Make Sure You Aren’t the Last

Editor’s Note: Senator Kamala Harris will be the keynote speaker at the National Democratic Institute’s Madeleine K. Albright Luncheon on May 2 celebrating women’s political leadership around the world. Follow NDI Facebook to watch the livestream. 

I come from a long line of tough, trailblazing, phenomenal women. My grandmother would go into villages in India with a bullhorn, telling poor women how to access birth control. My mother came to the U.S. at the age of nineteen to study endocrinology at University of California-Berkeley and eventually became a leading breast cancer researcher. There’s no way I could have begun my political journey without strong role models like them to inspire me.
My sister and I grew up with a stroller’s-eye view of the civil rights movement and I often joke that as a child I was surrounded by adults marching and shouting for this thing called justice. 
It was that passion for justice that led me to become a prosecutor, and then to run and be elected as the San Francisco District Attorney, Attorney General of California, and a United States Senator from California.
Along the way, I encountered my fair share of naysayers. 
“Kamala, you can’t be a prosecutor and care about social justice.”
“Kamala, you can’t run for District Attorney. It’s not your turn. You’re at 6% in the polls. Give up.”
Yet today, I have the proud honor of serving the people of California in the United States Senate. 
From this platform—and every step along the way—I have tried to live another lesson my mother taught me: “You may be the first, but make sure you aren’t the last.”
The sad reality is, there are still not enough women at the tables and in the rooms where decisions are made. Globally, women are 50% of the population but hold only 15% of positions in national governments. 
There are countries where women who engage in the political process face not just slurs, or whisper campaigns, or comments about their clothes—they face rape, violence and even death. Imagine being killed for trying to serve in parliament or for trying to cast a ballot. 
And the disturbing authoritarian trend we’ve seen around the globe—in Turkey, in Russia, in Venezuela – is also bad for women. 
When citizens are shut out of their government, women are shut out of their government. 
When people’s voices are silenced, women’s voices are silenced. 
That’s why the work the National Democratic Institute does is so important. We must do more to promote women’s voices and perspectives across the globe.
I’m honored to be joining Secretary Madeleine Albright and NDI on May 2 to share why I believe this mission is so important. I hope you’ll join us.