Two years ago, when I first attended TISL as a lobbyist for Organized Labor, an article was written about me - the article was not about the bills I was lobbying for, nor was it about my TISL experience at all. The article was about the pink blazer I was wearing, and it referred to me as Elle Woods. At first, I loved the article - I was ignorant of its sexist implications.
After its publication, however, it was very hard to get people to take me seriously. To this day, I am sometimes still referred to as TISL’s Elle Woods. This year I am fortunate enough to serve as Lobbying Director. I am also the first Lobbying Director to serve on the Executive Council as a non-voting member.
Within these two years I have learned a great deal about women in leadership. I have learned that I have to work harder to be taken seriously, I have learned the importance of having diverse leadership and I have learned that sexism is still prevalent at TISL, no matter how much we would like to believe that it is not.
TISL has only had four female governors, despite us celebrating our 50th anniversary this year.
We had a bill that was disapproved in committee that was an act to exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax. Apparently, the delegates in the committee voted against the bill because they believed feminine hygiene products are not a necessity, and yet there are young women in Kenya that miss an average of four days of school each month because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products.
With rumors floating around about who is running for elected positions, it is unfortunate that I have heard of only very few female delegates running for a position this year. This is unacceptable and we need to start making progress. Many of us will go on to do amazing things - we are the future of government. If we do not start holding each other accountable now, how much can we expect sexism in politics to change?
So what can delegates do now to enact change? Attending the Women’s Caucus to discuss women issues that are prevalent at TISL is a start. So is standing up and speaking out about bills that relate to women’s rights, discouraging media from writing articles that perpetuate sexism and encouraging the women around you to run for a position.
Statistically, women have to be asked 5 times to run for a position before they do, because they believe they are not qualified enough. Perhaps the most important thing a delegate can do is start a dialogue about the issues women in face in government, even at a student level.