The Year of the Woman Comes to Illinois
By Emilia DiMenco and Hedy Ratner

Tomorrow is a monumental day for the city of Chicago. For the first time, not only does the city have a run-off election between two women, it has a run-off election with two African-American women.

This historic mayoral race follows an inspiring wave of women leaders sworn into office earlier this year including democratic newcomer Lauren Underwood, an African-American woman from Illinois’ 14th district, who unseated a four-term incumbent Republican in a district that is 86 percent white.

In elections across Illinois, including Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin’s spot in the upcoming runoff for Chicago treasurer, women in politics are making a difference for our local communities. Here and across the country we are celebrating women taking part in both local and national government. There is much to celebrate but now is also a time to reflect.

In 2020, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, the most significant legislation for women’s voting rights in our nation’s history. The achievements of the women’s suffrage movement have set in motion a century of progress, but their victory was just the beginning of the ongoing fight for true gender parity and equality in our society—a vital right we must achieve in order for women to truly succeed.

In recent decades, advancements in economic independence and entrepreneurship have played a crucial role in increasing the levels of female participation in areas such as business and government, because achieving economic freedom often allows for women to have the financial ability to pursue new opportunities.

In the wake of 2018’s record-breaking midterm elections, over one hundred women are now serving in Congress, a feat that would have seemed insurmountable just a few generations ago.

Research suggests that female politicians are much more likely than men to guide conversations towards legislation that relates to women specifically – such as prosecuting domestic violence or increasing paid leave. They are also more likely to invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their families and communities than men are.

As women continue to seek more positions of influence, it is important to celebrate the progress we’ve made so far towards driving societal change.

Female politicians from Illinois are making their voices heard in Washington, with many serving in leadership positions. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who represents Illinois’ 9th district, currently serves as a senior chief deputy whip, making her the third-ranking Democrat in Congress. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who represents Illinois’ 17th district, recently became the second woman to chair the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DCCC), which is responsible for retaining the House Democratic majority in 2020.

And did we mention we currently have a record number of women running for President?

When the Women’s Business Development Center was started in 1986, it was created as an organization to help women establish their economic independence because of the positive difference that would make towards giving women equal opportunities.

As we conclude Women’s History Month, there is much to be excited about both in Illinois and around the country. We celebrate the outstanding achievements of women in our government, businesses, and communities, while encouraging them to promote continued social change by advocating for entrepreneurship and economic independence for women. Continuing to ensure women have the means to support themselves and their families is essential to securing women’s equality in society.


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