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Women meet to discuss how they can make a difference in the Utah Legislature by reaching out and creating relationships with their representatives.

SALT LAKE CITY — Issues that affect women affect everyone.

That was the message Wednesday as advocates and lawmakers met to discuss ways women can make a difference in the state's upcoming legislative session.

"It's just important to keep in mind that women's advocacy is everyone's advocacy, and women's issues are everyone's issues," said Andrea Himoff, executive director of Action Utah.

Action Utah, YWCA Utah and Women's Leadership Institute hosted an educational event and panel Wednesday to discuss women's issues in Utah and how to advocate for change when the legislature convenes this month.

On the panel were Pat Jones, CEO of Women's Leadership Institute; Erin Jemison, director of policy at YWCA Utah; Utah Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City; and Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi.

Although specific issues were discussed, the event was focused on general steps women can take to make a difference.

"How do we take this energy that we have and channel it in ways that will really move the needle?" said Jones.

One of the most important steps presented for advocating with Utah legislators is creating a relationship. Jones suggested reaching out to representatives early in the year before the legislative session starts.

"Every time you are emailing or calling or texting elected officials, that's part of a long-term relationship that you're establishing," said Himoff.

Elizabeth Braymen, who attended the event, said she became involved with issues in the state last year and has been using this approach of engaging with representatives.

"I started going to the legislative information sessions that January and got to know some of the legislators and just felt there wasn't this division anymore between the people and the politicians, it was like they really are us," Brayman said.

Escamilla encouraged those in attendance to be respectful and concrete when reaching out to their representatives. She also suggested letting representatives know in the subject line of an email that you are one of their constituents.

"I'm going to respond first to my constituents," Escamilla said.

Jemison said she has done gender issue advocacy in four different states, and in Utah she has found that decision-makers are more willing to have a conversation with her.

"I've never seen a level of difference that ordinary people can make like I have in this state," Jemison said.

Being educated about the bills lawmakers are considering is also important in advocacy, said Himoff. The bills can be viewed on the Utah Legislature website. The Action Utah and YWCAwebsites also have pages that follow specific bills.

Another point made Wednesday is that change in legislation does not happen quickly and can take many years. One example presenters gave is the gender wage gap.

"What I've learned from this conversation over the years is you can find data on both sides, and it gets really tense. Utah hasn't necessarily done a lot of in-depth compensation studies, and I know people are tired of studies, but if you want data-driven policy I think it's critical," said Escamilla.

Anderegg agreed "legislature is a long-term game," saying you must lay groundwork and find facts before you can make changes.

Jones, who served in the Utah Legislature for 14 years, also noted that women can make a difference by running for office.

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"It was the very best leadership training that anyone could ever ask for, and so I love encouraging women in particular to run for political office," said Jones.

Jones talked about women's abilities to impact both the government and other organizations because of gender differences.

"There are issues that women have feelings about and concerns about that maybe aren't as apparent to men, and they're willing to speak out about them," said Jemison. "I would say in some ways it's harder for women because we haven't reached gender parity in terms of access to the power and the decision-making."