Our country has a leadership disparity problem. Women make up a little more than half of the US population but hold only a quarter of state legislature seats and a mere 10 percent of governorships.
The barriers to women’s civic and political leadership start early. Research looking at the next generation of women, ages 18–25, has found that even when equalizing for demographic factors, political exposure, political activity, and personal aspirations, young women are significantly less likely to be open to political leadership than are young men.
In Texas, women face disproportionate challenges as compared with women throughout the United States. Women make up only 20.4 percent of the Texas legislature, as compared to a national average of 25 percent. While much of the rest of the country has experienced a slow but steady incline in female representation, Texas has declined from its high of 23.8 percent in 2010. This makes Texas 35th in the country in female legislative representation.
What if we could build a movement of young women who are ready and eager to become the next generation of political leaders? That’s what IGNITE hopes to do. We develop and deliver programs in high schools and colleges that provide civic education, exposure to women in political leadership, hands-on training opportunities, and a peer network of women who support and nurture each other’s political aspirations.
How? IGNITE’s 50-hour high school curriculum trains young women to understand how government works, why it matters, and how to analyze the policy issues that impact their lives. Girls meet with elected women and candidates from their communities, who then become role models for success. Through this program of rigorous self and community exploration, girls ultimately define their call to service and start on the path to becoming the next generation of civic and political leaders.
We also host annual conferences for high school and college women. Conferences include skill-building workshops, meetings on current policy topics, roundtable lunch discussions with elected women, and keynote addresses from prominent female political leaders. In 2018 IGNITE will host nine conferences across the United States, including one in Dallas and another in Houston.
Ultimately, we hope that a portion of our participants will pursue political and civic leadership in their careers. But, in the immediate future, we also hope to improve participants’ civic knowledge, political ambition, and civic engagement/participation.
Gender parity in civic and political leadership matters. It is more than an issue of equity; it is a reflection of the fundamental health of our democracy. Different people with diverse life experiences bring new perspectives to the priorities we hold, the processes by which we engage, and the policies we enact. Having more women in civic and political leadership will create better policies to advance women’s security, which in turn helps all families rise.
For more information on IGNITE’s programs, see ignitenational.org.