Climb Every Mountain

What makes girls decide to become leaders and take the plunge into the political maelstrom?

The folks at the Women’s Wilderness Institute believe that a good dose of backcountry hiking and rock climbing, along with some water-purifying-pumping, cooking over gas burners, and tent pitching can build girls’ confidence so that they are willing to take risks. The Boulder-based group runs programs offering wilderness experiences in the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest for girls and women.

To prove its point, the group’s choice of speakers for its fundraiser in Denver last night was not outdoorsy, but rather, political: Colorado House Speaker Alice Madden (D) and Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a national nonprofit that works to advance women’s leadership “in all communities and sectors, up to the U.S. presidency.”

“Whenever I see women, I always ask them, ‘have you thought about running for office?” said Madden, looking out over the audience, largely made up of women.

Madden regaled the crowd with the tale of her decision to run for office when, after years spent working in the technical industry and then as a lawyer, she organized a panel for the local bar association called “Entering Politics: What’s Stopping You?” She urged the importance of having many women “in the pipeline” ready to run, since the pressure of term limits means that any one person can only serve a certain number of years in the legislature.

Wilson echoed Madden’s theme and talked about the importance of encouraging women to run. “One-third of men run for office because they feel comfortable doing it,” she said. “One-third of women run because they have been invited or encouraged to run. We have to give women the courage to do it.”

If the Colorado mountains help build future women leaders I’m all for it. I can personally vouch for the confidence-building that comes from climbing a mountain more than 14 thousand feet high or skiing down a pitch so steep that my legs were shaking before I started. The Women’s Wilderness Institute offers scholarships for girls and helps subsidize their programs with profits from the trips they run for women. It proudly claims that they’ve never turned a girl away. I’m looking forward to the day not only when we have a woman president, but when she knows how to pitch a tent.

(crossposted at Muckraking Mom)