Charleston, West Virginia (CNN)
T he first time Tara Martinez looked at a report on the status of women and girls in her state, she wept. Often she still cries when she talks about the picture it paints. It’s all just so overwhelming – and, at times, dark as coal.
The lack of employment opportunities. The dispiriting earnings gap between men and women. The rate of teen pregnancies. The percentage of women who are on disability. The shortage of those who complete college. The dearth of those who have benefits. The list goes on.
“Where do I start?” she remembers feeling. “In a state where people feel so hopeless, it takes your breath away.”
Women candidates, women voters and women’s issues could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate next year. CNN travels to three battleground states — New Hampshire, West Virginia and Colorado — to explore the age-old question: What do women want?
As the executive director of the West Virginia Women’s Commission , Martinez is in the business of empowering women – lifting them up through advocacy, education and research. She keeps her personal politics private because she wants all women to feel safe talking to her.
“I don’t want to be their voice,” she says. “I want to teach them to use their voices.”
By some measures, the dismal data suggests that the Mountain State is among the worst places in the country to be a woman. It also ranks near the bottom for female representation in elected office. West Virginia has never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate, but this year that will change. Both Senate candidates are women – Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.
The question is, will sending a woman to the Senate change things? Do these candidates represent the concerns of women in West Virginia?