With presidential candidacy announcements a year away and a highly anticipated 2016 presidential race, the desire to see a woman as the president of the United States is stronger than ever. This is evident as former supporters of Hillary R. Clinton have started the Ready for Clinton grassroots organization. Without a formal announcement from the former Senator and Secretary of State, they have developed a strong grassroots operation to strongly encourage Clinton to throw her hat into the ring.
It is clear that the electorate is ready for women to be political leaders at the highest levels. This was first seen in 1992, a year that was dubbed "The Year of the Woman" because of the historic amount of women elected to the United States Congress. In the 2012 elections, 20 women were elected to the United States Senate. Consequently, the 113th Congress started with the most number of women elected to the Senate in the history of our nation.
While women have ascended to high power leadership positions in numerous fields, such as politics, business, and law, we still see a lack of equal representation in politics. Women make up 50% of the population and yet hold only a small percentage of seats in state and national legislatures. Currently, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United States is ranked 84th in the world in terms of women's political representation in national legislatures. The legislatures in the United States do not accurately reflect the American population. Yet, it is the citizens of this nation that have the most power in changing the face of politics.
Studies have shown that political ambition starts at a very early age. However, the documentary Miss Representation shows that between the ages of 7 and 15, the amount of girls who declare that they want to be the President of the United States drastically diminishes. It is evident that in order to close the gender gap in American politics, one has to appeal to the ambition of young female leaders.
We, as the electorate, play a role in bringing about parity and closing the gender gap in American politics. Listed below are three ways in which a young girl can be encouraged to start considering a future as an elected official.
1. Encourage girls and young women to run for office by asking them!
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, women need to be recruited in order to run for statewide and national offices. In order to reach the women who would make strong political leaders and close the gap in political ambition, this recruitment should start early. Young girls need to hear from parents, teachers, and other individuals close to them that they have the skills to become great political leaders. The idea that they can be elected to the highest office of the land should be something that should be equally instilled as often in young women as it is in young men.
2. Get girls prepared by having them attend political trainings.
There are a number of organizations that work toward demystifying running for office, for political newcomers. National organizations for youth include Running Start, IGNITE, as well as other local programs that train girls to pursue elective office. Young women can move forward as they seriously consider running for office, to be trained by organizations that prepare women for public office. This includes Yale University's Women's Campaign School and the Ready to Run Campaign with Rutgers University. The result of these trainings has been the candidacy and election of some of the nation's most prominent and female politicians.
Many of these organizations introduce the young women to a variety of fields in the political sphere and encourage them to pursue leadership in politics. These organizations are dedicated to training the next generation of women leaders at the state and national level.
3. Expose young girls to women civic leadership in the community.
In order for young girls to aspire to be political leaders, they first need to see women that have been successful in pursuing careers as elected officials. It is the responsibility of our schools and families to take girls to town hall meetings, state capitols, and participate in other opportunities where they can visibly see women leaders in the political realm. It is with the visibility of these strong leaders that our girls will start to envision a new option for their future. It is also by interacting with these women that possible mentoring relationships, which are critical to being successful as a politician, can be developed.
The above list on how to get young women to consider politics as a career option is not exhaustive. This is only the beginning of a conversation on how to change the political ambition of young women. It is only a start in how the electorate of this nation can start to change the dynamics of our political system. It also places the power to close the gender gap in politics in the hands of the people. While much more can be done, the task of creating equal representation in the United States legislature is within reach, with the identification, training, and mentoring of young women.