is just not yet aware of how truly vital her role in our present-day world is.
Not only is it vital for women to be advocates for others, but also to be advocates for ourselves.
Backing up a little, in the first introduction workshop at this conference, Alexis Henshaw, Doctoral Candidate at the School of Government and Public Policy, University of Arizona, explained to this group of 16 bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young women (little did they know -- soon to be empowered leaders) that “you should all be political”.
“We continue to see women in politics as underrepresented,” Henshaw explained. She went on to say that the United States is 76th in national representation of women.
Why is it that women do not run for office?
Some reasons, Henshaw explained, include the following: underestimating credentials, party politicians being overwhelmingly male, and the fact that less and less women are seen as you go up the chain.
But the biggest reason is that women underestimate themselves.
How can we change this?
Jennifer Londoño, a participant of this 2012 NEW Leadership Conference is a former NAU graduate, and will soon be entering into Sandra Day O’Connor’s College of Law at Arizona State University. At this conference and throughout her education in law, she expressed that politics and policy are very much still considered men's worlds and being a woman in them is by no means easy -- but it is necessary.
“What was so wonderful about this NEW leadership conference was that it made the idea of establishing myself as a woman, and all women, in politics more than just an ideal.”
For Londoño, establishing connections and role-models of women in the public sphere who are making this shift to bringing more women in leadership, made it seem possible that she herself could become a leader.
“The conference made my aspirations of becoming an active member and representative of my community in the public sphere realistic by introducing me to women who are paving the road now, the resources that are available to me and how I can better myself to embark on my own journey to leadership.”
A leader from Washington DC attended this conference. Kelly Dittmar is a former student at Rutgers University where she worked for the Center for American Women and Politics, the program that put on this weekend NEW Leadership conference at the University of Arizona.
Dittmar is currently a legislative fellow for Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) where she covers a portfolio of issues for the Congresswoman including labor, education, and women's issues/equity.
When asked how she feels about what it means to be an advocate for women, she explained that it means a variety of choices.
“For me, it means giving voice to women in today's policy and political debates and, in doing so, highlighting the diversity in women's experiences, needs, and struggles.”
In addition, Dittmar explained, being an advocate for ourselves and for each other means recognizing the gender-based inequities that persist in our society and working to remedy them.
“It also means doing what you can to raise awareness of gender discrimination and gender biases that are too often looked over or discounted as unimportant or nonexistent.”
So first comes awareness, and in becoming more aware, we become teachers to each other in building awareness and recognition of certain issues at hand. That is the first step.
If we can at least start with informing ourselves and others to the best of our abilities, our road to empowerment through advocacy as well as the political climate can begin. But is there more that we can do?
“Women first need to find what they are most passionate about and be informed about what is going on in their communities. Then, determine paths toward action -- what can be changed and what is the route toward change? In many cases, change will be tied to political decisions and policymaking.”
Dittmar continued to address the fact that education is key. If we are not informing ourselves about what is happening in our communities, our likelihood of empowering ourselves to create change within our community is less than those for who are taking charge, and becoming informed.
“But often activism starts with generating support and raising awareness about your issue. So even before (or while) determining a path toward political action, find creative, engaging, and impactful ways to bring others on board, in support of your efforts.”
Dittmar explained that creating a support system helps you to amplify your voice and also to increase pressure from the outside onto whichever political body can help in creating change.
“In and of itself, activism [and advocacy] can change priorities, minds, and hearts.”
Dittmar’s knowledge of the political community comes from her direct experience and involvement of being a woman leader in politics.
She continued on to say, “Finally, I'd recommend getting to know your political leaders at all levels and establishing relationships that can not only help illuminate fruitful paths to action, but can also win you political and/or powerful allies. Of course, a very direct step that I'd encourage all women to consider is to run for office themselves!”
Dittmar finally said that “too often, we think others are more prepared or more able to do the job, but I'd encourage women to think of themselves as capable, viable, and deserving candidates, and -- when the opportunity arises - take the risk to run and bring the issues they are most passionate about to the political process and debates.”
Whether a woman is making a decision to run for office, or to simply take the time to inform herself about current issues that she cares about, we can begin to pave the way to a positive change for women in this world by recognizing the power in ourselves to do so.
For more information on NEW Leadership and resources, visit: http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/education_training/NEWLeadership/index.php/
Dittmar, Kelly. Email interview. May 28, 2012.
Henshaw, Alexis. Workshop lecture. May 18, 2012.
Londoño, Jennifer. Email Interview. May 29, 2012.
Center for American Women and Politics. Eagleton Institute of Politics.
The University of Arizona Women’s Resource Center.
Arizona Women’s Political Caucus.
Edited by Jody Smith