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International Women’s Day: The Importance of the Every-Woman

It’s 11:40 p.m. and it’s quiet for a moment in our Washington, D.C. hotel room, which my fellow Program Assistant Megan and I have dubbed the “command center.”  For the sake of WDN’s international Women’s Day Conference though, we have ceased to be Program Assistants and have become logistics masters.  It’s the real deal. 

Megan is on the bed next to mine, her laptop balancing on her crossed legs.  She is typing furiously, the monotone rhythm of her keyboard clicks only interrupted by a heavy sigh once in a while.  She’s putting the final updates into our agenda for tomorrow.  I am reviewing an excel chart that graphs out when and where our bus service will pick up our delegation throughout the week.  The left hand side of my computer screen flickers with flight status updates out of Beijing, Rome, Frankfurt and Vienna.  We’re exhausted, and we look it.  I’m not sure that, by first glance at this scene, one would describe us as “empowered.” 

But here’s the catch- we are.  

March 8th marks International Women’s Day.  To celebrate the event, and to promote active and visible discourse on the importance of women’s political inclusion, WDN hosts a delegation of women from around the world in Washington, D.C. each year.  This particular year, WDN designed the conference to focus on good governance, and the Network members joining us are women parliamentarians-who have taken active roles in their caucuses in their respective home countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jordan, Mongolia, Peru, and Tunisia.      

For a week the women attend trainings on a variety of topics, including how to use technology in the service of good governance, best practices in constituent outreach, and social media branding.  They meet with funders, and representatives at all levels.  They learn about each other’s legislative agendas, commend one another for achievements, and explore ways to combat obstacles in their individual endeavors to change their communities and countries. 

A highlight of this week is the annual Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Award luncheon, during which WDN awards the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Award to women who have made “outstanding contributions to the advancement of women in politics and civil society and serve as women role models for women around the world.”  This year’s honorees are MP Oyun Sanjaasuren, one of the founders of Mongolia’s first women’s parliamentary caucus, and Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland.  Sanjaasuren, the leader of the Civil Will Party and current Minister of Environment and Green Development in Mongolia, only entered politics after earning her PhD in Geology and a successful career as a businesswoman.  As she stands at the podium to accept her award, the no-nonsense demeanor she maintained during the first few days of the conference fell loose, even if only for the duration of her speech.  She smiles wryly as she remembers how she petitioned her English teacher Brian to find her babysitting work in the UK one summer so she could improve her English.  He returned from his trip to London with an application to Cambridge University’s PhD program.  She speaks of her brother, who was part of the first pro-democracy guard in Mongolia.  When he was murdered, she took up his mantle, and never looked back.   

Her story is just as gripping, just as moving as every other delegate’s story.  They are all outstanding women; they all are changing the face of women’s participation. 

But as I replay the award ceremony speeches in my head, I can’t help but think of the women who were not on that podium.  I think of the women in our travel department, who work through the weekends to make sure our programming runs smoothly and participants depart and arrive safely and in a timely manner.  I think of my mother, who, though she will never pen a piece of legislation that effects women’s political empowerment, effectively runs one of the largest smart growth development projects this country has ever seen.  I think of Megan, who, despite her delirium from lack of sleep, is sitting next to me counting out per diem dollars for each of our participants because she believes in this organization’s mission with every fiber.  These women too, all of them, are working to empower not only themselves, but each other, just by going to school, chasing a dream job, pursuing a passion. 

This International Women’s Day, celebrate the women who are fighting for change.  But celebrate yourself too.  Equality will not be achieved without women like Sanjaasuren writing legislation, fighting for a seat at the table, and advocating on behalf of all women.  But neither will it be achieved without myself, you, her, the everywoman, being someone to advocate for.

Posted by

Emma Daniels

Program Assistant, Women's Democracy Network