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Female Leaders: Bushra Amiwala

Bushra Amiwala is a Chicago native, activist, DePaul University Junior and former candidate for the Cook County Board of Commissioners. At the age of 19 she announced her candidacy for the Cook County Board of Commissioners to serve as a voice for her underrepresented generation and other marginalized communities.

Her campaign has been covered nationally by TIME magazine, Teen Vogue, Scholastic Magazine and Seventeen magazine to name a few. Bushra's passion for various issues and organizations lead her to decide to run for office and her campaign resulted in historical voter turnout, making her a strong second with 13,500 votes. She was the youngest person and first Muslim woman to ever run for this seat and was recently named GlamourMagazine’s College Woman of the Year for 2018 and is on HerCampus'22 Under 22 Most Inspiring Women list. Bushra was awarded the Public Peace Ambassador award from Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), a nonprofit organization sponsored by the United Nations.

Bushra currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Indo-American Democratic Organization (IADO) and of Women Empowering Women In Local Legislation (WeWill), as its youngest board member. She also serves on the Board of Advisers for GenVote, an organization that seeks to mobilize young people in politics. Bushra hopes to one day be the CEO of her non-profit organization, and is currently the Marketing and Sales director for three different start up companies.

Running for office is just one of your many endeavours. You are a full-time student, an activist, a community volunteer. What drives your forward?

Seeing the work that I do have tangible impact, I can see, feel and experience truly inspires me to keep going. I have been humbled enough to see the direct impact of the work I do whether it is volunteering and working at a local community kitchen, or through my run for public office. Apart from that, I wholeheartedly enjoy the work I do and see it almost as a hobby -- it is what I spend allof my free time doing. The people in these spaces constantly inspire and push me to do better, and I am grateful for the doors service work has opened for me.

Have you always had a passion for politics and helping the community?

Yes, I have always had a passion for helping the community, I just never realized this is something I could couple with politics to make a larger impact. I was always involved with service work in the diverse respective forms it comes in, and but I wasn’t focused in the work I was doing. I am passionate about so many issues -- alleviating hunger, poverty, homelessness and educational equality, but it was politics that bridged all of these issues together, allowing me to make impact at a larger scale. It started off by me wearing the hijab my freshman year of high school, and later turned into direct involvement with various organizations.

Many young girls shy away from politics. How do we get more young women engaging in politics?

The scope to get involved politically is too narrow -- from my experience, one can either make phone calls or knock on doors for a political candidate, and that was the extent of involvement. The third option would be to run for public office oneself. However, there are many more avenues to get involved which aren't as mainstream and increasing youth engagement in politics begins with that. Attending more political orientated panel discussion events is a great way to stay involved, informed and even motivated with what goes on in the political world.

Also, involvement in politics doesn’t always have to be partisan, or issue based. The broad level of valuing the importance of civic engagement as a whole is a great place to start. Writing postcards to voters encouraging them to show up to the polls, hosting voter registration drives, and just being a deputy voter registrar, oneself are very tangible and equally as impactful ways to get involved.

Where do you find the confidence to speak up and have your views known and heard?

My confidence comes from other women and supportive members within my community. Not only do they constantly inspire me, but a lot of them go above and beyond to uplift and amplify my voice. It provides the reassurance needed to know what I am saying/speaking against is right, and further motivates to do so. Public speaking was always something I really enjoyed doing and I am grateful for the platform and opportunity to constantly be able to speak up.

What are the challenges you have faced being a young Muslim woman in politics?

As a candidate, people often focused more on my identity as a Muslim woman, than they did my politics or policy ideas. I never realized just being a Muslim woman would almost distract from the message of my campaign, but it later became something I took ownership over. I began to drive the conversation and set the tone of what was asked of my identity, as opposed the other way around.

Another challenge was not being Muslim enough for some people, because of the way I looked, or dressed, but also on the flip side, not being “American” enough. There was a constant internal battle of owning who I was, but not fitting in or being good enough as a result. Someone always had something to say about about my appearance or clothing.

Do you have any particular female role models, mentors or support systems that have been invaluable in your professional and personal journey?

I have female role models who have never met me, but their bravery and voice constantly inspires me such as Ilhan Omar and Michelle Obama. I then have female role models who not only inspire me, but go above and beyond to constantly uplift my voice and keep me in mind for opportunities for collaboration and leadership. Two women from my Muslim community in particular (they are sisters!) have been incredible mentors.

Dilara Sayeed - she ran for public officer herself, but prior to that took me to events that otherwise I would’ve never been able to access.

Dilnaz Waraich - a community activist who helps drive the conversation and narrow our focus to ensure the work we do is impactful and meaningful.

What advice would you give to girls and young women as they consider their future?

There will be many people who question you, and your ability to do well, but make sure you believe in yourself. That’s truly all that matters. Respect as a whole will not just be given to you, the way it is to most people, so you’ll have to go into a space and demand respect – respectfully.

What are you planning for 2019?

I am actually running for office again! I am running for D73.5 School Board with help and support from people who were supporting the incumbent the first time around, along with the incumbent who won in March himself!

To keep up with Bushra's work, follow her on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website.

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