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Comment
Last Updated: 09/02/2008
Unconventional Women and Politics
Molly Mayfield Barbee

Molly Mayfield Barbee marks the 88th anniversary of the nineteenth amendment to the US constitution with an appreciation of the central role that women are playing in this year's presidential race in the US (Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and now Sarah Palin), as well as the much longer list of women whose unconventional demand for greater political participation brought us to where we are today.

Some recent and positive developments for women's representation in Europe and Africa are also discussed, and women everywhere are encouraged to build on these successes, continue to collaborate, and practice their political rights.



Lately I’ve had politics on the brain. And it’s not just because seeing the capital of my home state in the international news is making me nostalgic. Although, I will admit, that from here in Khartoum, seeing that familiar Denver skyline every few minutes on television does bring a particular poignant joy.

And it’s not just because Michelle Obama gave a thoughtful, provocative, and emotional speech at that Democratic National Convention. But she did, and her words about daughters and mothers and the choices we make about how we will pass on this world to our children have stayed with me. And it’s not just because the other larger than life woman in American politics, Hillary Clinton, also delivered a strong message. But she did too. Her questions, “Were you in this just for me? . . . [or] Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?” got me where it counts.

North American campaign politics aside, these women underscored why I care about participatory democracy, and why I am impassioned about women’s human rights. The reason politics matter is that they connect the personal to the universal. A functioning democracy is not driven by the accomplishments of any individual, or even one leader, but by what we can do together, and how we raise our voices.

It is a popping time for women in politics around the globe. In Brussels and across the EU, the European Women’s Lobby is preparing for a campaign to ensure that women are equally represented in political parties’ lists for the 2009 European Parliamentary elections. And in Angola, a 30 percent rule will be enforced for their September 5th elections, imposing a quota for including women candidates. Debates about the effectiveness of the rule continue, but the ambitious national plan is seen as an important step toward engaging women and will be considered a success when Angolan women are empowered to make change at the local level.

In Ghana, the minister of women and children’s affairs has recently launched an official Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) in partnership with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). IFOR’s Africa regional office for WPP has worked with government agencies to host gender sensitive and nonviolence activities in eight African nations, gathering strength across the continent. In India, Thailand, and elsewhere, however, we are reminded of the prices many women have paid for advancements in social order, and political gains. Other stories from Peace X Peace Voices from the Frontlines likewise highlight the courage it takes to work for the greater good.

Registration is still open for the 2008 Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) International Forum. For a fresh perspective on how to build stronger movements to advance women’s rights and gender equality, join AWID in Cape Town, South Africa this November. Whether to rejoice in achievements or lobby for greater change, such forums in person and networks online are important opportunities to be together, feel our collective strength, and practice our politics.

So now, on the 88th anniversary of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and in a time a great strides and painful reminders of the distance we have yet to cover, I celebrate women and politics. In grateful memory and respect for many unconventional women: Susan B Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Kate Sheppard, Lily Maxwell, Jeanette Rankin, for all those brave women who advanced the right to vote in their countries, for those who are still struggling in others, and to unconventional women everywhere: we’re in this together.

Molly Mayfield Barbee is a driving force behind Peace X Peace, a global network of women working to support women's rights and achieve greater gender equality in our time. Much more information about Peace X Peace, and more of Ms Mayfield Barbee's writings can be found at www.peacexpeace.org


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