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Futures Afire

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Currently, 51 percent of the United States population consists of women, or those who identify as, yet only 22 percent of elected offices across the country are held by women. For gender parity in public office, the United States ranks dismally at 104th in the world.

If these statistics aren’t startling enough, gender political parity isn’t projected to become a reality for the United States until 2117. However, since the result of the 2016 presidential election, the number of women filing to run for office at all levels of government in the U.S. has spiked. Organizations across the country have begun capsizing on this phenomenal spike by training young women to run for office at a much younger age. One of the entities with the strongest presence among women and girls is IGNITE, a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to building political ambition in young women.

IGNITE works with young women in high schools and colleges by providing licensed curriculum to educational institutions that focus on civic engagement, leadership and policy. Students are given the opportunity to meet with elected officials and community leaders who serve as role models for young women aspiring to serve in public office one day. IGNITE also hosts annual conferences that provide detailed workshops on a variety of policies and networking opportunities with elected officials and participants alike. Additionally, as a nonpartisan entity, IGNITE assists with sharing volunteer or internship opportunities for other women candidates from all areas of the political spectrum.

Hear from two IGNITE participants, Brooke Lopez and Malvi Mehta, who have returned to IGNITE as alumni and are set on creating a new generation of women politicians.

Brooke says …
On my 19th birthday, I was sworn into office as the youngest public-appointed official in North Texas, serving on the Public Arts Advisory Board for the city of Wylie. This was only after I had already completed a year-long campaign for city council as the youngest and only Latina candidate, shattering the constructed norm of what a candidate in my hometown looks like. None of these monumental accomplishments would’ve happened if it weren’t for IGNITE. I had the opportunity to attend their Young Women’s Political Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., and the organization built my confidence to run for office while I was still in high school. IGNITE truly is inspiring generations of young women to make a difference.

Malvi says …
I was only a freshman at UT Dallas when I decided to do a spring break mini-internship with IGNITE through a university program. This experience made me fall in love with IGNITE’s mission, and I transitioned into a summer internship. When people hear about my involvement with IGNITE, they are often surprised since I study biology and healthcare management. But my work for IGNITE reinforces my advocacy for women representing in STEM fields, women serving in political office and, most importantly, women of all social and educational backgrounds developing the confidence to reach their goals. As a junior in college now, I am so proud to work as a high school facilitator for IGNITE in the Dallas Independent School District.

Brooke and Malvi say …
Now, as IGNITE alumni, we dedicate our time to young high school women aspiring to enter the political realm. We serve as program facilitators, or ambassadors of IGNITE who mentor students on a set weekly curriculum with lessons ranging from campaign 101 to public speaking and policy briefs. Additionally, we take part in the occasional guest speaking sessions with elected officials. We enjoy watching our students grow into educated, powerful young women who are ready to take on challenges like running for office. Our future with IGNITE will never be finished until gender parity is reached across all levels of elected office, because the experiences of women add essential commentary on the policymaking process.

Both students at the University of Texas at Dallas, Brooke Lopez and Malvi Mehta work to inspire young women to take active roles in the political landscape. www.igitenational.org

About the author

Jill Blevins Editor, writer, communicator, runner, reader, wife and mother. With an addiction to words and an affinity for AP style, I happily delve into the details. This Midwest transplant with a soft spot for home now embraces and advocates for all things Richardson.