Ohioans React to Diversity in 116th Congress
For some women and girls, the 116th congress represents more than just districts across the country, but possibilities. Especially as firsts like Minnesota's Ilhan Omar took the oath of office in Washington D.C. on Thursday.
“It's amazing, and it's very exciting because that never happened,” says Nasro Aden of the Somali Community Center.
Aden says the lack of representation in government can take its toll.
“I feel like i'm hated or targeted or not wanted,” says Aden.
But, seeing Omar and other women of color joining congress has a different effect.
“That actually opens a lot of opportunities,” says Aden who sees herself in public office like Omar. “America is full of a lot of opportunities and now that she was able to get in office and become congress, that just basically gives us opportunity and hope that we can actually take the opportunity that this land gives.”
More than 100 women were sworn into the 116th congress Thursday - more than ever before. Representative Omar is one of the first two Muslim women elected to congress ever, and the first Somali-American.
Representatives Sharice Davids and Deb Halland are the first Native American women to serve in congress and Arizona’s Krysten Sinema is the first woman and openly bisexual congressperson from the state.
For the first time, Texas elected two Latinas to represent the state, and Connecticut and Massachusetts will each have their first African-American female congressional representatives.
And, Representative Nancy Pelosi from California became Speaker Pelosi for the second time, reclaiming her gavel as the only female speaker of the house in history.
Those firsts were a point of pride for Rep. Joyce Beatty (D- Ohio 3rd Congressional District) as she addressed supporters at her ceremonial swearing in last week in Columbus.
“I go to Washington with 24 other black women who look like me,” says Beatty who was ceremoniously sworn in by a panel of African-American female local and state judges. “I go to congress with more women, black, brown white yellow than we have ever had in history.”
That representation can have an impact on everything from what laws are made to what issues and programs are funded, and the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio says the more women in leadership, the more inclusive those policies become.
“I think women have a different perspective,” says Jen Miller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “Education, healthcare, reproductive rights - and not all women agree on the issues but they still have a lived experience and perspective that needs to be represented in office.”
Though there were gains in the 116th congress around diversity, advocates say there is more work to be done. Just around a quarter of legislators in Washington are women, and even fewer in local and state government in Ohio.
We should be excited to see all of these new faces coming into political leadership, but we have a long way to go,” says Miller. “And we need to make sure we continue to vote and continue to promote equality in all forms.”