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Report: Gender Disparities Stark in NH Municipal Government

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About 55% of elected school board members in New Hampshire are women, while women make up just 22% of elected select board members. (Cheryl Senter/NH Women's Foundation)
About 55% of elected school board members in New Hampshire are women, while women make up just 22% of elected select board members. (Cheryl Senter/NH Women's Foundation)
 By Lily Bohlke - Producer, Contact
March 10, 2021

CONCORD, N.H. - In this Women's History Month, New Hampshire women are being urged to make some history - by running for municipal office.

According to a new report from the New Hampshire Women's Foundation, more than 40% of Granite State towns have all-male select boards. Of the roughly 1,600 elected town officials, including select-board and school-board members, 37% are women.

New Hampshire Women's Foundation chief executive Tanna Clews said diversity leads to more effective government. She cited national data that show women are more likely to prioritize health care, child care, education, family leave - all issues critical to getting the nation through the pandemic.

"Women make up more than 51% of the population in New Hampshire," she said, "so it's safe to say that women should be making up at least 50% of elected office to really be able to represent the needs, and to understand the experiences, of women and families."

Clews noted this is the first time this data has been available. Because neither towns nor the state collect race and gender data when people file for office, she said, researchers had to go through the select boards, town by town, to compile the results.

Crystal Paradis manages the foundation's "Women Run!" program, which she said will focus on municipal elections this year. She said one factor that can keep women from running for office is a perception that they aren't qualified - when they really are - and that's where her program comes in.

"They can talk through what's it like serving on a city council, on the school board, with people who've done this already that have similar life experiences to them," she said.

Paradis also noted that recent census numbers show more than one in 10 New Hampshire residents is a person of color, and that also doesn't translate to town government representation. She echoed the importance of data collection, saying it would help guide efforts to reduce racial and gender disparities.

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