A young Ismaili woman with a passion works as a Legislative Assistant in Congress. 

Those involved in politics as a career are aware that it is still a male-dominated arena. However, the gender gap had been declining over the years. The first woman elected to Congress was Jeannette Rankin in 1917. Today there are 131 women in the body out of 366 elected throughout history, and the Speaker of the House is a woman for the first time ever.

While women may still be underrepresented in political leadership that does not mean they are without influence. In the 2018 elections, more women voted than men, so they are able to significantly influence the outcomes of elections.

Several Ismaili women have been involved in politics, including Safiya Wazir, an Afghan Ismaili refugee who sits in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and others who have been supporting candidates and working on their campaigns, such as Sophia Lalani. Another woman following in their footsteps is Nisha Thanawala (age 24) attempting to bring a minority, female representation to the table.

Nisha’s passion stems from her high school experience, where she started the Model UN Club and realized the significant governmental influence on the day-to-day lives of citizens. This passion carried her to the University of South Florida, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

During her college years, Nisha gained experiences that provided insights to different facets of the field. Her internship at Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign gave her in-depth knowledge of how marketing and campaigning functions. Later, she interned for Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman, where she looked at the field through the lens of political content.

Nisha took up her final internship on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. soon after completing her undergraduate career, working with a Congresswoman from Florida. Her diligence and desire to facilitate positive change resulted in a job offer as a Staff Assistant. Six months later, she was promoted to Legislative Correspondent. Shortly after, another promotion came her way, leading her to her current position of Legislative Assistant/Legislative Correspondent.

Nisha’s job consists of performing legislative work while serving as the point person through which all correspondence entering and leaving the office must pass. Her responsibilities come with a level of plasticity in that they adjust based on the needs of the world. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, her skills extend to items such as child care and women’s issues on a broader, international scale.

Nisha hopes to “use [her] background as a South Asian Muslim to make the world a better place.” Earlier this year, she accompanied the Congresswoman to a number of town halls - one of which was particularly memorable (the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce). She heard the concerns of community members and was reminded of her “roots and struggles that her immigrant parents and many others in our community have endured when immigrating to America.”

While both go hand-in-hand, her job provides the “how,” as Nisha works for change, while experiences such as this answer the “why.” “I am able to directly see how federal legislation and policy have a profound role on individuals, families, and livelihoods,” she says, “and I want to be a part of a system that has a positive impact on people’s lives.” Her ultimate goal is to reach a position through which she can better the quality of life for women globally.

Nisha is one of the relatively few Muslim women engaged in politics professionally, and she encourages others to participate as well. While it is necessary for there to be passion in order to develop a career in the field, anyone with a desire for public service can get involved through events such as volunteering on campaigns. She believes that exploring the field in its entirety and lasering in on specific interests is a great place to start. Nisha has met many people who enjoy the campaign angle of politics, but she prefers working on policy in order to see change come to life.