Meet the women who are leading their communities through the pandemic

Political women offer strategic, resourceful and resilient approaches to leadership. As the pandemic sheds light on significant disparities, women’s political leadership has been instrumental in ensuring access to community resources and lifting up marginalized voices. By supporting women leaders, we have the power to shape the landscape of politics for a brighter, more inclusive future. Here are just a few of the many elected officials who are leading their community through the global pandemic. 

NJ Secretary of State, Tahesha Way 

NJ Secretary of State Tahesha Way has shown courageous and impactful leadership during these challenging times. Her optimism and strong values have shaped her work serving her community and the state at large. Prior to her work leading the state of NJ, Way served as an Administrative Law Judge and on the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Way led the Women Empowered Democratic Organization of Passaic County and served on the board of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

In 2018, Tahesha Way was sworn in as NJ Secretary State, becoming the third woman and second black woman heading a state department. During the pandemic, Way has focused on the use of mail in ballots to protect the health of her constituents and ensuring their voices are heard. As stated by Way one of her priorities is to, “...make democracy real for all residents of New Jersey through maintaining and strengthening voting rights and common ground efforts to modernize the voting process.” Way has prioritized equal access to voting and community resources while encouraging more diverse women’s leadership at all levels of government. 

Maryland State Delegate, Joselyn Pena-Melnyk  

Maryland State Delegate Joselyn Pena-Melnyk has worked to empower and support her community during these challenging times. Pena-Melnyk’s experiences as an immigrant have informed her strong values - providing impactful leadership during her time at Casa de Maryland, a social services organization focused on immigrant issues as well as her time on College Park City Council. As a leader within her community, Pena-Melynk strives to close the civic opportunity gap by providing young women opportunities to hone leadership skills and make a difference in their communities. Her campaign for Maryland General Assembly was led by a passionate group of diverse volunteers. She has also served at the NEW Leadership conference at the Center for American Women and Politics which strives to provide women of all ideologies opportunities to get involved in their communities and run for office. 

Maryland State Delegate Joselyn Pena-Melnyk serves on the Health and Government Operations Committee, which has played a large role in providing community resources. During the pandemic, Pena-Melnyk has supported bills to provide mandatory mental health training to first responders and establish a Community Benefit Reporting Workgroup to adopt regulations to ensure accessible and affordable access to healthcare. 

Nevada Assemblywoman, Shea Backus 

Nevada Assemblywoman Shea Backus has passionately led her community. A member of the first female majority state legislature and the first female Native American elected to the Nevada State Legislature, Backus provides valuable representation to her community. Backus’ leadership is shaped by her strong values in providing representation and resources to underserved communities. She has long served at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, providing pro bono legal services to those in need. 

Nevada Assemblywoman Shea Backus has been instrumental in supporting legislation to protect her community during the pandemic. Recently she has worked to address health disparities within the state and provide access to affordable care which has been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.Backus has also supported bills to protect people against evictions, increase funding for public schools and widen access to mental healthcare services. The assemblywoman has also supported safe voting efforts, working to make mail in ballots accessible and processed electronically. 

NJ County Commissioner, Shanti Narra 

New Jersey County Commissioner Shanti Narra has courageously led her community throughout the pandemic. The first South Asian County Commissioner, Narra’s leadership is shaped by her ambition to provide important representation and encourage effective civic engagement. She began her career in public service in 2007 serving in a number of roles on her Township Planning Board and Township Council. A graduate of Georgetown University, she is currently a practicing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of New York. Narra is involved in the New Leadership conference at the Center for American Women and Politics and the Inspiring South Asian American Women (ISAAW) organization which mobilizes and empowers women to engage in political and civic issues. 

New Jersey County Commissioner Shanti Narra has mobilized her community to support those in need during the pandemic. As chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee, Narra has supported efforts to connect community resources to those in need. Narra was recently appointed to the NJ Transit Board where she will be focusing efforts on ensuring safe access to public transportation. 

Women leaders provide valuable representation and act as strong advocates for their communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to support women leaders who fight for their communities by providing opportunities to close the civic opportunity gap and ensure equal access to crucial resources. In addition to IGNITE, organizations like RepresentWomen and LatinasRepresent work to close the civic opportunity gap to empower diverse and effective leadership. 

To make a difference in your community, utilize IGNITE National’s tool Sophia the VoteBot to receive a customized voting plan. Every woman has the power to make a difference - and IGNITE is here to support you