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Women in leadership positions urge younger generation to use their voice

Arizona Legislature
Posted at 5:23 AM, Aug 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 09:03:34-04

According to a study done by Rutgers University, 81.3 million women were registered to vote in the 2018 election -- about 10 million more women than men. As we approach another major election, history is being made as more women of color hold office.

"I feel that in order for us to be successful, we have to be able to show other women, and especially the younger generation, that they can do whatever they set their minds to," said Rep. Alma Hernandez.

Hernandez made national headlines when she became the youngest lawmaker to be voted into the Arizona legislature.

"For me, it's a really big deal, you know, yes, we're celebrating 100 years, but I also realized that there's a lot more work that needs to be done," Hernandez said.

Senator Jamescita Peshlakai, the first Native American woman to serve as a senator in the Arizona legislature, shares the sentiment.

RELATED: Women continue battling political barriers in Arizona

"I'm always advocating for our children to look to being the next leader, the next senator, the next governor... and hopefully in my lifetime we will have a Native American president of these United States," Peshlakai said.

In 2018, Arizona ranked number one in the nation for female lawmakers. According to the Rutgers study, women made up 40% of the state legislature. Today that number is slightly lower at 38.9%. Two of the three largest cities in the state have women as mayors. Regina Romero is the first woman ever to be mayor in Tucson and the first Latina, too.

"They were excited... my family and friends were excited. So we decided to go for it and we knew there had not been a woman mayor ever in our history," Romero said.

Despite being elected to a high office, Mayor Romero says she is still working to break through stereotypes of women in leadership roles.

"It really takes some time. It takes some heartache. And it really takes some pushing on my part to tell people, 'I know you've always seen this and you're used to this, but I'm going to do things differently,'" Romero said.

Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee, the first Asian American woman elected to a statewide office, said she also had to push through barriers during her time serving in the state senate.

"The gentleman sitting next to me said, 'young lady. You're asking a few too many questions,' and well, of course, my reaction was, let's ask 10 more questions," Yee said.

The Pew Research Center says the minority vote will be huge this year. Organizations like The United State of Women are working to encourage more women to participate in the November election.

RELATED: How Arizona played a role in women's suffrage movement

"Because as a low income... first-generation, like, Latina, I...found that voting is essential. And it's the way to exercise our voices at the polls, but my family and a predominantly Latinx community within Phoenix didn't necessarily believe that. And growing up, that's something that I heard all the time, that your vote didn't matter that. It wasn't going to create any sort of change," said Irene Franco Rubio, Phoenix ambassador for The United State of Women.

According to the Pew Research Center, this is the first time Gen Z will be eligible to vote in a general election. State Representative Dr. Geraldine Peten said getting younger people involved in the political process isn't always easy.

"When I'm termed out, I would certainly hope there is someone else to step in to represent women of color, but younger people seem to be disenchanted with politics," Peten said.

The November election is already historic with Senator Kamala Harris becoming the first woman of color on a major party ticket. She's only the third woman ever to run as Vice President after Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin.

One hundred years of progress with more to be made. All the women that we've spoken to say they look forward to the day when a woman will sit in the Oval Office as Commander in Chief for the very first time.