The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
While serving on a subcommittee for the Hamilton County Commission on Girls and Women, Anna MacLennan had a thought: Why isn’t the political gender gap addressed from a youth angle, like similar issues in STEM were tackled by Black Girls Code and countless other groups?
“The reason for underrepresentation in government starts with how society talks to and influences young female and non-binary youth,” said the 18-year-old from Cincinnati. “They’re learning from a really young age that running for office is not a career option that they should pursue.”
To address this, MacLennan launched Girl Power Politics (GPP) after receiving guidance from fellow commission members.
The organization holds free events to get area girls interested in politics. At the first event in December 2019, local elected officials Denise Driehaus, Catherine Ingram and Amy Murray told a group of 27 girls about their own experiences in politics, helping them visualize themselves in the same position one day.
Political organizer Faith Gingrich-Goetz told attendees how they can get involved in politics now—from engaging in social media activism to taking part in a local campaign. Isabella Guinigundo, the former president of the Young Activist Coalition of Cincinnati, taught them how to organize protests.
“I wanted girls to see themselves not only as future politicians and elected officials, but also as current community change makers,” MacLennan said. “There is no minimum age to make an impact on your community.”
Getting this message at a young age is key for addressing the gender gaps in politics, said Denise Driehaus, president of the Hamilton County Commission. “Women and girls often feel like they’re not qualified enough to hold elected office,” she said. “They don’t understand that no matter what their exposure or background is, whatever they bring to the table is an asset to that conversation.”
While women win at the same rate as men when they run for office, less than 30 percent of elected offices in America are held by women. In 2020, women made up 26 percent of all candidates for statewide executive office. In November 2020, the number of transgender elected officials rose from 28 to 32, and the first non-binary state legislator, Mauree Turner, was elected in Oklahoma.
Non-binary and female representation in government is crucial for future generations, said Bre Kidman, representing Maine as the first non-binary person to run for Senate. “I think it’s difficult to conceptualize yourself in a position without seeing anyone like you there. Having people who have carved out space for themselves makes that task less daunting,” they said.
With Girl Power Politics’ non-partisan approach, the girls learned that politics are about more than just which party one belongs to. Politics are not about fighting, but rather “helping the community and finding ways to make things better for people,” as Audrey Norwell, who was a seventh grader when she participated in the first GPP event, describes it.
Girl Power Politics has three chapters in Ohio, four across the United States and two international chapters. Since MacLennan is moving away from Cincinnati to attend Harvard in the fall, she plans to expand the organization’s online presence through a series of interviews with young organizers and interviews of female and nonbinary politicians.
“We eventually want this bank of interviews so that there’s somewhere that young female and non-binary youths can go to and see ‘Here are all of the people in this space that are like me. I can do it too,'” MacLennan said.