March is Women’s History Month. During March, we mark the global progress women and girls have made, evaluate challenges and barriers to that progress, and re-dedicate ourselves to a world where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed and to contribute. During March, we celebrate the multitude of achievements of those who have come before us, both famous and not so, and who have had an impact on our world. The month of March asks us to learn our history, meet those who have shaped our opportunities, and understand where we are in the long game of women’s equality.
As I wrote in early November, I cannot help but to think of the many women and men who I have stood by, learned from and worked with over the past 20+ years. From my time as an advocate and working in U.S. politics, to the many women who are so brave to think about running for office in their countries as well as those women and girls not involved in public life but just working every day to make their lives better for their families and communities. I was so proud and scared and thankful on election day.
But, as well all know, things did not turn out as I expected. So I publicly mourned on social media. And you know what happened? There was a lovely outpouring of love and support for me and the work I’ve been doing. I was even inspired! One dear friend wrote, “I have been thinking about you the most through all of this…hang in there. And you know? The next time I say “I’m with Her” I’ll be thinking about you, Susan Markham.”
Liberia is a country the size of Tennessee, a place where only two percent of people have access to the electric grid, and nearly 65 percent live on $1.25 a day. Beginning with a coup in 1989, the country was mired in decades of civil war and armed violence, which killed over 200,000 people and displaced one third of the country’s population, and where women and girls faced widespread rape and forced marriage. Liberia emerged from conflict in 2003, in large part due to the efforts of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, led by Leymah Gbowee, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for this work. This movement brought together Muslim and Christian women to demand an end to conflict; their successful efforts were documented in an award winning film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. These women effectively and creatively pressured the parties to not leave peace negotiations until an agreement was signed. Shortly thereafter, in 2005, Liberians elected the country’s first woman President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is now completing her second, and final, term.
Jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are at the forefront of solving problems and creating innovative solutions. In today’s complex and interrelated world, we need our best thinkers to be in STEM fields, which also provide strong, solid jobs and incomes.
Yet research indicates that many countries are missing the opportunity to innovate in STEM fields. Barriers limit the kinds of people who are able to enter and remain in these fields; women, especially, are often left out of the talent pool. A 2015 report by the American Association of University Women found that, in the United States, 80 percent of STEM jobs are in engineering and computer science, but women comprise only 12 percent of the engineering workforce and 26 percent of the computing workforce.
When I was in middle school, I played on a recreational soccer team. I was incredibly introverted, a bookworm and rather slow. Though I preferred “defense” and never got close to the goalposts, I loved soccer, laughing with my teammates, feeling my body’s strength and growing comfortable with myself.
Those couple of seasons of soccer led me to a lifelong love of comradery and competition — a passion I’ve passed along to my own daughter.
I’ve been thinking about these experiences as the Olympic torch burns in Rio de Janeiro.
This post is written by Stephenie Foster, Senior Advisor and Counselor, and Catherine Silvey, Policy Advisor, both with the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U. S. Department of State.
Since 2011, the United States and China have worked together on women’s issues at the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE). Most of this work has been through the Women’s Pillar, where we have cooperated on various issues affecting women, from domestic violence to women’s entrepreneurship.
We know that women and girls are a powerful force for change. And when we put women and girls at the center of development, we can break the cycle of poverty. We can help them delay their marriages, choose the timing and spacing of their pregnancies, access needed services and information, complete their education, and gain the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the economy and in their country’s development.
Yet, all too often gender inequality gets pushed aside because of competing priorities or a lack of resources. People say that gender equality isn’t their area or that gender equality is a “women’s issue.”