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Women in Politics: Part 4

More interesting women in politics.

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The fields of politics and government are slowly changing to accommodate more women. In order for these changes to occur, there have been a multitude of brave women who have broken down barriers and cleared the way for other women to succeed in these fields. Here are three of these amazing and courageous women.

Lieutenant General Nadjia West:

Lieutenant General Nadjia West, who is the US Army Surgeon General, has broken down barriers on her road to becoming the highest ranking African American female in the US Army.

As an infant, West was orphaned and put up for adoption. She was taken in by a family that had 11 other adopted children. Her father was in the US Army when it was still segregated, and he inspired West to consider a career in the Army. Her mother, a descendant of slaves, tried to expose West to positive female influences. West was especially inspired by Uhura from Star Trek, because she was an African American woman with a major role in the fictional Star Fleet.

After high school, West attended West Point in just the third year in which women were admitted. While at the renowned military institution, West faced constant doubt and criticism because of her gender and race. She did not let this stop her, as she went on to graduate and obtain her medical degree. She was deployed during Desert Storm and was the only woman in the medical unit.

U.S. Military Academy seniors in Company C-1, also known as "firsties," take a moment for a group shot in the Spring of 1982. Pictured, front center, is now Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Army Surgeon General and Commanding General, U.S. Army Medical Command, the highest ranking woman to graduate from the service academy. West, the youngest of 12 children, followed the footsteps of her father and nine siblings by joining the military. She credits one of her brothers, who also graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, for encouraging her to apply.

West (Center) with members of her class at West Point.

Following time at many of the military’s top hospitals, she was promoted to a three star Lieutenant General, making her the first African American female to hold this position in history. She is also the highest ranking woman to have graduated from West Point. In 2013, she received yet another promotion, becoming the Army Surgeon General. On this important position, West said, “I never really thought about that part. My parents taught me to work hard and be the best I can be and things will work out. I’m just really honored. If anything at all, I hope I can be an inspiration to any one or any group that has not seen themselves in certain positions. We all want to see people who look like us doing certain things to give us inspiration. Hopefully, I can inspire someone to be able to say, ‘I can do that.”

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West being sworn into her role as army surgeon general. (Credit:Army.com)

Her important role in the typically male field of military service makes her contributions to society even more important, as she shows that women can do what men do.

Ilhan Omar

Another woman who has broken down barriers for women of color is Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar.

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Omar on election night (Credit: City Journal)

Born in Somalia, Omar grew up the youngest of 7 siblings. Early in her childhood,her life was upended when civil war broke out. Her family escaped from Somalia only to find themselves in a refugee camp in Kenya. After four difficult years in the camp, her family’s prayers were answered when they were allowed to immigrate to the US.

The US was, however, not all that she expected, as she did not speak English and felt looked down upon as an immigrant. She worked hard to overcome this and learned English in only 3 months. Soon after that, her family moved to the more diverse city of Saint Paul, where there is a large Somali community. at age 14, Omar began attending political meetings with her grandfather, so that she could translate for him. She later went on to be employed as a community health care worker, as a policy aide, and as the director of policy initiatives at Women Organizing Women, a group that encourages women from East Africa to take on leadership roles in their communities.

Omar then decided to run for office herself by running in a local State Senate race. This was, however, not any easy road. Even within the Somali community, she faced doubt and criticism as a woman entering the typically male field of politics. She did not let this deter her and began working hard to earn the votes of those in her community. She also had to overcome a series of negative stories on conservative websites questioning her marriage and legal status. Despite this,  In November 2016, Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali-American legislator in the United States.

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Omar on the cover of Time Magazine (Credit:Time)

Her win made national headlines, and she was a guest on various shows, such as the Daily Show and CNN. She was also was featured on the cover of a special Time Magazine that named Omar among its “Firsts: Women who are Changing the World”.

Diane Feinstein:

The veteran Senator’s road to her current position was one marked with tragedy and perseverance. Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for 9 years, Feinstein struggled with her role as a woman in the male dominated world of early 1970s politics. She attempted unsuccessfully to run for Mayor twice and was targeted by the radical New World Liberation Front, which attempted to bomb her home and  later shot out the windows of her beach house.

This was not her only experience with violence. In 1978, her life was changed forever when a disgruntled former colleague walked into City Hall and shot the Mayor of San Francisco and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in the US. In an interview, Feinstein said, ” I walked in…and found Harvey Milk — put my finger in a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. But you know, it was the first person I’d ever seen shot to death, and you know when they’re dead.”

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Dianne Feinstein announcing the death or Harvey Milk and The Mayor of San Francisco. (Credit:LA Times)

 Feinstein announced the double assassination to the public and revealed the suspect. Then she was sworn in as the first female Mayor of San Francisco. Throughout her time as Mayor, she struggled to prove herself as someone worthy of the task. She began listening to the firemen on their radio and would go out at all hours of the night to help console victims.

She continued to break down barriers. She became California’s first female Senator. She was the first woman to sit on the Judiciary Committee, the first female Chairwoman of the Rules Committee, first woman Co-Chair of the Inaugural Committee — and the first female Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Throughout her time in Congress, Feinstein has played a key role on important legislation. She was instrumental in passing the 1994 assault weapons ban and has said that the inability to renew this ban is one of her biggest regrets. She has, however, continued to work to advocate for important issues. She is running this year for a record 5th term in Congress.

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Feinstein speaking about gun control (Credit:CNN)

Her ability to rise above adversity and to become one of the most well-known women in the US Senate is truly commendable.

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Women in Politics: Part 4