In 2018, women legislators were outnumbered about 3-to-1 by their male colleagues in the North Carolina General Assembly.
It’s an imbalance many hope will shift after the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
“I love my men,” says Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe. “I’m not suggesting that they’re not doing a good job, but I think we would be better served if we [women] were more significantly represented in the General Assembly.”
Whatever the outcome of the election, advocates with Women AdvaNCe, a nonpartisan education institute, aim to energize politically engaged women during an all-day summit on Saturday, Nov. 10, at The Collider in Asheville — just days after the general election.
“Post the midterms there’s going to be a period where we need to ask, ‘What’s next?’” says summit organizer Stephanie Carson. “Because it can’t be that we stop.”
The fifth annual NC Women’s Summit marks the first time that the event, which has typically been hosted in cities farther east like Raleigh or Greensboro, will be held in Asheville. Home to an engaged populace and civically minded organizations, the city has a lot to offer, Carson says. And the event’s theme — women moving mountains — takes its inspiration from Western North Carolina’s topography.
“We felt that Asheville was ready for such an event,” she says, “and hungry for it.”
What to expect
Although organizers have tailored the event for a female audience, that doesn’t mean men aren’t invited to attend. In fact, Carson would like to see men more invested in the themes and topics the summit will highlight.
“It’s called the women’s summit,” Carson says, “but we want men to be engaged in these issues as well, because these aren’t just women’s issues. These are societal issues that have to be addressed.”
The summit typically averages around 150 to 200 attendees, Carson says, which she believes is ideal. “We don’t want it to be larger than that because we want people to have room to engage with each other and have a personal experience,” she says.
Organizers plan a more accessible format this year. “We wanted the day to be about engagement,” Carson says. Instead of hosting several panels with opportunities for Q&A segments at the end, organizers have created a series of audience-directed, “lightning round” sessions. “I describe it as speed-dating for policy folks,” Carson says.
Participants will pick a handful of sessions to attend out of nine possible topics:
- How to get the state on board with the Equal Rights Amendment.
- A postmortem on the midterm elections.
- The #MeToo movement.
- Hot topics in women’s health care.
- Women as entrepreneurs.
- Intersectionality within women’s issues.
- Economic issues.
- Race, equity and inclusion.
- Environmental issues.
During lunch, organizers will present two awards: The Advancing the Issues award will recognize a journalist or academic whose writing impacts the lives of women in the state, and the Advancing the Change award will go to a person or group creating meaningful change for women in North Carolina.
Organizers have also built in time for reflection. “A lot of times women will go to a one-day conference it’s just go, go, go, go, go,” says Chapel Hill-based Anna Lynch, the summit planning chair, “and you really never have a chance to stop and catch your breath.”
In the afternoon, participants will filter into moderated group sessions — which, like the morning lightning rounds, will have a focus on audience participation.
“Someone might start off that session being a quote-unquote expert on that subject,” Carson says, “but … if an attendee demonstrates some experience, whether it be personal or professional in an area, that moderator is going to shift the microphone or that conversation to that person so they can lead it.”
Later in the day, Mandy Carter, a former co-chair of ex-President Barack Obama’s LGBT Pride initiative, will deliver the summit’s keynote address. Carter, who lives in Durham, is also a founder of the social justice organizations Southerners On New Ground and the National Black Justice Coalition.
Asheville resident Polly Schattel is a filmmaker and a member of the summit’s community committee, which has helped guide the focus of the summit. She also came out as trans a couple of years ago.
“I’ve tried to be more involved in the community,” Schattel says, “and I was invited [to participate in] this, and I just felt like I couldn’t turn it down.”
As Schattel sees it, the current political climate is motivating women to get involved. “It’s one of the fringe benefits of this terrible Trump administration,” she says. “A lot of women are fired up and ready to become leaders, and I would include the trans community in that.”
Schattel says there’s been “an explosion” of trans men and women stepping up to serve as leaders. “I guess every horrible thing has a good side,” she says, “and I guess this is the one good side.”
Lynch says that one of the concepts organizers are trying to promote this year is intersectionality, a term referring to the ways in which people’s identities — gender, race, sexual orientation — interact to create complex and cumulative forms of discrimination and marginalization. Organizers also hope to draw on participants’ individual areas of expertise, whether it’s health care or race equity, to see how these topics inform each other.
Organizers don’t want participants to go back their respective organizations and continue working in their own isolated areas of expertise. Instead, they want to see how participants from different backgrounds can support one another.
And that includes party affiliation. “The issues the NC Women’s Summit addresses are not partisan issues,” Carson says. “They’re human issues. That remains our focus, and we’re inviting women from all perspectives to discuss how we can improve education, health care and other areas important to all women of North Carolina.”
The summit is about encouraging women to bring some of that energy back with them to their respective fields. “We have to continue to move mountains … if we’re going to see real change not just this year but also in 2020 and 2024 and so forth,” Carson says.
Women AdvaNCe conference
9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, at The Collider, 1 Haywood St.
Tickets are $50; discounted student rate available. Includes breakfast, lunch and snacks.
More information and registration at avl.mx/5cb
FemFeels, a spoken-word poetry event, will also take as its theme “women moving mountains.”
6:30-8:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 9, at The BLOCK off biltmore, 39 S. Market St.
Tickets are $15, $10 for students. Those interested in performing should email email@example.com.