Elect Her: Empowering Women Leaders for the Future

Ashley Viriglio

 

Upon each new day every individual is presented with an array of decisions. We choose how to spend our precious time, and this past Saturday, October 1rst I chose to attend the ElectHer conference held at the Wells Conference Center on the University of Maine-Orono campus.

In June I was granted the privilege of attending the NEWL program (National Education for Women Leaders) which not only connected me with a network of incredibly inspiring women, but also empowered me to aim higher than I previously imagined toward my personal pursuits and professional aspirations. The programs that are a part of the NEWL conference are designed to educate, engage and empower young women regarding the inequality of female representation among elected officials, as well as societal issues such as the dramatic differences in the wage gap among genders. Considering that stereotypes influence everyone, at times subconsciously, this is how deeply ingrained certain social norms are in our society.

ElectHer: Campus Women Win is sponsored by AAUW (American Association of University Women), and Running Start also works with the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center which I also was able to tour this past summer. The main mission of ElectHer is to educate young individuals on the importance of running for leadership roles, as well as embracing and encouraging the capabilities of the next generation. This is the kind of event that it is hard to keep quiet at, because of the lively and invigorating atmosphere. Those who are affiliated with this program truly believe in the program’s mission and this is evident in the authenticity and genuinity of their words.

The group was first welcomed by two of Maine state representatives, Ellie Espling and Michelle Dunphy. Their perspectives provided the attendees with something we could all identify with: the viewpoint of the working Maine woman. In Maine’s political culture we are a generally moderate group of individuals embodying a “people’s legislatures,” thus there is no surprise that many representatives are retired teachers, farmers, parents, and small business owners all of whom should not be afraid to cross party lines for the good of local and state communities.

When we all take a step back from our busy technological lives it allows us to relish in the true premise of leadership and to appreciate the respect for political pursuits that are not based on solely choosing a side, or political party. Rather, leadership is about educating oneself, formulating opinions and then acting on those beliefs in order to empower others. If this causes one to associate with someone different from themselves, whether the difference is: gender identity, ethnicity, viewpoints or socioeconomic status – it should not hold you back.

We are all individuals before we fall into any of those categories. We all have a voice we must heard. We are united, we are a community. For Maine, for our country and for our earth. This is the next generation of change. A progressive time to break gender biases. This is a time for the definition of true feminism to be properly understood… Equality: The way life should be.

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