After the snowstorm that recently hit Washington D.C., MSN published a story about the senators who showed up on Tuesday. They quote Republican senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska: “Something is genuinely different — and something is genuinely fabulous.” What was so fabulous you ask? Simply the fact that as Washington, D.C., was recovering from the storm, exclusively female senators showed up to complete work at the Senate. Murkowski said, “As we convene this morning, you look around the chamber, the presiding officer is female. All of our parliamentarians are female. Our floor managers are female. All of our pages are female.”
I feel like this is one of those stories that might have most men scratching their heads, while women are nodding sagely. Coincidence? Perhaps. But Sen. Murkowski – and I’m sure other women as well – has another theory: “Perhaps it speaks to the hardiness of women, that put on your boots and put your hat on and get out and slog through the mess that’s out there.”
When I first read this story, I reposted it with a smirk, indulging in a few admittedly snarky thoughts. But upon further reflection, it struck a recent memory for me of another story about women in politics, only this one far more serious and far reaching.
In Rwanda, the genocide that took place in 1994 killed over 800,000 and targeted men more heavily than women, leaving the country with a population that was 70% female in the aftermath. As the country worked to rebuild itself, women who had historically faced significant political discrimination played a critical role. In 2003, the country adopted a new constitution that set a minimum 30% quota for female elected officials. By 2013, women comprised 64% of their House of Deputies. That is staggering, considering that world wide, female political representation hovers around 20%.
To me, though, it’s not the numbers or statistics that are so important here. It’s the intangible qualities that women bring to their endeavors. Elizabeth Bennett of the Harvard Kennedy School Review writes: “The women discovered they could convey the needs of communities: they knew about issues of health, education, and family life. Before the genocide, men made the moneymaking decisions. Now, with women at the helm, the income was being invested in families and households.”
How did this idea that women are the “weaker sex” ever come about? All I can think is that 1.) This person obviously never saw a woman give birth, or 2.) This person knew exactly how strong women are and was extremely intimidated by it. In the aftermath of horrible, devastating violence, it was largely the women of Rwanda who rebuilt their country, using the opportunity to not only bring their country back to what it was, but make it even better. When asked about how women responded after the genocide, Rwandan President Kagame said, “Women stepped out and rolled up their sleeves when men were destroyed emotionally and psychologically.”
This is not to criticize men – either the male senators of Washington D.C. who stayed home in the aftermath of the snow storm or the devastated male survivors of the Rwandan genocide who have experienced violence unlike anything I can imagine – but to simply bring attention to the unique strengths of women and all they have to offer the world in terms of politics and other leadership roles. People speculate that women are too connected to the home and family to contribute politically, but in Rwanda, it was precisely their perspective as women that allowed Rwanda’s female representatives to help their country heal and begin to thrive. Let’s start discussing our femininity not as a liability but as the strength that it is.
MSN: News. “Post-blizzard, only women showed up to run the Senate.” http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/post-blizzard-only-women-turned-up-to-run-the-senate/ar-BBoJEWd?li=BBnbcA1&ocid=mailsignout
Bennett, Elizabeth. “Rwanda Strides Towards Gender Equality in Government.” Kennedy School Review. Aug. 15, 2014. http://harvardkennedyschoolreview.com/rwanda-strides-towards-gender-equality-in-government/
Strochlic, Nina. “Two Decades After Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Have Made the Nation Thrive.” The Daily Beast. Apr. 2, 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/04/02/two-decades-after-genocide-rwanda-s-women-have-made-the-nation-thrive.html