Women Leaders Focus on Political Participation at 2013 International…

volunteer_with_asana04

Washington, DC –Women from Argentina, Bangladesh, Burma, Moldova, Nigeria, St.

Washington, DC –Women from Argentina, Bangladesh, Burma, Moldova, Nigeria, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine and Zimbabwe recently traveled to Washington, DC to participate in WDN’s annual International Women’s Day (IWD) conference. The women – who themselves are currently running for office, starting a political party, monitoring the status of women’s participation in elections, or ensuring women play a significant role in resolving conflict and assisting in the transition to a democratic society– embody WDN’s mission to increase women’s political participation.


IRI Executive Vice President Judy Van Rest (top left) and WDN Director Michelle Bekkering (top center) welcome the delegation.

In recognition of their dedication to women’s empowerment, the Diplomatic Courier honored the delegation as “Top Global Women” in their special annual edition on International Women’s Day. The WDN members were highlighted alongside leaders such as Mari Skåre, Special Representative for Women, Peace, and Security at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Ambassador Nancy Brinker, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

WDN’s conference began with a two-day intensive campaign training conducted by the Network’s U.S.members who shared their expertise on critical aspects of winning a campaign for office, including: how to increase women’s role within a political party, structure of a campaign, directing and managing campaigns, communication skills, get out the vote, development of a message, the significance of networking, new media, coalition building, fundraising and strategic planning.

Experts included Megan Badasch, Events Manager of the 2012 Republican National Convention; Valerie Dowling, former Political Director of National Federation of Republican Women (NFRW), Ann Liebschutz, Executive Director of the United States Israel Science and Technology Foundation; Mary Pieschek, Owner and President of Pieschek Public Relations; Rae Lynne Chornenky, President of the NFRW; Serenety Hanley, Vice President of Grassroots Targeting; Bronwyn Lance-Chester, Communications Director for U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss; Lindsey Mask, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ladies America and Ladies International; Rebecca Posey, Development Research and Consulting; and Elise Stefanik, Policy Director for the Republican National Committee.

At the conclusion of the training, Cristina Boaghi, a WDN delegation member from Moldovan, noted, “This training gave me more power and self-confidence to run for office.”

Sally Dura, a delegation member from Zimbabwe noted, “I have been inspired to work and think outside the box.”

Photo02
Representative Morgan (left) congratulates Ahmad on her accomplishments.

Participants also attended meetings with women elected officials, and representatives of the U.S. government, media and academia. The delegation met with Rhode Island State Representative Patricia Morgan who provided insight into her decision to run for office and her strategies for repeatedly winning in a district where the majority of registered voters are not from her party.

During the meeting Representative Morgan noted, “To run for office you need to have thick skin and understand how to never lose focus on your campaign message […] I work very hard on every campaign […] In the last campaign cycle there was a running joke that no one would be able to drive home without seeing one of my campaign signs.”

By the end of the meeting, several delegation members had created a campaign slogan they intend to utilize when they run for office.

The delegation also met with U.S. Senator Rand Paul who spoke with the delegation about the barriers women face as they pursue leadership roles in their countries. Several delegation members had the opportunity to speak to the Senator about initiatives they were conducting in their communities to increase the role of women in public life, including their own intentions to run for office. Senator Paul was particularly concerned about the ability of women, especially at the grassroots level, to vote in elections, voice their concerns to elected officials and run for office. At the conclusion of the meeting, Senator Paul congratulated the women for their tremendous bravery and efforts around the world and encouraged them to continue striving for equal opportunities of all.

Photo03
Khélifa (top right) tells Senator Paul (top left) about the challenges facing women in Tunisia.

During the meeting with Sharon Wiener, Acting Ambassador for the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, the Ambassador stressed that a central focus of U.S. diplomatic, development and defense efforts was the commitment to advance the rights of women and girls around the world, especially the political sphere. The delegation also got to share their concerns regarding the obstacles to women’s political empowerment with Kay Freeman, Director of the USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.

The delegation also explored the role of media as the fourth pillar of democracy with Mary Jordan, Editor of The Washington Post Live at the newspaper’s headquarters. Jordan shared her experience in journalism which includes 14 years as a Post foreign correspondent, a Pulitzer Prize for a series on the Mexican justice system, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series of stories about discrimination against women around the world. Jordan instructed the delegates to remember that media needs to inform the public about—but not advocate for—issues and that it can play an important role in highlighting the role women and other marginalized groups are playing in transforming societies.

A highlight of the IWD conference was WDN’s annual Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Awards Ceremony, held on March 7. Receiving this year’s award were U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte and Selima Ahmad, founder of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who were honored for their outstanding contributions to the advancement of women in politics and civil society and servingas role models for women around the world.

Delegates recognized International Women’s Day by attending the International Women of Courage awards ceremony hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with special guest First Lady Michelle Obama. In addition, WDN stood in solidarity with Syrian women around the world and supported the Syrian women-led I am SHE campaign.

The diversity of the delegation and their interaction with American leaders from a variety of sectors presented numerous opportunities to foster mentoring through the sharing and learning of best practices. Anesia Baptiste, a delegation member from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, noted, “WDN is to be highly commended for their support of women of courage globally; women who sacrifice and serve humanity through their unquenchable convictions against oppression and injustice. I am privileged to be a beneficiary of their service and pledge to continue to work with [WDN] to empower women to lead.”

Photo04
Washington Post Live Editor Mary Jordan (center) poses for a photo with the delegation.

At the conclusion of the conference the delegation was asked if this conference affected the way they see themselves as leaders. Omezzine Khélifa, a delegation member from Tunisia stated, “Yes! [This conference] helped me to better understand who I am and why I came back to help my country during the transition to democracy. [This conference allowed me] to think about my future actions to improve people’s, especially young people’s, lives in my community.”