Story highlights Pramila Jayapal is the first woman from Washington state to become a Democrat U.S. Representative
She’s an advocate for ending gender inequality, and she supports a Medicare-for-all health care system.
As the youngest Indian-American and first woman from Washington state to join Congress, Pramila Jayapal stands as one of the most powerful leaders in Capitol Hill.
Last year, the 41-year-old Democrat won the special election to represent the state’s 1st Congressional District in one of the nation’s most conservative districts. Since her January 1, 2017 inauguration, she’s fought to achieve higher education, while also combating poverty, veteran unemployment and racial profiling. She also worked to pass Washington’s Reproductive Parity Act, which guarantees that all women can access reproductive health care, including medication-based abortions.
Jayapal has also been able to accomplish a lot, especially compared to her generation. Before being elected, she was already an attorney working at a public interest law firm focused on environmental and public health issues.
“I have the utmost respect for people that have been leaders before me,” she said, “but I’m willing to borrow that because I don’t always have the same access to it that others might have.”
Jayapal, who used to live in India before coming to the United States, now considers Seattle home. So her experiences living abroad have helped her with her current job. She does, however, plan to go back to India once she gets to Washington. She still feels quite close to India and that one of her dreams is to teach there.
For now, she’s focusing on building her diverse and close-knit congressional team. From the office staff to the congresswomen, she believes there’s a need for more women in leadership positions. The rise of the women’s movement and the more diverse American government — such as this new Trump administration — has inspired Jayapal. She feels that public policy should be made more intentionally to make it more inclusive.
Still, she continues to learn the country’s politics and ways of government. One thing she likes is “knowing the landscape.”
“Knowing things are not right from inside the camp is sometimes preferable to lobbying, arguing, and changing policy to change it,” she said.
But being in Congress isn’t all politics and legislative maneuvering. It’s also about having something fun to do.
“The Democrats are not the party of negativity,” she said. “The Democrats are not the party of diminishing each other. We’re the party of transformative. You don’t have to agree with someone to believe in change. It could be the gutsiest thing to say something in public.”
As a leader on the Hill, Jayapal said she feels extremely lucky, especially because she still inspires a lot of young women looking to get involved.
“I have a number of young women that I’ve been really impressed by recently,” she said. “And that is an area that’s really important to me because I’ve had young people come up to me and say, ‘You’ve inspired me to get involved in politics.’ So for me, it’s also about support and encouragement for our next generation.”
And, after coming from India, she said she hopes she can inspire people to do the same.
“I’ve heard the phrase that, in India, it was believed that all young girls had to be beautiful. That was such a limiting, outdated notion that I’d like to move a world of beliefs by just getting started,” she said. “So that’s a place that I want to try and help people address.”
And just in case you’re not already inspired enough, Jayapal shared her top three things she thinks all young women should have in their lives:
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