Last weekend, as news networks declared that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had won the US 2020 election, I reflected on why his win was historic. Not only did he garner more votes than any other candidate in US presidential history, but the win gave America its first woman vice-president in Kamala Harris. The fact that she is also a person of colour feels poetic. Politics aside, it’s a bright spot in what has been a traumatic and dark election.

Harris was not the only woman to make history in this election. Women built on the gains of the 2018 mid-terms, dubbed the “Year of the Woman”, when 127 women, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, won seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The trend, while slow, is going in the right direction. What is more, these women represent a great swathe of life: Cori Bush becomes Missouri’s first Black congresswoman, Stephanie Bice will be the nation’s first Iranian-American House lawmaker. Yvette Herrell is the House’s first Republican Native American woman and Delaware, president-elect Biden’s home state, elected the first openly transgender female senator, Sarah McBride.

Even though women haven’t shattered the presidential glass ceiling yet, one can’t help but get the sense that everything is looking up with Kamala Harris in the White House. Searching for ways to assure our daughters that girls can become prominent leaders, we can reel off a (short) list of international heads of state: New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ireland’s Mary Robinson, and yes, even our Margaret Thatcher. I can already see how Kamala Harris’s history-making win has softened the edges of scepticism, because she is the first African-American and South Asian-American person, as well as the first woman, to be elected vice-president of the United States. Amongst other things, that means we are about to see Harris’s Chuck Taylors in the West Wing – and will witness a senior female politician blithely ignoring the “rules” of traditional political dress, redefining them in her signature trailblazing fashion, signalling a can-do attitude and a sense of purpose. Many of our students are still of an age where the optics alone can tell you if you can reach for the stars or not. And right now, I see magic happening that will have a wonderful long-term impact. I can’t wait to see how this moment will inspire our habitual line-steppers and boundary-pushers to pursue their goals. I am searching for more upsides, but the truth is, outside of seeing more women in government, I cannot see any others just yet. We know that having more women in government won’t automatically reduce inequality. After all, we are all products of our experiences and hopes. But I do hope we will use this close call to confront America’s divide with honest conversations and decisive action. Then, maybe we can create a world where our students can run for prime minister if they want to without their gender being remotely an issue, and live in a world where they will be heard and valued. As Harris herself put it in her first speech as vice-president elect: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last…”

Nisha Kaura
Head of the Junior School