Politicians discuss gender gap

By Melissa Oveson

Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake, remembers the moment she got into politics.

A mentor encouraged her not to purchase Nestlé products because there were concerns over the chocolate powder milk in the mix. Seelig was worried that her favorite candy bars would affect the community, so with encouragement from her parents, she wrote the company with her concerns.

“I have always been encouraged to be fascinated, involved and concerned about the community,” Seelig said.

Seelig, who has a strong background working with public issues around Salt Lake City, was one of four women who met to discuss the critical role of gender in the political sphere.

Speaking to a packed room at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Tuesday, the women told about barriers they have faced and encouraged all to become involved in politics.

“I got involved because I felt we needed a change and it was something that I could do,” said Lohra Miller, Salt Lake County District Attorney. “I feel like we have made some really positive changes.”

Luz Robles, who is director of Zions Bank Business Resource Center and is running for the State Senate representing District 1, said one of the most important things to note in politics is simply in the numbers. In the U.S. Congress, 70 of 435 representatives and only 16 out of 100 senators are women.

“When you read numbers like that it just blows you away,” Robles said. “If it’s 2008 and we are still questioning if a woman can be president, that’s a problem.”

Robles said she treats her own daughter like she could be president and young women today should follow that mindset. Eliana White, legislative chair for the Utah Health Insurance Association, agreed and gave women five simple steps to get involved.

“First of all, vote,” White said. “But voting is not enough because the person you voted for does not know who you are.”

She continued by encouraging the public to find out who their representatives are and then call them. White said that connection is important.

White also noted the importance of volunteering for the party of your choice and of holding a caucus meeting with members of the neighborhood.

Finally, the panel urged young women to become involved in politics despite any differences they believe they have.

“I’m going to make a lot of people uncomfortable,” Robles said of her upcoming run for the State Senate, “I’m female, Latina and young. But I reflect a changing population.”

Seelig agreed. She noted that she is not “normal” in today’s political sphere. She is still single and currently pursuing a doctorate degree at the U.

The panel members expressed their frustrations with being judged on their appearance as well as their work in the political sphere.

“We cannot define ourselves by one variable,” Seelig said. “Don’t give up. Find solace and strength in yourself.”

Despite various setbacks, all four panel members expressed how thankful they were for the opportunities they have to serve their communities. Miller expressed her gratitude for past extremists who led such movements as women’s suffrage and civil rights.

“Get involved in local issues. I think that’s important,” Miller said. “You would be amazed at the difference one small voice will make.”

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