COVID-19 cases are back on the rise simultaneously as the political stakes for young women also go up ahead of the 2022 midterms. That said, the challenges of the pandemic are also solidifying young women's political resolve. The virus is shaping the next generation of political leaders.
COVID-19 has led many young women to realize that there are a lot of things that get decided on their behalf. These decisions touch every part of their lives. And if they’re not in political power, then they don’t get to sway decision-making. Everything gets decided on their behalf, and as we have seen over the last year, not always in their favor. Politicians may give one reason in public for voting a given side on legislation. But in private they may allow prejudices, particularly about young women, to carry the day.
Young women are so over it. And they're determined to change the way things happen. In fact, they get more determined each time the pandemic ticks up.
Every time COVID-19 surges it adds a challenge to young women's political ambition. After nearly two years of pandemic protocols, many Americans are disappointed with the resurgence. Organizer were looking forward to hosting in-person events in the New Year. That includes in Tennessee, where there is a gubernatorial election in the state in November, and in-person events like a first-ever community council panel could help people get politically engaged. But public safety is the top priority so IGNITE organizers will keep hosting virtual events until it's safe to switch, although overcoming Zoom fatigue will continue to be a challenge.
Meanwhile, the virus has already had a devastating impact on young women. IGNITE’s COVID-19 survey of thousands of young women found high rates of job loss and depression. It shows high rates of financial stress and an uptick in time spent caring for families. Among respondents, 53 percent lost sleep over too much worry and 73 percent felt under constant strain. Being from a low-income family led young women to be more concerned about COVID-19 than anything.
These challenges, though, also highlight the issues that young women care about. And these challenges shake people free from the notion that they're not political, for example work to provide services for unhoused people. It's been harder than usual to meet with them during COVID-19, and many unhoused people will avoid shelters during a surge.
These things leave a mark on a person and on an entire generation. Whether it is trying to work on homeless issues or being from a family where your parents' income suffers. You realize the issues you care about give you a stake in how we make decisions as a society. Young women are asking themselves plenty more questions. Did my university provide mental health services so I could keep studying? Did it support my remote learning? Did it make sure I remained in housing? Was I able to draw unemployment? Was it easy to access benefits, or were the barriers too complex? Did I have to take on dangerous work to make the money to survive? Did my financial independence suffer? Was I safe from eviction? Could I get a COVID-19 vaccine? What about rapid tests? Did I have to stand in line for hours when I could have been working to get a test? And did I have to pay for it?
COVID-19 galvanized young women who don't think of themselves as political. The answers to these questions depend on elected leaders. If young women aren't getting what they want, they're realizing something. It's time to change what our elected leaders look like. And that process will have sped up thanks to the impact of COVID-19.
Sara Guillermo is the CEO of IGNITE, the nation’s largest and most diverse young women’s political leadership organization.