Arkansan Women Work to Support Each Other in Local, National Politics

Janine Parry welcomes students back to class Jan. 14 during her gender and politics class.

On the heels of a record-breaking year for women in Arkansas and U.S. politics, Mariam Siddiqui spent her summer and the fall semester of her senior year in Washington D.C., getting the chance to see female politicians in action.

“Being in D.C. and a woman in politics, I was actually kind of surprised because a lot of the people I was working around were women,” Siddiqui said, “And for my committees specifically, I worked with a lot of women of color, which was really nice because I have, like, a skewed idea of who works in politics and who doesn’t.”

Siddiqui, a senior majoring in political science, spent her summer interning for U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib in Washington, D.C., where she worked on policies and legislative issues.

Siddiqui spent the fall 2019 semester in Washington, D.C., working with the House Judiciary Committee. A lot of her work in the fall was focused on the impeachment process and an act that would remove marijuana out of Schedule I drugs, which would have an effect on Arkansas and its recent medical licensing.

For Siddiqui, it was refreshing to see women, especially women of color, and like-minded people working in these spaces.

“Predominantly the people on (Capitol) Hill are typically white men, but the amount of women and women of color involved at the staff level and also now at the member level, it was encouraging and inspiring to see that there are strides being made to change the atmosphere,” Siddiqui said.

Of 135 legislators in the Arkansas Senate and the House of Representatives, 33 are women, with seven in the Senate and 26 in the Arkansas House, according to the Center for American Women in Politics. This broke the 2009 record of 32 women.

Siddiqui ran for UA student body president in 2019 and has since worked on voter registration and getting a polling place on campus, she said.

Siddiqui, who is back in Fayetteville, will soon start working on NWA campaigns and hopes to get involved on campus again, she said.

Janine Parry, a political science professor, is looking forward to seeing if the number of female candidates hits record levels for the U.S. House and Senate elections as well as the few governors elections that will be held in 2020, or if they will stay flat from the 2018 election year numbers, she said.

“It had been flat for so long,” Parry said. “That’s why it was a news item. Any increase was considered a really big deal.”

The percentage of women in the Nevada state legislature hit a record of 50.8% in 2018 –– something Parry will be following in 2020, she said.

“There are some patterns in terms of what kinds of bills female legislators are more likely to introduce, as compared with male legislators,” Parry said. “But we don’t know if that’s going to grow or change or what difference that will make once they are half the body.”

Parry thinks Nevada’s numbers are interesting because Nevada state legislators are leading the way to women gaining numbers in legislative roles, she said.

“They lead the way. It’s very important that people remember that public policymaking is happening in the state legislators, not in congress,” Parry said.

Records could not only be broken for the number of female candidates for 2020, but also by the possible election of the first female U.S. president.

The 2020 election brought forth six female candidates for president –– the most in U.S. history, according to CAWP. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D) and Amy Klobuchar (D) are the two nominees still in the race.

Nonprofits like non-partisan group Women Lead Arkansas are working to get women across the state involved in local legislations that are following the same female-driven push through campaign training programs.

“We just want to see more women taking the lead in their communities,” founder Stephanie Harris said. “Whether it’s running for office or leading a girl scout troop. It doesn’t have to be politics, we just want to make sure that women know that they can do it and not to sit around and wait for someone to ask them because we don’t get asked.”

The group plans on becoming an aggregator for all women in the state of Arkansas, Harris said.

Abbi Ross is the Editor in Chief of the Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as senior staff reporter.

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