Almost five times as many men hold elected office in the United States than women. The US currently ranks 95th in the world in the number of women serving in their national legislatures. We are behind Mexico, China, and Pakistan. Research shows:

• Women, even in the highest levels of their professions, are substantially less likely than men to to seek elective office.

• Women are less likely than men to be recruited to run for office.

• Women are less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.

• Despite cultural evolution and society's changing attitudes toward women in politics (unless you were running for president in November 2016), running for public office remains a much less attractive and feasible endeavor for women than for men.

Too often, women do not see themselves running for office — they don’t think they’re experienced enough or they just don’t know where to start. AAUW Ashland wants to change that, which is one of the reasons we have established ourselves as an AAUW College/University partner with Southern Oregon University.

We are collaborating with the Women's Resource Center (WRC) in various activities on campus and the Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU) in encouraging young women to familiarize themselves with AAUW. This was our second year to offer scholarships to SOU female students to attend the AAUW National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL), which is the premier conference for students to hone their leadership skills, make lifelong connections, and get ready to shape the world!

For more than 30 years, NCCWSL has provided a transformative experience for the generation of leaders. Past attendees have gone on to lead nonprofits, innovate the corporate world, create disruptive technologies and more. Our SOU students join 900 college and university women from all across the United States in redefining leadership for all women. The three-day conference includes:

• More than 40 leadership skill-building sessions such as #ILookLikeAPolitician: Our fight for Political Parity; Storytelling for Leadership — Resiliency Skills to Turn Your Passion into Action; and From a March to a Movement: Learn How to Ignite Activism on Your Campus — just to name a few.

• A Graduate School Fair and Career Fair with more than 100 graduate programs and employers.

• Presentations by inspiring role models, including the Women of Distinction awardees and keynote speakers.

• Add-on activities for attendees to enrich their conference experience and take advantage of being near the nation’s capital.

In two years we’ve helped 12 young women attend this conference. Why women?

• Oregon has only elected five women to the US House of Representatives;

• One woman to the U.S. Senate;

• One woman as governor;

• Oregon has never elected a woman to serve as State Treasurer or to preside over the state Supreme Court;

• 28 of 90 State Legislators are women;

• Two of 5 statewide elected officials (Secretary of State and Attorney General).

But perhaps even more significant than gender parity, women have a different understanding on needs in policy areas such as healthcare, transportation, education, and jobs. Women in elected office bring new perspectives to issues, which increases the likelihood of conceiving and implementing effective and just solutions to social, economic and environmental problems. After all, women represent over half of the world’s skills, knowledge, and talents.

AAUW Update, a report prepared by members of the American Association of University Women, Ashland Branch, appears quarterly. For more information, go to ashland-or.aauw.net.