Noora Chandasir never knew how powerful her voice could be.
That changed after the Lambert High School senior attended the 2017 Young Women’s Political Leadership Program (YWPL) held in Washington, D.C. June 19-24.
This is the 11th year Running Start, an organization that provides young women with the tools they need to be politicians, offered the program, which “introduces high school girls to the power of political leadership and includes workshops led by experts about public speaking, networking, fundraising, on-camera media training and advocacy,” according to its website.
Though Chandasir didn’t have a political background prior to the program, she said she applied following the 2016 election cycle.
“I’ve always been interested in politics, especially after the 2016 elections and looking at voter turnout and voter demographics, but I never really knew how to get into politics,” she said. “I applied [for the program] but didn’t think I’d get in because I had no political background.
“I got in and I learned so much, [especially] that many women feel they aren’t qualified enough but they’re more equipped than they know; that’s called the impostor syndrome. The program empowered me to speak up.”
Chandasir said each day, various speakers — the majority of whom were women — would present to the 60 high schoolers.
“I think one of the biggest takeaways was that often, the majority of universities and colleges are comprised of women, but we see men in the leadership roles,” she said. “Issues on campuses aren’t addressed because women aren’t at the table to legislate them and there’s still sexism and ageism [in society].
“Society has an antiquated idea of what women’s roles are, and there are so many women in the community who need someone to stand up for them; I now [know] I need to be that voice.”
Currently, women compose 19.6 percent of congress, holding 105 out of 535 seats that make up the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
That number is too small, Chandasir said — something she hopes to change.
“It’s not a partisan issue at all. Women comprise 52 percent of the voting population, and it’s not about ‘I’m a Democrat or I’m a Republican’ — it’s a bigger issue that we have to combat,” she said. “Before the program, I didn’t really have any political experience, but now I have an idea of how to run for office and how to start this conversation with society to encourage women to be in office.”
Chandasir said she saw the issue most clearly at the women’s congressional softball game.
“At the game, women of both parties come together,” she said. “It shows you that women just have to work together and we should encourage one another.
“I’m in several leadership positions at school, but I really want to encourage more people — not just young women — to advocate for their ideas and speak up for their beliefs. I realized I’m more capable than I think, and if I don’t like system, I can get in there and change it.”