From October 1st—16th of 2013, the federal government shutdown due to partisan fighting in Congress. That shutdown and stopped paychecks to government employees and retirees who relied on social security and veterans. It halted important work in research and oversight, education and healthcare. It put families and our society at risk, all over a political disagreement. It was widely reported that it was the women members of the U.S. Senate who continued to work in a bi-partisan fashion to craft a compromise that would end the shutdown and get the federal government back to the work of serving the citizens.

The women shunned the notion that because they were not united by a political party they should avoid talking to one another.  Instead the women of the Senate continued their regular potlucks sharing food, getting to know each other, and doing the business of a legislative body by working to find a solution that could garner enough votes to re-open the government.

After that vote Senator John McCain said, “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by women in the Senate.”   Senator Susan Collins remarked, “Although we span the ideological spectrum, we are used to working together in a collaborative way. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women were so heavily involved in trying to end this stalemate”.

This is one small example of why it is so important that women serve the public as elected officials. This is why WEPac, a non partisan political action committee, founded the WomenElect program in 2009 to help women say, “yes!” to running for office. The WomenElect program is a four month leadership development program that helps women assess their inner strengths and networks of support through a local political lens. The program came to Rochester in 2016 with the first class of 6 women graduating this spring.

Research has shown that when women run, women win at the same rates as their male counterparts. But the dismal numbers of representation in our government seems to tell another story. Only 19% of members in the U.S. House of Representatives are women so, the answer to the question of disparity is that not enough women step up to run.

WomenElect is a program that seeks to empower women who are involved in their communities to take that work a step further to public office.  The program is meant to be taken long before she seeks a specific office and to help her understand the process, get involved in the local political community and to think through her own message and her values in order to effectively communicate her vision to others.

The WomenElect training program runs twice a year in Buffalo and Rochester, NY and is currently expanding to locations across the state. It is a non-partisan program which means that members of any political party can apply, with one requirement, that all of the participants are pro-choice to ensure protection of women’s reproductive rights.  Classes are taught by local professionals and builds on skills such as talking with the media, creating campaign budgets, fund raising and networking. The tuition is low and flexible so that cost is not a barrier to encouraging a varied demographic of women to enter the class.

“As a trained parent leader, I’ve grown to love and understand the Greater Rochester community, educators, specialists, leaders, entrepreneurs, businesses, advocates and philanthropist. All are key players in ensuring a healthy and strong community for our children to grow in. But it’s time to step it up and have greater representation of our needs as a community in local, regional and national policies and laws. The WomenElect four month training program is a positive way to make this happen. It has been an inspiring pleasure to have trained along side my fellow WomenElect classmates with our local political leaders and political professionals. With a new level of confidence and preparedness, we are ready to civically engage as women leaders with the ability to one day run successfully for political open office.”(Heather Dulisse, WomenElect Rochester Cohort 1).

If you, or someone your know is interested in more information about the WomenElect program, or to become a member of WEPac, please visit WomenElect – striving for 50%!