BY MERIDITH MASKARA
On Nov. 7, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to cast their votes in the 2017 general election. All indicators show that turnout will be especially low. In 2013, just 25 percent of Queens voters turned out.
This is a shame, especially since gaining the right to vote was a hard-fought battle for so many, including women. Nov. 6 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State. I believe that it’s the duty of every woman to exercise her right to vote—and teach her girls to do the same.
Participation is so important. Every day, we see the fight for women’s equality is far from over. Look no further than the incoming City Council, where at best 12 seats, less than 25 percent, will be held by women. In Queens, three of 15 current council members are women. In Congress, women representatives were recently excluded from the conversation on changes to the healthcare law. Even in the most basic ways, women continue to be discounted in government affairs. No woman has ever appeared on U.S. currency, and now Harriet Tubman’s fate on the $20 bill is in question.
To continue pushing towards equality and ensure women’s issues are acknowledged at City Hall, the state capital and the halls of Congress, we must engage. Each time a woman chooses not to use her vote, we lose momentum. Let us think of the examples we want for our daughters. We need to teach girls to be civically engaged at a young age, so that when they grow up, they know how to use their voice—and their vote—to further the rights and position of all women.
That’s why the Girl Scouts just launched the G.I.R.L. Agenda, a nonpartisan initiative to inspire, prepare and mobilize girls and those who care about them to lead positive change through civic action. Building on our legacy of civic engagement, our programming now includes a civic action badge for girls as young as age 5. Girl Scouts across New York City, including the 6,800 served in Queens, will now have more opportunities to get engaged and advocate for issues important to them.
But this is just the beginning of what we can accomplish together: As a city, we need to join forces to equip all girls with the tools to use their voices and make a difference in their lives and communities. We need to empower girls to take action—through service projects, testifying at City Hall or writing letters to their elected officials. We need to teach this to girls in school, after-school programs, shelters, detention centers and housing developments.
Today, we choose to remember the courageous women who fought for our rights, and we use this anniversary to remind women and girls everywhere that our voices are the strongest weapons we have as we fight for our future. Here’s to the next 100 years.
Meridith Maskara is the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York and the mother of five girls.