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As we learned from our 2011 report “When Women Lead,” women legislators, regardless of party affiliation, vote in favor of environmental protections more often than their male counterparts. Clearly, we need women on both sides of the aisle to advance policy, especially environmental policy.

But the vast majority of women in Congress are Democrats; they outnumber Republican congresswomen three to one. Why is this and how can we address this gap?

Rachel’s Network has partnered with Political Parity to identify the challenges Republican women face when running in primary elections. Political Parity, a nonpartisan program of Hunt Alternatives, supports research that tests innovative ideas and defines strategies to elect more women to high-level office. Preliminary findings from the new report, “Clearing the Primary Hurdles – Republican Women and the GOP Gender Gap,” were just released.

The research found that Republican women are far less likely to enter or win a primary election than their Democratic peers. Those that do run are often stuck in the starting block without adequate training and fundraising support. In contrast to Democratic women, female Republican candidates face higher hurdles, specifically Infrastructure, Indifference, and Ideology.

Infrastructure: Republican women have greater difficulty raising money than their Democratic counterparts. One reason is the lack of a GOP PAC with the scope and influence of EMILY’s List, which has been instrumental in electing Democratic women to Congress, providing early financial support, access to donors, and a “stamp of approval” that helps endorsed candidates leverage additional funding.

Indifference: While the GOP is focusing more today on electing women, female representation isn’t prioritized enough to move the needle, even though doing so could attract voters, engage minorities, and change public perceptions of the party from an out-of-touch “old boys club” to a more inclusive institution.

Ideology: In the past two decades, Americans, and even more so, the candidates and elected officials representing them have diverged sharply in ideology; conservatives are growing more conservative and liberals more liberal. It’s nearly impossible for a Republican candidate to run as anything other than conservative.

The complete findings of “Clearing the Primary Hurdles” will be released in January 2015 and will be used to engage stakeholders to take action. Our partnership with Political Parity is a perfect example of our mission of supporting women’s leadership.

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