Around the country, women candidates are preparing for the 2018 midterm elections:
EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women seeking elective office, reports that since the 2016 election, 20,000 women have contacted the group about running for office — up from just 920 women the year before. And even more women are declaring their ambition to run for office as a result of the #MeToo movement; as powerful men are yanked from their thrones, women are ready to take their places.
Today, just 21 of the nation’s 100 U.S. senators are women — a paltry record — and only six state governors are women. In Texas, Dallas County — my home county — fares slightly better than average among state and federal offices. But it is failing at the municipal level, where women occupy just 29 percent of elective offices, including those in local governments, school boards and community college districts. A small subset of Dallas County’s cities are at parity, but the majority are far from achieving that goal.
Five of the county’s 31 cities have no women on their city councils, and 11 cities have only one – meaning half of all cities in Dallas County are worse than the national average of 24 percent. Only four cities have female mayors. Not surprisingly, these cities are among the top performers in political parity at the municipal level. Just five cities are at or above parity.
Nationally, women tend to occupy school board seats at higher rates than other levels of elected office. This remains the case overall in Dallas, where women hold 40 percent of these seats countywide. Yet again, there is enormous disparity across the county’s 15 school districts: Six are at or above parity, yet five have only one female school board member.
The outcome of the 2018 midterm elections — and in particular women’s involvement — could mark a shift in the country’s politics. Women are tired of being left out. How would governance change if we reached gender parity in elected office?
It won’t happen overnight. At the current rate of change, it will take 150 years to achieve parity, and in some states there is no road map to get there. But, what if we, as a country, encouraged our young women to run for office? There are many national organizations that train adult women to run, but comparatively few that focus on girls and young women. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we have IGNITE, a national, non-partisan, nonprofit organization that is building a movement of young women who are ready and eager to become the next generation of political leaders. IGNITE launched Texas programming in 2011 thanks to the leadership of the Boone Family Foundation and others. The Boones realized that resources had to be dedicated to training young women in high school and college, as school-aged girls are less likely to be encouraged to run for office than their male peers. If we want to effect long term change in the number of women in political office, we have to make sure that we focus on the long run as well as the short run.
As the state director of IGNITE in Texas, I am proud to say that we serve 1,000 girls and young women in 40 high schools and colleges across the state. Locally, IGNITE has a strong presence in the Dallas Independent School District, making a difference for the young women of Gilliam Collegiate Academy, Skyline High School, Law Magnet and Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. IGNITE is also represented in Arlington, Irving, Fort worth, Collin County, Denton County, Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Our high school programs teach young women how to lead and analyze the most pressing policy solutions in their communities. Our college chapters operate as student organizations headed by young women who establish IGNITE on their college campuses. They lead programming, hold voter registration drives and organize community outreach efforts. This year IGNITE, launched a licensing program where schools obtain the curriculum and teach it in their classes; we have plans to create an online platform to engage young women all over the country. Each year, we hold a state conference where female elected officials from both sides of the aisle rally around our young women to mentor and talk with them about what it’s like to run and serve. The female elected officials in Texas have been generous with their time and guidance, preparing the next generation to own their political power.
When it comes to political parity, Texas ranks 41st in the nation, with only 20 percent of our state Legislature made up of women. As the United States is undergoing a political and social shift like we have never seen before, we need to ensure that our young women are prepared to heed the call and step into political leadership.
IGNITE is making that happen.