Women Leaders Attend WDN’s International Women’s Day Conference

This year’s Women’s Democracy Network’s (WDN) annual International Women’s Day (IWD) conference brought together some of WDN’s most active members from Albania, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Guatemala, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Moldova, Russia and Slovakia.  This unique group of WDN members has aspirations to either run for office or build and lead a civil society organization in 2011.

The six-day conference, held February 27 – March 4, 2011, began with two-days of workshops at the Leadership Institute on topics such as recruiting volunteers, building a grassroots organization and  membership base, building coalitions, grassroots lobbying, fundraising, message development, door-to-door campaigning, campaign structure and organization, and e-campaign new media techniques.  At the end of the workshop, each participant was recognized for how they face challenges as they have taken on leadership roles in their communities.

In addition to workshops, the delegation also had the opportunity to meet with leading U.S. government officials, and American women who are leaders in politics, civil society or the business sector.  These networking opportunities began with WDN’s annual Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Award Dinner, held on February 28, 2011, to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of women in politics and civil society.  Receiving this year’s award were the Honorable Frances Fragos Townsend, former Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and the Honorable Sherry Rehman, member of the Pakistan National Assembly and ranking member of the National Security Committee.

In addition to meeting several female leaders at the award dinner, the delegation had the opportunity to have individual meetings with female leaders both at the national and state level. 

The delegation met with the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Affairs Melanne Verveer.  Each participant had the unique opportunity share with Ambassador Verveer the issues that women were facing in each of their communities, including political violence.  Ambassador Verveer congratulated the women for their participation in politics and said, “Women are the single best investment that can be made in building a democracy.”

The delegation then received a tour of the U.S. Congress and learned about how each state’s interest was represented through this legislative body.  Following the tour, the delegation met with several members of congress.  The first meeting took place with U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).  Senator Ayotte congratulated the women for aspiring to run for office and provided this advice, “I don’t think you can communicate enough with your community when running for office.”

U.S. Congresswoman and IRI board member Kay Granger (R-TX) also met with the delegation.  In addition to a career in politics, Representative Granger led a successful career as a business entrepreneur and served as a tremendous source of inspiration to the participants in the delegation who aspired to transition from the business community to seeking elected office.

The delegation also had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).  As Representative Ros-Lehtinen is the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, many of the participants in the delegation had the opportunity to ask questions about American foreign policy and to highlight the challenges they faced in their communities.

After meeting with the female elected officials, one of the participants said that prior to this conference, “she was planning to run for office but she did not feel confident.”  After the workshops and meetings she noted that she was more confident in her ability to run for office as she now “knows the tactics to run for office.”

On the final day of the conference, the delegation met with Cindy McCain, who has devoted her time to philanthropy work around the world.  After each member of the delegation was introduced, McCain highlighted that she had visited all of the countries represented as a result the women were able to speak in-depth about possible solutions that would address the identified challenges.

Former Press Secretary for President Bush and Fox News contributor Dana Perino also addressed the delegation and was able to provide a unique perspective of politics.  When some of the women in the delegation described the various challenges they faced in their society, Perino reminded the participants that “popularity is like a puff of air, it does not last, therefore, never comprise your personal principles for the sake of popularity.”

The delegation also met with Vice President of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Barbara Haig.  In addition to explaining the history of the NED, Haig highlighted the unique role that women possess in developing democracy in their local communities.  Participants in the delegation then had the opportunity to highlight specific projects that they were conducting.  Haig reminded them to create opportunities for mentoring at all levels of programming. 

The meetings with these leaders had a tremendous affect on the women and one participant noted, “I think it is very important that we have the ability to meet with women in power.  It is a very good opportunity to see different models of female leadership and from these meetings we get energy to continue our work in our respective countries.”

Throughout the conference the participants networked with one another and several participants commented on how important it was to meet other aspiring female leaders.  A participant commented on behalf of the delegation that, “for us it is very important to have intercultural communication because we cannot change our own system of government if we are not aware of different systems of government.  We need to have a picture of our future.” 

Each year, the WDN brings a group of its most active members to Washington, DC to participate in training workshops, meet with policy makers and plan activities for the forthcoming year.  This unique opportunity to observe government at work in the United States and learn from the experiences of their international peers continues to be an exceptional experience for WDN members.

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