(The author is registered as a participant in the 2012 Ready to Run program)

“The way we teach our girls and boys to devalue women is exactly why women make up only 18 percent of America’s top leaders in business, the military, religion, media, culture and entertainment,” said Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director of the documentary “Miss Representation.”

“All this while global monitoring studies continue to prove the economic benefit of having more female leaders in government and business.”

“That’s why we had to make this film. The situation will not improve until we recognize the problem and begin to make change.”

A special screening of “Miss Representation” at Film Streams will follow the Ready to Run Rally presented by the Women’s Fund of Omaha on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.

When The Women’s Fund opened its doors 22 years ago, the organization was a small group of female visionaries with one goal in mind: to give women the tools to become equal players in business and politics of the Omaha community. Through research projects, advocacy, and empowerment programs, thousands have been given the tools to reach their personal and professional goals, including a chance to hold an elected seat.

“The Women’s Fund conducts research on women and leadership in Omaha,” said Sherry Thompson, the organizations Communications Manager. “Findings showed a critical need to get more women in leadership positions. This led to the development of Ready to Run.”

Throughout the world, women have taken the lead in political change. They’ve held the title of President and Prime Minister, leading their countries to heal the wounds of conflict, repair education systems and create jobs. 

Yet in the United States, we’ve still to see a female Commander in Chief.

Women represent only 17% of seats in Congress, with six governors and 23% of state legislators nationally (Bennetts, 2012, www.thedailybeast.com).

Recognizing this severe gap, several nonprofit organizations around the country have created nonpartisan “ready to run” programs that invite and prepare women to become involved in politics. These include panel sessions, speaking and writing opportunities, and the chance to spark the call to run for office and represent the over 157 million women in America.

In 2005, the first Women’s Fund Ready to Run workshop was developed. More than a dozen participants in past workshops have been elected to office in the last few years, and the knowledge they gained helped them succeed (Thompson, 2011, www.omahawomensfund.org ). The incredible response to the workshops prompted the Fund to evolve this year’s workshop into a rally.

Registration is already swelling towards capacity with over 160 women eager to hear how they can make a political impact in Omaha. “Because the last workshop was held this past April, the Women’s Fund decided to expand this year’s event to include a broad audience and to stress the importance of electing more women to office,” said Thompson. “The rally also provides an opportunity for participants to meet female elected officials and candidates from both parties.”

The hour-long meeting will be active with discussions, questions and inspiration from current female officials and professionals.  Participants will learn how to put together a campaign, how to raise funds, and how to stay strong in a male-dominated playing field.

Afterwards, “Miss Representation” offers participants a Sundance-approved look at how American media affects the number of women in office.

“Today’s media is sending a very dangerous message to young people,” said Newsom. “In particular, that women’s value and power lie in their youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in their capacity as leaders.”

Examining the dirty little truths of media and image, “Miss Representation” is a powerful documentary that claims to give viewers a new perspective on the word “equality.”

As a country, we still have a long way to go in truly immersing women in its political system. The United States ranks 87th in the world with the number of women in national legislature (2011, www.sheshouldrun.org).

On a national comparison, Omaha is improving with numbers of women in office, particularly on boards of education. According to the 2010-2011 Women’s Fund report, “Women hold 39% of board seats across the metro, with 11 out of 12 held by women on the Omaha Public Schools board. (mclaneedgers.com) ”

But balance is far from being achieved.“The number of women in elected office increased only slightly between 2009 and 2011, from 25% to 27%. By comparison, women compromise 51% of the Omaha population,” said Thompson. “The Omaha area has a long way to go before the city achieves gender equity in elected positions.”

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