Greetings from Kristen Dechert, our new director of women in leadership

September 20, 2018

All across the country, women are rising up. Record-breaking numbers of women are running for Congress in 2018, and recently we’ve seen landmark wins for women in many state legislatures. The political winds are shifting, and people across the country are adamant—more women, and more women now!

In Mississippi, the 2019 election cycle is just around the corner, and we have a real chance to make a difference in our state legislature. Women make up only 14% of our state legislators, and all of Mississippi suffers because of it.

Female legislators introduce more bills that directly affect families. With more women in leadership, we will have more legislation introduced that supports public education, healthcare, children, and, yes, women. Women also work across the aisle to get the work done more than their male colleagues. However, women in office suffer the same gender bias as every other woman, and therefore, their legislation is also more likely to die before a vote. With more women in office, the bills they introduce are more likely to make it out of committee, off the floor, and to the governor’s desk.

In short, more women in office will create a better Mississippi.

To help contextualize my interest in this work, I need to go back to my childhood. Despite an interest in politics from a young age, I was not encouraged to participate in the activities that would have prepared me for the field like my male peers were. Perhaps more crucial to my experience was the lack of female politician role models. During a lesson about great presidents, influential governors, or authors of landmark legislation, every picture, every name, every accomplishment was of a man. The photos of women were of first ladies, assistants, or absent altogether. Photos and stories that inspired many of my male peers to become someone respected and admired taught me to respect and admire men.

No one told me I couldn’t be in politics, but no one showed me that I could either.

Without these role models for young women and without a society used to seeing us in leadership positions, getting women to the table as adults can be a challenge. Women are traditionally the caretakers of their families, and many working women occupy jobs that allow less flexibility in their schedules. Women face harsh criticism for their looks, speech, beliefs, and work history—the same characteristics that bolster credibility for men are used against women in sexist ways. All of these and more can make the decision to run for elective office difficult.

But one thing I know about women is they rarely shy away from a challenge. Women are tough and capable of carrying more than their share of the load. Women stand up for other women, and women stand up for children. And when asked to take on new challenges, more often than not, women say yes.

Sadly, many women are never asked, but my goal is to change that.

In 2017, I worked to elect the first female mayor of Starkville, and I have been proud to contribute time and resources to local, state, and national campaigns of many other women. With Ours To Change Mississippi’s five values as my guiding principles in this work, I am committed to advancing the status of women at all levels of government and on both sides of the aisle. That means if you 1) support public education, 2) believe voting is the basis of democracy, 3) want more women in office, 4) will fight for an open, transparent government, and 5) want to foster opportunities for young entrepreneurs in our state, then I’m looking for you!

Between now and March 1, 2019, I’ll be traveling the state asking women to step up and qualify for state legislature. Mississippi needs you. We need your ideas and experiences. We need your knowledge and expertise. We need your voices and viewpoints.

I won’t lie, it may be hard, but you won’t be alone. Ours To Change Mississippi and our partners will be walking the journey with you. We will help connect you with experienced people who can help with campaigning, communications strategy, fundraising, and more.

Think about the girls and young women in your life and the lasting effect you want to have on them. If you’re waiting on a woman to run, it’s time to look in the mirror—the woman they need is you! With more women running and winning in 2019, we will have a better Mississippi in the long run and a brighter future for the girls and young women who call this state home.

I am excited to embark on this journey with you, and I look forward to the road ahead. If you’d like to hear more, have questions or ideas, or just want to say hello, please drop me a line or reach out on our Facebook page. I am excited to meet you!

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