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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Sarah Capp, a Republican from Ozark, speaks during a news conference Wednesday to announce a new initiative called ARGIRLSLEAD. Women in the state House announced an effort to encourage girls to think about their careers, education and entering politics. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

State Rep. DeAnn Vaught, a Republican from Horatio, wants young women to know she was not the best student.

But in addition to the C's and D's she earned in high school as a result of a learning disability, Vaught carried another burden that she disclosed in a recent online message, marked with the hashtag, ARGIRLSLEAD.

An eating disorder in her adult life led to counseling that enabled her to confront a history of sexual abuse she was subjected to in her adolescence. All were part of her journey to elected office, Vaught says. Now in her second term as a representative, she is chairman of the House Management Committee.

Hoping to cultivate the initiative of young women across the state, the 18 women of the Arkansas House of Representatives started a project Wednesday through which they will produce and upload videos sharing their own life stories.

"They think we have our junk together, when in reality we've had to go through trials to get where we are today," Vaught told a reporter at a kickoff event in the state Capitol rotunda.

Rep. Frances Cavenaugh, a Republican from Walnut Ridge serving her first term, chimed in, "We still have our trials!"

The project is the creation of Rep. Sarah Capp, R-Ozark, who said she got the idea about two months ago while visiting with young women at schools in her Northwest Arkansas district.

Capp said the women with whom she spoke felt empowered having a female representative. When she approached colleagues, she said they agreed to attempt to re-create those conversations on a wider scale.

"There are many statistics in Arkansas we are not proud of, especially when it comes to women," Capp told the audience Wednesday.

According to statistics provided by the group of lawmakers, while women make up more than half of the state's labor force and students at four-year colleges, Arkansas ranked last in the nation in the number of women with a bachelor's degree or higher. Capp also pointed out that Arkansas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.

Arkansas also ranks below the national average in its proportion of female lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Women make up 18.5 percent of the Legislature, for a total of 25 in both chambers. The national average was 24.4 percent, according to the most recent statistics available.

In the Arkansas House, which has 100 members, the number of women reached a high of 25 in 2010, according to Cecillea Pond-Mayo, the chief information officer for the lower chamber.

Arkansas was the first state to elect a woman to the U.S. Senate, sending Hattie Caraway to a full term in 1932.

But, according to the lawmakers' video campaign, one of the top reasons women give when asked why they do not run for office is that they are "not qualified."

Pond-Mayo and three other members of the House media office are helping to produce the videos, which feature a few minutes of monologue in front of a white backdrop. Capp and Vaught said they focus on themes familiar to both young men and women, such as body issues and family life.

The videos are being uploaded to Youtube.com and shared across social media with the project's distinctive hashtag. As of Wednesday, Capp and Vaught had uploaded their videos, and the next to go live will feature Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff.

Participation is voluntary, Pond-Mayo said. She added that she's reached out to the Senate and is awaiting a response.

Metro on 10/19/2017

Print Headline: Female lawmakers start video project to empower young women

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