Digging Deeper Into #WomensVote100 and the Barriers Women of Color Face in Government

May 22, 2019
10:32 AM

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the hashtag #WomensVote100 was trending on Twitter. This hashtag commemorates the 100th anniversary of the House of Representatives taking action on the 19th amendment —which gave women the right to vote in 1920. In the grand scheme of history, 100 years is not very long— especially when we factor in that it took much longer for women of color to fully participate in voting and they still face voter suppression to this day.

Images of women I admire filled my feed: Rep. Nannette D. Barragán presiding over the House floor and Rep. Barbara Lee mentioning the complicated racial history of this celebration. As we raise up the opportunity women have to participate in democracy, we must highlight the barriers that women in government still face today, especially women of color.

This specific group of women leaders is key and they largely depend on small donors to get them into these elected positions. So while we acknowledge the power of being able to vote (which many in this country don’t have), we must also know the challenges women of color face, even after 100 years, to win over voters.

Back in April, Congresswomen Terri Sewell and Veronica Escobar (Escobar is one of the first two Latinas to represent Congress) gave an interview titled  “What nobody tells you about running for office.” As we praise 100 years of action on women’s right to vote and this revolutionary freshman class all in the same year, there are some key points made in this interview to keep in mind:

Women Have to be Asked Five or Six Times to Run

Rep. Sewell explains, we see ourselves as the supporting roles, not in leadership. We need to reframe that for our daughters. We think about not being qualified enough, but that’s just not true. In our own lives, who are we most likely to tell “you should run for office”? Are we more likely to envision ourselves in the background or center stage? At some point, women of color in Congress shouldn’t be a novelty anymore, but the norm.

Self-Imposed Guilt

Rep. Escobar has described this guilt of not being there for her children. Or the shame of asking for money, “it’s particularly hard, I think, for women of color and women from working-class families and middle-class families” The truth is, “sometimes we are our own worst enemy”, Rep. Sewell said in the interview. We pick ourselves apart in the mirror about pimples instead of imagining ourselves as president. I too am quick to name all of the reasons I could and should never run, whereas, a lot of my male counterparts don’t think twice about if they can, but when they can.

Private Life

People are suddenly invested in whether you have a husband, and the question of how often you will be in the house, and how you will handle being a mom. Questions that just don’t come up from male politicians. Who are your friends and who is in your network? Can they invest in your campaign? This one stung particularly hard. There are not many in my network, especially the women of color in my circle, that I could imagine asking to donate to my own campaign without an overwhelming sense of guilt.

These three main points might sound redundant to many women. However, Rep. Escobar emphasizes being candid. The point of authenticity is not to scare people from running, but to be honest with the demand of the job.

#WomensVote100 absolutely deserves to be recognized. It also has allowed me a chance listen to these multi-tasking women who: vote, participate in government roles and rely on voters for their job. We are heading towards an election year. As we prepare, #WomensVote100 reminds us to examine the way we hold potential candidates. Are we pushing for women of color in our lives to run? Are we asking these gendered questions when women do announce? Which candidates need our money the most?


Melissa Cedillo is a Campaigns Associate at Faith in Public Life in Washington, D.C. She graduated from Loyola Marymount in 2018 with a degree in theological studies. She will begin at Harvard Divinity School this fall to pursue her master’s in theological studies: she is passionate about Latinx Faith depictions. Melissa tweets from @melissann19.