By Suzanne Parker
Politics affects nearly every aspect of our daily lives. But for some groups, including women and girls, what happens politically has a disproportionate impact on their health, safety, and well-being.
Many of the issues heavily debated right now — the economy, healthcare, gun control, and education — carry tremendous consequences for those most vulnerable and with the least amount of political power due to factors such as gender, age, race, and ethnicity.
This is why it’s so important for girls to be civically engaged as early as possible. Through the Girls Inc. ‘She Votes’ initiative, girls realize the power of their voices, learn about the structure and role of the U.S. government, and are inspired to lead and become future female leaders.
Through ‘She Votes,’ girls research candidates, hold mock debates, meet with elected officials, visit polling places, and even help register voters.
Building a more equitable society means educating and empowering girls to be actively involved in civics and the political process. Three key reasons why it matters right now:
1. Starting early means greater likelihood of voting
We know there is a relationship between youth civic education and their political engagement and future voting. When we help young people understand early on why voting is important, how the political process works, voting rights, and their local government, they build a lifelong commitment to being civically engaged. During the 2014 midterm elections, only 12% of eligible 18- to 21-year-old college or university students voted.
2. Women are still very underrepresented in public office
Women remain underrepresented among state governors, in Legislatures, and in local office. Women of color are further underrepresented as elected officials. While women make up more than half the U.S. population, they are represented by a Congress made up of 80% men. Educating girls and young women about this reality can empower them to change it. A government cannot represent the will of the people unless it reflects their diversity.
3. The 2018 midterm elections
On average, voter turnout is about 60% in a presidential election years, but only 40% during midterm years. Yet Congress (as well as local leaders) determines many of the policies that impact our daily lives. With a number of key issues affecting women and girls on the legislative agenda, this year’s election will play a critical role in determining whether girls in this country have the rights and opportunities they need to grow up healthy, educated, and empowered.
At Girls Inc., we believe the recruitment of women into political and other forms of leadership must start with girls. We encourage area residents and business leaders to use this year’s election season to engage and empower the girls in your lives — and make sure you vote, too.
Suzanne Parker is executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke; [email protected]