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Women in Politics Part 1

Women who are making a difference in politics.

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This week, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois made history as the first Senator to give birth while in office. This historic moment represents the slowly changing demographics of national politics and the recent influx of females in various government positions. Many of these women have overcome tremendous obstacles to get to their current careers and have shattered glass ceilings in their own way. In order to recognize the achievement of these outstanding women in politics, I will be doing weekly profiles on a variety of women who transcend party and position, so as to showcase the important role that women play in politics.

Tammy Duckworth:

Having a baby while in office is by no means the most remarkable fact about Senator Tammy Duckworth. She is the true definition of an American hero who has broken down barriers and stood strong in the face of terrible tragedy. Born in Thailand to an American father and a Thai mother, she moved around Asia for many years before settling in Hawaii and attending George Washington University for graduate school.While at GW, she joined the Army reserves, following in the footsteps of her father, who fought in World War Two and became an officer. Since the roles for women in combat were extremely limited, Duckworth decided to do one of the few things she could: fly helicopters. She attended flight school and, in 2004, was deployed to Iraq.

Duckworth with the black hawk she piloted (Credit: Daily Herald)

While flying a black hawk in Iraq, Duckworth was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade that exploded in her lap, blowing off both her legs and severely damaging her arm. Bleeding profusely, she was aided by her fellow soldiers who would not leave her behind. She was airlifted back to the US, where she received the purple heart for her service.

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Duckworth in physical therapy. (Credit: Daily Herald)

Duckworth spent months recovering from her myriad of surgeries. After recovering, she began working in the VA trying to help provide better healthcare to her fellow service members. Duckworth can walk with prosthetic legs, but it is a painful act that she seldom does. Instead, she stays in a wheelchair. She, however, does not let the wheelchair stop her. She was twice elected to Congress and made history when she was elected to the Senate, becoming the first female amputee elected to serve in the upper chamber. Her variety of accomplishments and courage in the face of tragedy are admirable and commendable.

Jackie Speier:

Another outstanding member of Congress who overcame a tragic event is Congresswoman Jackie Speier. Speier began her career in Washington working for Congressman Leo Ryan. In 1978, Speier agreed to be part of a group led by the Congressman that went to visit the infamous Jamestown cult in Guyana. This trip was considered extremely perilous, and Speier even wrote a will in case she did not return. Despite the risks, Speier went on the trip because, as she told Roll Call, “Back in 1978, there were not many women in high-ranking positions in Congress,” said Speier, who was legislative counsel for Ryan at the time. “I felt if I didn’t go, it would be a step back for women holding these high positions. I thought, ‘I can’t not go'”.

Twenty-three people — including Spier, the Congressman, and journalists — went to Guyana, but many of them did not return. The group was ambushed by followers of the cult. The Congressman and 3 journalists were killed. Speier was shot 5 times, once at point blank range. She laid for 22 hours on the airstrip waiting for help. That day, 900 members of the Jonestown group committed mass suicide by drinking kool-aid spiked with cyanide.

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Speier receiving medical treatment 22 hours after the ambush. (Credit:CNN)

When Speier finally made it back to the US she required 10 surgeries, all with 24-hour protection from the U.S. Marshals Service because of threats to her life.The Jonestown tragedy was not the only tragedy Spier faced. When she was pregnant with her second child her husband was killed in a car accident. Despite these tremendous obstacles she made her way from local government all the way to Congress, being elected to the seat that had been held by Congressman Leo Ryan. Today she is well known for her work addressing sexual harassment in Congress. She partnered with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to introduce the Me-Too Congress Act, which seeks to reform the way sexual harassment claims are made in Congress.

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Congresswoman Speier testifying about sexual harassment in congress. (Credit: CNN)

Speiers’ tremendous courage and ability to move on from prior tragedy and devote her life to equality make her a truly commendable figure.

Nikki Haley:

Another female politician who has broken down barriers is UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Born in South Carolina to an Indian American Sikh family, Haley faced her own set of struggles. Growing up, she did not always fit in. When she was 5, she tried to enter a beauty pageant, but she was not allowed because the pageant was only for Caucasians or African Americans.

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Young Nikki Haley with her family. (Credit:NBC)

Haley, however, did not let this stop her. She excelled in school, graduating from Clemson and serving in the state legislature. In 2010 she made history as the first Sikh and first woman of color to govern a southern state. She was also the youngest Governor in the nation at only 36 years old.

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Haley after winning her gubernatorial election. (Credit:CNN)


During her time as Governor, Haley received widespread praise for her actions to help remove Confederate flags from the statehouse grounds following the racially -motivated Charleston church massacre.

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Haley signing the order to remove confederate flags from the South Carolina Statehouse (Credit: Politico)

In 2017, Haley was picked by President Trump to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations. She has used this role to stand up to Russia and promote issues such as human rights. Many see her as a future Secretary of State or Presidential contender. For now, however, she will continue her efforts at the UN attempting to hold Russia to task for their role supporting the Syrian Regime

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Ambassador Haley at the UN. (Credit:NBC)

Each of these three women has overcome tremendous odds and has made a lasting mark on history. They all should serve as our inspiration as we go about our daily lives. To see more stories of females who broke down barriers in the political field, come back to the Garnet Mine in a few days to see profiles on some more courageous and inspiring women in politics.


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Women in Politics Part 1