Nineteen women from six countries (Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Mongolia, Morocco and Pakistan) are spending the summer in Lawrence as part of the Women’s Leadership Institute at the University of Kansas. On July 2, I had the incredibly enjoyable experience of sharing a dinner table with four members of this year’s class. Our conversation focused on politics, as the women at my table are all very interested in increasing the number of women in office in their respective home countries.
We shared our frustrations that women are underrepresented in the political spheres in all of our respective political regions. In their countries, the twenty-something percent of women Kansas legislators would be a significant improvement over the status quo. But I think we all agreed that none of us will be satisfied until women, who make up about around 50% of the population – and 54% in Pakistan, I learned –are represented proportionately in public office.
We talked about other issues that could be improved if more women were in public office. When the group members learned I work with domestic violence victims, they wanted to know about the kinds of domestic violence behaviors I see most often. The most dangerous behaviors that are reported in the areas I serve in Kansas tend to be strangulation and blows to the head, generally inflicted by the victim’s intimate partner. I learned that in Pakistan, it is not uncommon for a woman to be burned by sulfuric acid in her home; the most common perpetrator, in a culture where women live with their husband’s families after marriage, is the victim’s mother-in-law.
One of the women shared her frustration that women in her country have the constitutional right to vote, but many women are prevented from voting because the religious tribal leaders in their communities do not allow them to get to the polls to physically cast their votes.
We talked about ways to get more women elected, from having honest discussions with potential candidates about what it takes to win, to the kinds of training that are most beneficial to political candidates, to how we can help women candidates raise the funding they need to get elected.
At KAW, our focus is getting women elected to public office in Kansas. But we also realize that our world is made better with every woman, anywhere in our world, who is elected to public office with the goal of using her office to improve the plight of all women.