Akaisha Cook, Political Science Major, Honors College, University of Nevada-Las Vegas
Getting the opportunity to mix, mingle, and learn from congresswomen, senators, and CEOs from all around the country for a day… I woke up that morning with only one thought, “… YASSSSS! Women leaders are life!” As a political science and journalism major, this was an opportunity of a lifetime and was one I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of.
Walking up the escalators – yes, I walked instead of staying waiting to get to the top (can you tell I was nervous?), it was around 7:45 AM at that time, my head was churning out facts and information I had read online about my mentor for the past 72 hours. Nevada Assemblywoman of District 1, Lisa Krasner, would be my guide and mentor through the program for the entire day. Yes, all mine. We began the day with breakfast. After spotting my mentor across the room sitting at table of diverse women, with short breaths and my back straightened, I marched up to Assemblywoman Krasner and introduced myself with my rehearsed introduction speech.
For a lack of better words, I was so not playin’.
After my 10 second spiel, she just smiled and said, “Well, it is so nice to meet you, Akaisha (she said my name right!). How about you go grab some breakfast and come join us at our table.” OUR TABLE?! I was moving up in the world, hanging out with Assemblywomen and such. In a more serious tone, at that moment, I felt so calm. I was so nervous about how I would present myself from my clothes down to my facial expressions – what it would say about me and if it was all positive. Assemblywoman Krasner’s ability to exude kindness just with a simple handshake and smile made me say to myself, “Girl, calm down and have fun.” Which is what I did for the rest of the day.
Here’s the thing: Women leaders are phenomenal. But at the end of the day, they are people who had an interest, aspiration, or an encourager who recommended them to run for office. They did not let the thoughts of others consume their mind with the decision to run for office, especially ones that questioned their capability of being a state legislator because of their gender.
So yeah, the day was fantastic. I learned about a variety of policy issues and got the chance to see how my Assemblywoman took in a plethora (to put it lightly) of information and delegated. I got to meet representatives and senators from all over the states, listening to their advice on how they got to be where they were. One thing that was universal: If you want to run for office, just do it. As simple as that. Something you may already know, but they’re not called fundamentals for nothing. It’s your life, do with it what you want and don’t let others tear you down because of it.
Janine Gharghoury, Public Policy major at University of California, Riverside
Today, I attended the Women in Government 7th Annual Healthcare Summit through the Future Women in Government scholarship. The annual event, which is sponsored by Southwest Airlines, gathers female legislators together for a series of healthcare briefings and networking events, and serves as a conduit of turning education and conversation into action.
Female leadership in healthcare is incredibly critical to the future of women and their rights to self-determination. Women comprise approximately 75% of the healthcare workforce, but only hold around 20% of associated leadership positions. This disparity in representation manifests itself in legislation that ultimately does not serve women or their futures, and will continue to lead to decisions and laws that are not reflective of the people they are designed to serve. The Women in Government 7th Annual Healthcare Summit, in partnership with Southwest Airlines, addresses these issues, by ensuring that women are included in healthcare solutions.
During the Healthcare Summit, I accompanied female legislators as they met with several healthcare professionals to discuss the challenges of diagnosing and treating rare diseases, improving the health outcomes of mothers and children, promising new developments in Alzheimer’s research, and the role of the federal government in expanding coverage and mitigating disparities in health outcomes. Although each meeting covered a different healthcare topic, one resounding theme was hard to ignore- there is a real dissonance between legislative efforts related to healthcare and actual healthcare outcomes, and this is further exacerbated by the lack of female representation in government positions.
Women’s health issues are more likely to be addressed under female leadership, so without their voices in the healthcare field, healthcare alternatives are both limited in their scope and their impact. We must elevate women in health care industry to ensure that the future of healthcare is in step with the needs of the women and families it is intended to serve.
Kim Nguyen, Bioengineering major and Public Health minor at University of California, Berkeley
On Friday, November 28th, I had the opportunity to attend the Women in Government’s Seventh Annual Healthcare Summit as a part of the Future Women in Government Program. The program selects undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate a passion for women’s leadership to participate in the conference, as well as network with current legislators. The programming was diverse in nature ranging on talks about rare diseases, Alzheimer’s, and the regulation of medical devices in the European Union. I appreciated being able to hear about different disease areas, as well as hear from a variety of patient advocacy groups. When I reflect upon my experience in the program, the most formative impact comes in the form of a reminder about why I am so passionate about health and, particularly, women’s leadership in health.
This reminder came in the form of presentations that were unapologetically focused on women. One particular presentation on bleeding disorders stood out to me. While bleeding disorders can affect both men and women, they are often not correctly diagnosed in women. Many clinicians will miss the warning signs and simply normalize the symptoms as a natural function of menstruation. Due to this, women with undiagnosed bleeding disorders will often suffer from chronic fatigue as a result of anemia, difficulties healing after sustaining cuts of injuries, and heavy and prolonged menstrual periods. While this is just one example, it reminded me of how fundamentally underrepresented and understudied women’s health issues are. So often in society women’s voices are lost or are systematically unheard. In the healthcare field it manifests in the lack of studies about women’s health, the lack of women in clinical trials, or how women’s pain is often downplayed. According to a study “The Girl Who Cried Pain,” there is a definitive gender bias when it comes to clinical pain management where women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients.’” The pervasive disregard of women’s pain and women’s health issues is a definitive example of how political power, or lack thereof, can have an impact on one’s health outcomes . When it comes to healthcare, I am interested in exploring the relationship between availability and accessibility. The existence of healthcare infrastructure does not mean there is homogenous patient engagement across different demographics. This idea is best illustrated in studies of OECD(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations that offer universal healthcare, yet still have differing levels of engagement in the healthcare system and differing health outcomes across demographics. Even when there universal healthcare coverage, populations residing within the most deprived areas in England have the poorest health outcomes; residents of the most deprived areas have life expectancies that are on average shortened by seven years. High levels of morbidity, multi-morbidity, and low life expectancy afflict these populations compared to their least deprived counters. In addition to this, people living within deprived areas in England are more likely to suffer from public health issues including smoking, alcohol related diseases, and obesity. Although a universal healthcare system provides a solution to the problem availability, it becomes clear that positive health outcomes are more tightly linked with accessibility. Social determinants of health such as gender, race, education, and socioeconomic position have an immense influence on one’s health outcomes because they paint a larger narrative about accessibility. In a modern society where medical advancements are vast, it is important to consider other factors that may influence an individual’s or population’s health outcomes. In the case of bleeding disorders the importance of addressing social determinants of health is paramount. For this specific ailment, gender had a decisive impact on health outcome
Furthermore, this presentation reminded me of the importance of having meaningful advocates and representation in healthcare. In a system where women’s health issues are trivialized, it is extremely important to have women at the decision table. Awareness of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed bleeding disorders is a direct result of the work of women’s organizations. Women leaders have been able to bring a unique perspective to the table owing to their individual experiences. Being a woman in a position of leadership means having to face marginalization, oppression or ridicule, and having the strength to persevere. It means standing in solidarity with others to combat the darker parts of our society and our antiquated way of promoting inequities among humans. Women leaders are in a unique position to bring power and voice for those rendered powerless and voiceless. This is especially true when it comes to women’s health.
Overall, I was grateful to be able to participate in a program that not only featured women’s health issues, but also empowered young women to engage with the subject matter as well as empower them to rise to positons of leadership.
Anna Faucher, Government & Legal Studies and History double major, Bowdoin College
As a current undergrad pursuing a degree in government and legal studies, there could not be a better opportunity than to attend Women in Government’s annual conference as a Future Women in Government. To get an inside look at the politics of state senators and legislators helped me gain understanding of what it means to enter politics as a woman. The advice and stories that my mentor shared with me were priceless and personal, which not only reminded me just how powerful and amazing women can be, but also how we can make a difference. Attending WIG’s national conference in my home state of Maine really opened my eyes to the national scope of state politics and further motivated me to continue pursing involvement in the public sphere to help others. I am extremely honored and fortunate to have been provided the opportunity and learning experience as a FWIG, and for that I wholeheartedly thank sponsors like you.