Women IGNITE the matriarchy at the 6th Annual Texas Young Women’s Political Leadership Conference

Women IGNITE the matriarchy at the 6th Annual Texas Young Women’s Political Leadership Conference

Women IGNITE the matriarchy at the 6th Annual Texas Young Women’s Political Leadership Conference
February 20
15:28 2018

Dr. Carine M. Feyten, chancellor and president of Texas Women’s University, took the stage on in a crowded hall of elected female officials and eager high school girls ready to learn. Her speech discussed the common misconception that only a man is deserving to be president — a misconception that does not exist in other parts of the globe.

Feyten began with the retelling of an encounter when Iceland elected its first female president in 1980: one of her daughter’s playmates asked, “Hey, can boys be president, too?”

The 6th Annual Texas Young Women’s Political Leadership Conference was held Saturday at TWU. The event was created by the organization IGNITE, which aims to empower women to run for public office and participate in civic engagement. The event featured a key note address by Representative Nicole Collier of House District 95, as well as breakout sessions and discussions with many other elected female officials.

“We’ve seen record numbers of women reach out to us,” said Lizzie Robbins, IGNITE Texas state program manager. “We’ve seen record numbers of chapters getting started. I think women are energized because of events in the last year. I’m excited to see women finally mobilizing at a greater rate that might help us reach gender parity, sooner rather than later.”

Photo by Paige Bruneman

The Gender Parity Index (GPI) is a socioeconomic index released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that is usually designed to measure the relative access to education of males and females. 

According to Robbins and the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), women are 51 percent of the population, but only represent 22 percent of elected offices nationwide. At the current rate, women won’t reach gender parity for another 150 years.

The IGNITE organization also aims to dispel the misconception that you need to be older and have years of experience in order to run for a position in government. The purpose of the conference is to empower women now, rather than later.

“We believe that being 18 years-old and a college student is enough to run for office,” Robbins said. “We think you could do it in high school. You don’t have to have a doctorate and 10 years of experience campaign managing. We believe their voice is powerful today and it’s needed today. Their experiences bring important issues to the table.”

Photo by Paige Bruneman

The organization acts as an echo chamber, reinforcing the importance of participating and serving in local government. They encourage young women to find a position that interests them, one in which they feel they can make a difference, and to campaign for that position.

“Get involved locally in the most intimate setting possible initially,” said Betty Bourgeois, member of the IGNITE Advisory Council Community. “Whether it’s a commission that the city council appoints, you could say, ‘Well maybe I could be on the parks commission if it’s not a big city and I’ve played soccer all through school and I can do that.’ Make a connection with who you are, what your interest is and how you might get involved.”

Claudia Sandoval is one of many success stories for the organization. She attended the event last year but returned this year not only as a speaker, but also as city council member for the City of Cockrell Hill, Texas. She believes it is important for her to give back and encourage other young women in the same way she was encouraged.

“I think historically women have just been underrepresented in government at all levels,” Sandoval said. “I think it’s time now that we realize that and start to learn and teach each other how to navigate the power structure. It’s time to take a seat at the table.”

Although some of the students in attendance do not yet know what role they want to play, they do know they want a role, which is the first step.

“I want to major in political science and international relations,” said Charlie Estes, senior at Paschal High School. “Basically, my goal is to make the world better, so getting to do these workshops and learning more about the people who are doing it at the local level is really important.”

Many of the students have attended the conference before but find the second experience just as rewarding as the first.

“The workshop options are different [this year], which is really nice because I wanted to be able to come again without basically doing the same stuff as last year.” said Julieta Suarez, senior at Paschal High School.

The event was also attended by educators who wanted to ensure their students were able to experience all the conference had to offer. These experiences include opportunities that can provide greater education for young women. 

“I think it makes a really big difference,” said Jennifer Stafford, librarian at Paschal High School. “I think that especially as a woman, just even in education, I see all the time that we need more women to stand up and to really be good role models. I think this provides a really great vehicle for young women.”

While running for office is definitely a goal for many of the women in attendance, Robbins wants those in attendance to also understand the importance of roles that support potential politicians as well. 

“We need to build a foundation of women who support each other in running,” Robbins said. “They need to be campaign managers. They need to be funders. They need to dedicate their life to getting more women to run, support them, whether or not they run themselves.”

Regardless of what political path the women in attendance of the leadership conference decide to take, if one things is clear, it’s that the message is based on taking action and supporting other women.

“I think it’s time,” Robbins said. “The time is long past that women are asking for permission to do stuff, and I think when women come together collectively and support each other, we will have all the help we need.”

Featured Image: A group attends a workshop at the 6th Annual Texas Young Women’s Political Leadership Conference. The event was held at TWU and featured skill-building workshops, roundtable discussions with elected women and keynote addresses from prominent female political leaders. Paige Bruneman

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Slade Meadows

Slade Meadows

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