Maven to Know: RIMA SHAHID, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WOMEN4CHANGE
Rima Shahid is passionate about many things but one topic trumps them all—women.
She is the first executive director of Women4Change Indiana, an Indianapolis-based nonpartisan organization that works to educate, equip, and mobilize people in the state to create positive change for women. No two days are alike in her role, she’ll tell you, but her central goal remains the same: Advocate for equality.
As the 2020 United States presidential election draws near, Rima is reminded of just how important this year is. It’s the commemoration of the 19th Amendment, aka when (white) women got the right to vote.
We caught up with Rima to explore how Women4Change is prepping for the upcoming election, what it was like living in Bahrain for 10 years, and why it’s so important to go out and vote.
Tell me about the mission of Women4Change.
We started in 2016 when our co-founders, Rabbi Sandy Sasso and Jennifer Williams got together. They felt that there was a loss in public discourse during the 2016 election, and they were really upset by that.
And what does your role as the executive director entail?
It’s a great pleasure to have the distinct honor to advocate on behalf of Hoosier women. And so, that could mean different things on different days. It could be working on a social media campaign and strategy or talking to lawmakers. It could also involve working on civic education pieces and pushing those out. It changes by the hour I guess!
You mentioned the organization stems from the 2016 election. How are you preparing for the 2020 election?
We’re going to continue to implore Governor Holcomb, Secretary Lawson, and the Indiana Election Commission to expand no-fault absentee voting through the general election. It’s essential that we protect Hoosiers, that we make voting safe and easy for people.
What’s one of the most memorable changes you’ve been part of?
Recently, in the past year, we have engaged in a year-long art installation, El Tendedero. Currently, in the state of Indiana, we do not have consent legislation. It’s hard to prosecute those cases without this consent bill, and we collected over 1,500 postcards from all 92 counties. Some were from women, and men, who have gone through sexual assault. And through this collective effort and engagement, consent legislation will be one of the topics that will be studied during the 2020 interim study committee. That’s what progress looks like, and that’s what I think change looks like at a very grassroots level. El Tendedero is modeled after Monica Mayer, a Mexican artist.
Who is a woman that you look up to?
Hands down, my mom. My mother immigrated to Indiana in 1981 and I can’t imagine traveling to a different country and leaving behind family. And excelling at everything she does, and ensuring that she passed down and instilled in her children the importance of giving back, the importance of building community, and the importance of selflessness for a greater good.
Tell me more about your background and how that led you to your current position.
I’m a born and bred Hoosier. Then I spent 10 years living in the Middle East. I worked as the trade development officer and cultural attaché at the Pakistan Embassy in Bahrain. I truly saw first-hand what happens when you don’t have a country that is for the people, by the people. And so, I came back home again to Indiana in 2015. I served as the executive director for the Muslim Alliance of Indiana for a little over two years. But I knew as much as I valued my time and the work that I was doing at the Muslim Alliance that I was not able to advocate on behalf of a larger intersectional group of people, which I am able to do today.
What is one change that you would like to see?
Around 21 percent of our legislature is made up of women. It’s very important that we have a number of women in those seats. What I would like to see is Indiana off the list of states that have never had a woman governor or a federal woman senator.
What advice would you give to other women that are trying to find their ground and maybe find a seat in those legislative positions?
You are qualified. You are good enough. You are needed. And your voice matters. I think oftentimes women, we think and we rethink. Should we do it? Should we not? Maybe there’s someone else that’s better qualified. Maybe there’s someone else that can do that better. But you are enough. Where you are, what you have to offer is enough, and you are needed.
What is your advice to voters? Why should they go out and vote?
In our nation, we have the opportunity to make sure that our government is for the people, by the people. And the first step in doing that is exercising your right to vote. And I think some people refer to it as a privilege, some people refer to voting as an honor, and while that may be true, I also like to think of voting as my civic duty and obligation.
How can people get involved with Women4Change?
If anybody is looking to volunteer, please visit our website. It’s going to take all of us coming together to engage this community of volunteers in getting out the vote.
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular contributor to Indy Maven.