Girls’ Day at the Legislature advocates political involvement

By Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

photo by Craig Cunningham/Daily Mail

Capital High School student Jillian Kinder speaks to other young women about the lack of females in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at the inaugural 2015 Girls’ Day at the Legislature. The event, sponsored by the West Virginia Women’s Commission, was designed to give young women the opportunity to experience the legislative session discuss issues that are important for them.

 

Although 21 women have been elected to represent West Virginia in the state Legislature, young women across the state say they’d like to see more women become involved in the political process.

About 400 girls from high schools across the state gathered Tuesday at the Capitol as part of the inaugural Girls’ Day at the Legislature, sponsored by the West Virginia Women’s Commission. Tara Martinez, executive director of the commission, said the organization has for several years hosted a Women’s Day at the Legislature, featuring a youth component. But last year, some of the girls involved said they wanted their own day.

“I said if I can get enough of you here, yes we will invest in that,” Martinez said. “I put out a call to each of the high schools and by the end of December we had 400 girls registered for Girls’ Day at the Legislature. Today is about them. Not very many adults have spoken today and that’s because it’s their time. They’re telling us what they need to stay here in West Virginia and to grow the state.”

Katherine Duty, 17, from Scott High School in Boone County, said girls her age don’t see a lot of opportunity in West Virginia. But she and others are working to change that.

“We are trying to promote women and young girls to get more involved with the Legislature and government and inspire them to be all that they can be,” Duty said. “Each of us gave a few speeches and discussed a few things on how women can be more involved in local government.”

Duty said she and others are advocating for policies to allow women to grow in West Virginia. They want to see more educational opportunities and more job creation geared toward women and girls.

“We’re the ones lacking in education compared to men,” Duty said.

A forum in the lower rotunda allowed students to talk about issues important to them. Topics ranged from educational opportunities to problems with the Legislature’s concussions bill to women’s empowerment.

“Girls’ Day at the Legislature offers a unique opportunity for our youth to not only experience a legislative session, but is meant to provide a voice for these students to discuss issues important to them,” Martinez said. “It is an incredible chance to start what will hopefully be a long-term conversation.”

Sarah Summers is a 9th grade history teacher from Ripley. She brought 22 girls with her to learn more about policymaking and to see first-hand how the legislative process works.

“The girls I brought today are really passionate about government and excited to come,” Summers said. “I was happy to bring them on the field trip today.”

In addition to the forum and observing House and Senate floor sessions, participants also participated in a West Virginia University Institute of Technology STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program and breakout sessions focusing on volunteerism, leadership, governance and public policy. They also got the chance to tour the C-SPAN bus, which made a stop at the Capitol. Some had the opportunity to meet with their local elected officials.

Martinez said a Girls’ Day at the Legislature is already being planned for next year and will likely again take place in early February.

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-5149 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.