“If the face of power remains the same, so does suffering. Also, policies that restrict women and girls end up harming everyone. A world that limits the power and influence of women also robs itself of their talents and contributions. Her family, her community and her country feel that absence in subtle and meaningful ways.”
Melinda French Gates
Read this in Melinda French Gates excellent commentary time magazine justified, “Decisions are still made for women instead of by them. We suffer from thatinspired me to consider and share some of the inspiring stories of women around the world who are committed to challenging inequality at its roots by posing as leaders in government. After all, it is governments – local and national – that shape the policies that limit the rights and opportunities for women and girls to reach their full potential to be truly equal.
In many ways, these women are redefining what power can look like, and I, like so many, am amazed at the differences they can make and will do as a leader.
Francia Marquez, Colombia
Think of Francia Márquez, who became Colombia’s first black woman vice president in June. Márquez, 40, grew up impoverished, “sleeping on a dirt floor in a region ravaged by violence related to the country’s long internal conflict. She became pregnant at 16, worked in the local gold mines to support her child, and eventually sought work as a maid.” reports The New York Times.
Márquez later became a lawyer and environmental activist. She led a group of 80 women on a 380-mile march to raise awareness of the illegal gold mining that was ravaging the rivers and countryside of her hometown and the wider Cauca region. The women persuaded the Bogota government to put an end to illegal mining by creating a national task force, and by the end of 2016 all illegal machines in the area were removed.
Márquez was awarded the 2018 Goldman Environmental Award, sometimes referred to as the “Green Nobel Prize.” The Prize Committee writes that “Márquez’s success set a powerful example for others in the area and inspired residents to oppose illegal mining in their communities. She transcended sexism, racism and corruption to lead the La Toma struggle.”
Sexism, racism and death threats were also at play in this year’s election, but Márquez prevailed, largely due to the “heavy turnout of Black and Indigenous voters in states along Colombia’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts.” reports the Amsterdam News.
As Mayra Fernanda Mejía, a black single mother, rural activist and supporter of Márquez, said the GuardianShe “never really felt that Colombian politicians cared about people like her – until now. “Francia’s candidacy for women means a before and an after because she’s a woman, because she’s black — and because she comes from nowhere. Francia marks a before and a after in the history of Colombia.’”
Yes, her election is historic, and her chance now is to change the narrative of power and politics in Colombia, using her power to bring the rest of Colombian women with her.
Martha Wangari Karua, Kenya
On the other side of the world, in one of my favorite travel destinations – Kenya – another historic campaign is underway with presidential elections less than a month away. For the first time, a woman has been selected as vice president for a leading presidential candidate: if she wins, Martha Wangari Karua will become the country’s first female vice president.
Since her election as Raila Odinga’s comrade-in-arms, Odinga has come out on top in opinion polls. If her ticket wins, Karua, 64, has made it clear that her priority would be to empower Kenya’s women and create new opportunities for women to rise to positions of leadership in all sectors of Kenyan society.
In her acceptance speech for the nomination, Karua was delighted said that “this is a moment for Kenyan women. Women are instrumental in pursuing change, so this is the moment to get more women into these leadership roles at the national and regional levels.” Karua’s campaign has already inspired more women to get involved in politics, and they have week, Kenyan women launched a “Million Women for Karua campaign‘ as hopes mount that she could become Kenya’s first female Deputy President.
Umra Omar, Lamu Archipelago, Kenya
Off the coast of Kenya, on Lamu Island, a popular tourist destination with its rich mix of cultures (Indian, Arabic, Swahili and Chinese), a woman who often rides a motorcycle through Lamu’s maze of streets, Umra Omar, is the first woman ever run for governor.
Omar, 39, is the founder of an NGO called Safari Doctorsand was recognized as one of the “Real life heroes,” As a CNN heroand is one of the World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders. Omar and her organization Safari Doctors provide free health care to thousands of people living in remote and sometimes dangerous areas of the Lamu Islands.
In her run for governor, Omar says creating a “holistic universal health care model” that focuses on young people as community health workers is her top priority. “Access to healthcare is a right,” she says. “No luxury.”
In a speech to launch her campaign, she said said Another focus will be on improving the local economy and more transparency in leadership, adding that women and men must be given equal opportunities. “As young voters, we will shape the political narrative in Kenya in 2022,” she said said Pan African Visions in a recent interview. “We need to disrupt the status quo and make room for our big voting block on the table where decisions are made; to make decisions that affect us more than those who make them.”
With this statement, Omar sums up why every country in the world needs more women leaders and more women in political positions.
Given where these important political positions exist in the US, It’s time to pay more attention to governors.
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, the election of pro-choice governors in states where lawmakers are drafting abortion-banning legislation is critical. Just last week, the Democratic Governors Association “created the Protect Reproductive Rights Fund to support gubernatorial elections in states where access to abortion is at risk. … Destination states to which the money will be directed include Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.” ABC News reports:
The fund is led by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who told ABC News that she and some of her fellow Democratic governors knew action needed to be taken after the five-judge Supreme Court’s majority decision to reverse Roe in May was leaked to protect abortion rights.
“We can count on the leadership in Washington, that’s important, but power also rests with the states,” Hochul said. ‘And we’ve known all along that we’re the ones who are the firewall between what the Supreme Court is doing and what we’re doing to protect our women’s rights.'”
I hope you consider supporting women (and men) running for governor, particularly in Michigan (where Gretchen Whitmer is running for re-election), Ohio (Nan Whaley) and Arizona (Katie Hobbs) – all states where it might be the difference in reproductive rights.
In my home state of Georgia, Stacey Abrams is up against incumbent Brian Kemp, who signed into law Georgia’s anti-abortion law, which is among the toughest in the country. Abrams has pledged, if elected, to do whatever is necessary to restore women’s rights to reproductive freedoms and to protect the health of women and their families.
“In Georgia in particular, this six-week ban will be the law of the country in a few days. This is awful. That is shocking. And it’s wrong. And as the next governor, I will do everything in my power to reverse that,” Abrams said said in a recent interview with CNN.
As Melinda French Gates said in her essay — and I say every opportunity I get on this and other platforms — Equality counts and we will not have full equality, equal access to health care, economic opportunity, or real representation until we have better representation in all governments, with more women leaders shaping the policies that make a difference for more than half the world’s population .