A record number of women will soon be serving on Capitol Hill, with at least 110 female officials heading to the Senate and House of Representatives this January. Making up only 20% of Congress, women are still underrepresented, despite comprising more than 50% of voters. Yet this is progress, considering that the percent of women CEOs in the country hovers around 5%.
And if there is a class of elected officials determined to enact change in 2018, it is women. The surge of women running has been attributed to the deep frustration of women on the heels of the 2016 election and the #MeToo and TimesUp movements. The Women’s March and subsequent protests have centered on the loss of women’s rights, concerns for women’s health and the handling of sexual harassment charges. Perhaps reflecting these concerns, exit polls indicate that healthcare issues were more important to voters than immigration or economic factors.
The diversity of women elected to the U.S. Congress also signals a shift in the paradigm of the typical political candidate. These newly elected women are ready for change. Perhaps together they can make progress for women and underrepresented groups. Studies show women legislators sponsor more bills, pass more laws that benefit women and put more money back into their districts. Research also shows that an increase in women in office can inspire more young women to consider politics. It may not be politics as usual following the new influx of women into office from nontraditional backgrounds and underrepresented groups.
Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland will be the first Native American women in Congress. Davids, a Democrat, is the winner in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives. A member of the Native American tribe Ho-Chunk Nation, Davids is the first openly LGBTQ congressional representative in Kansas. She is also a former MMA fighter, telling Elite Daily in an interview earlier this year: “Knowing how to fight for something is not exactly a bad quality to have as a congresswoman. You learn to fight so you don’t have to fight.”
Haaland is a Native American Democrat who won New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. She belongs to the Pueblo of Laguna tribe and formerly chaired the New Mexico state Democratic Party. She comes prepared for the bipartisan barriers she may encounter in D.C., telling Vox this summer: “Just because you’re the first Native woman doesn’t mean you get any breaks. It’s not something that’s freely given.” Immigration is also important to her, as her family experienced forced separations when the U.S. government forced tens of thousands of Native American children to attend “assimilation” boarding schools.
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Omar, a Minnesota state representative and a Somali-American Muslim immigrant, is now the congresswoman-elect from Minnesota’s 5thDistrict. In an emotional acceptance speech she spoke of making America a more welcoming place for immigrants who come here to create new lives.
Tlaib, the daughter of immigrants, will become the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress and one of two Muslim women elected to the U.S. House. Born in Detroit, Tlaib first made history in 2008 as the first Muslim woman in the Michigan legislature. She also referenced her activism at home and readiness to stand up and speak up for her constituents.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Abby Finkenauer in Iowa made history as the youngest women elected to Congress. Both are 29 years old. Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic socialist from New York who made waves defeating incumbent Republican Joe Crowley in the primary. Democrat Finkenauer previously served in the Iowa Legislature, running for U.S. Congress on a platform to protect working-class families and education.
Among the small business owners and founders who ran for Congress, two that succeeded are also military veterans ready to fight for their country through lawmaking.
In a tight race, Democrat and Navy veteran Elaine Luria defeated the Republican incumbent, Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, to win Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives. After serving 20 years as a Surface Warfare Officer and nuclear engineer, Luria started the Mermaid Factory, a family business in Norfolk, Virginia, that supports tourism and local heritage.
Chrissy Houlahan, the winner in Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district, is a former Air Force veteran and a serial founder. After the Air Force, Houlahan helped her husband start sports apparel company AND1 and founded a nonprofit named B-Lab that certifies B Corporations. She also taught high school chemistry. Now she is ready for Congress, saying that her nontraditional experience and best-idea-wins mentality will help her work with others to find common solutions.
These are just a sampling of the women heading to Congress this year hoping to make a big impact and inspire more women to run for elected office.
This article originally appeared on Forbes