Women make up more than 50 percent of New Jersey’s population but just 24 percent of local governing bodies, New Jersey State League of Municipalities Executive Director Michael Darcy said.
The league created a Women in Municipal Government Committee several years ago to address impediments to women becoming local elected officials.
“The Women in Government Committee is designed to connect those women who are interested in advancing in local government with the women who have already found the path forward,” Darcy said. “It creates a place to have the conversations that are most important to women in local government and give them tools to advance those priorities.”
Darcy said the committee provides networking and analysis for the women who want to get involved and acts as a mentorship program.
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“Women sometimes are simply not brought in at the (local) party level on ‘How do I participate in politics?’” Darcy said. “Women have to find a way to get into positions of authority at the most basic levels. That requires a lot of time and commitment.”
League First Vice President Colleen Mahr, who is in her fourth term as the mayor of Fanwood, Union County, said the committee is one of many resources available to potential women candidates who may not consider themselves able to run.
Because politics traditionally has been male-dominated and women tend to take on the caregiver role in a family, Mahr said, women sometimes need a push to get involved.
“It can be met with ‘Can I do it?’ ‘Am I able to do it?’” she said. “I’m the fourth elected official that’s a woman (in Fanwood). There are some communities that have never had a woman that’s been elected in their communities.”
Mahr said over the years, women have been seeing issues that affect them become politicized, so it has pushed more of them to get involved.
She said women candidates are “finding their voice and no longer thinking that they can’t do it.”
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“What we’ve seen in the last couple of years nationally has definitely filtered down and has motivated women like I’ve never seen before,” Mahr said.
She said no credentials are needed to run, and women shouldn’t be afraid to take on the challenge.
“When I first started, I would always get asked by women, ‘Do you need a special degree, or are you an attorney?’” Mahr said. “I’ve always told them what you really need. I said, ‘You need to communicate effectively. You need to be able to speak and be passionate and identify to people why you’re stepping forward and why they should vote for you.’”