Girls and Civic Engagement

As part of my internship, I originally wrote this post for the Minnesota Women’s Consortium (MWC) blog. The original post can be found here. My boyfriend and I got to volunteer at an excellent event put on by the MWC that taught us both so much. So of course I wanted to write about it! Enjoy!

Girls Rock! the Capitol is an annual event that girls from all over Minnesota can partake in. For the day the participants came to the state capitol and engage in mock elections, mock committee hearings and workshops. They were all able to interact with legislators that chose to partake in the day. Seeing young girls engage as they did at Girls Rock! the Capitol was truly an inspiring experience.

Girls want to learn, there is no doubt about this. A survey done by the Case Foundation found that two out of three teenagers surveyed (age 13-18) believe that they could learn more in the classroom if they had real world applications of what they were learning, in their community. And three out of four surveyed think that people who form groups for the purpose of political influence they can truly have an impact.

Young adults want to be involved and see its’ value. As inspiring as the event was and as promising as those figures are, it was a stark reminder that these opportunities are not afforded to girls on a regular basis. According to the new fact sheet produced by Civic Youth, in 2008-2011 Women ages 18-29 are more likely to be involved in any type of community or schools group, more likely to volunteer, and more likely to vote then their male counterparts of the same age bracket. However, Men ages 18-29 are more likely to talk about politics with friends and family frequently.

When adding in factors such as race and class, the numbers become even more dismal. The same Civic Youth Report says that only 15.7% of women of color (ages 18-29) discuss political issues with family and friends frequently (a few times a week or more). Contrasting with 21.8% of white women that do. 40.7% of white women sometimes or always vote in local elections. While only 31.2% women of color sometimes or always vote in local elections. Among women ages 18-24 only 12.9% of women in the bottom 25% of Socioeconomic Status have parental support for discussion of voting. While 68.1% of women in the top 25% of Socioeconomic status do have parent support for discussion.

More women are involved at the grassroots level but lose their confidence to move further up in politics. Civic Youth states that, women trail men in believing they are above average in competitiveness, popularity, and leadership ability. Women are less likely to be encouraged by “parents, grandparents, teachers, religious leaders, coaches, and even friends” to run for politics. Women are set up to be achievers but there achievement is seen at capping off at a certain point with no need for more movement.

When women are less likely to have the confidence and support towards a career in politics less women make it to these positions. A report from the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics state that there are only five female Governors, ten Lieutenant Governors, and eight Attorney Generals, currently in the United States. Among the 100 largest cities in the United States only thirteen had women mayors, only three of which are women of color. From 2004 to 2014 the percentage of women as State Legislators has only increased 1.7%. And for Women as Statewide Electives during the same time period the numbers have decreased by 2.7%.

We, as a state, and as a society, need more events like Girls Rock! The Capitol. At the end of the event the girls were asked to fill out evaluations and give us feedback. Comments such as:

“I really enjoyed meeting new people and knowing I’m awesome!”

“this was such a great & inspirational opportunity”

“This was really great because coming here I learned that I can make a difference in the community & government. Coming here I realized that I can make a big difference in whatever I do”

showed me the impact one day had on some of these girls. These interactions, these learning moments, need to happen more often and sooner. Young girls and women need to be told and encouraged that they can achieve these leadership positions. But we as a society need to ensure that those opportunities are there for them. Girls need civic engagement to reach their full potential and Girls Rock! is doing that.

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