Old white men might command most of the headlines concerning political issues in the United States, but it would be wrong to ignore America’s women — they’re a political force to be reckoned with.
Women lead about 24.4% of our state legislatures, hold 7 cabinet-level positions in Obama’s administration, and have been elected to 19.4% of seats in Congress. That’s according to the latest data from the Center for American Women and Politics.
These might sound like small victories, and maybe they are when you stop to consider that American women have had the right to vote for almost 100 years. Nevertheless, a new generation of women from all across the world is rising up to make political and social discussions much more vibrant and diverse.
Here’s a look at five inspirational women, all of them under 30, who are shaking up the political world.
At just 18 years old, Saira Blair is getting started early on her road to political greatness. In November 2013, Blair commanded 63% of the vote to defeat a 44-year-old attorney, winning the right to govern some 18,000 residents of West Virginia’s 59th District.
Saira Blair’s unlikely rise was fueled by a formative experience in school, where she helped push a mock bill through a simulated state legislature. That was all it took — from there, Blair had the political bug.
The secret to her early success, Blair suggests, is her handwritten letters to her constituents and supporters. She’s written more than 3,500 of them, according to some accounts, which not only introduced voters to her as a candidate, but also provided directions to their nearest polling places.
Lindy Li hails from Central Pennsylvania, and will seek leadership of the state’s 7th District in 2016.
As a Democrat, Li has stressed the importance of “government of the people and for the people” — a lesson she learned well when her family arrived in America with little more than “a suitcase of dreams.” Just as the national spotlight has swung toward populist ideas, Li, in her statement of values, stresses the importance of investing in America’s middle-class families and making college education truly affordable for students everywhere.
It probably goes without saying, but America’s major political parties — and most of our media outlets — have a lot of trouble speaking to, and about, the Latino community. That’s where Ruth Guerra comes in.
Guerra, now 27, is the Director of Hispanic Media for the Republican National Committee (RNC). She began her political career in 2008 as a volunteer for the McCain campaign, and went on to become the first national press secretary for the LIBRE Initiative.
The core of Guerra’s message is to reconcile America’s strong belief in hard work and self-reliance with an institution that frequently fails to fully understand the unique challenges faced by the Latino community. Inspired in equal part by the “bleak statistics” and “seeing others succeed,” Guerra is among those committed to making sure our Spanish-speaking populations are getting a fair shot at the American Dream.
Yvonne Dean-Bailey, who hails from New Hampshire, is the newly elected State Representative for Rockingham’s 32nd District.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many 19-year-olds who are fluent in campaign finance or election law, but Ms. Dean-Bailey not only speaks the language, but also serves as a member of the Election Law Committee in New Hampshire. In that capacity, she works actively to improve ballot access, redistricting, and campaign finance matters that affect her home state and her constituents.
Rounding out our list today is a young woman with more social justice experience than many politicians several times her age. Malala Yousafzai is an 18-year-old Pakistani activist who now makes her home in Birmingham, in the UK.
Yousafzai’s political career began when she started speaking out against Taliban strictures in Pakistan that prevented young women from attending school. Ever since, she has accepted a worldwide spotlight as she brings her advocacy for women’s rights into the international spotlight.
TIME magazine has listed Yousafzai as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, and for good reason: she’s spoken to the United Nations about women’s rights, she was nominated for the World Children’s Prize in Sweden, and she’s even been shot while championing equal rights for women.
Hopefully you’ve found this roundup of influential women inspiring. But we know there are many, many other women who are shaking up the political world in a big way — so who did we miss? Feel free to let us know in the comments!