Gender Equality and Amplifying Women's Voices

Thursday, September 29, 2022
REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Executive Director, Women in Government

Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations


Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

Ann Norris, senior fellow for women and foreign policy at CFR, along with Meredith Martino, executive director of Women in Government, discuss women’s rights efforts and amplifying female voices in government.


FASKIANOS: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Officials Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. We are delighted to have participants from forty-seven U.S. states and territories, so thank you for taking the time to join us for this discussion, which is on the record.

CFR is an independent, non-partisan membership organization, think tank, publisher, and educational institution focusing on U.S. foreign policy. CFR is also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

Through our State and Local Officials Initiative, we serve as a resource on international issue affecting the priorities and agendas of state and local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics and a forum for best practices.

We are pleased to have Ann Norris and Meredith Martino with us to talk about gender equality and amplifying women’s voices.

Ann Norris is senior fellow for women and foreign policy at CFR. She has over two decades of experience working on gender equality issues at the federal, state, and local levels. She previously served at State Department as senior advisor to the ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, and she recently authored a report—which we’ve circulated to you—entitled Renewing the Global Architecture for Gender Equality.

Meredith Martino is the executive director of Women in Government, a bipartisan organization which convenes U.S. state legislators to amplify the work of female lawmakers. She previously served as vice president of membership and sponsorship at the American Association of Port Authorities.

So thank you both for being with us. Ann, I thought we would begin with you, for you to set the stage with an overview of the state of gender equality around the world and the challenges we still face.

ANN NORRIS: Thank you all for joining me today—joining today.

So as Irina mentioned I recently wrote a paper for the Council on Foreign Relations entitled Renewing the Global Architecture for Gender Equality. And what that paper really looked at was why, despite decades of effort, we are not really where we need to be in terms of gender equality, which we can define as the same treatment of all peoples regardless of gender identity.

Yes, there has been significant progress, and I can give you a few examples. More women are being elected to office around the world. Last time the proportion of women in parliaments reached an all-time high for about 25 percent. More women are also rising—albeit slowly—to the top ranks of the business world. Today roughly 8.8 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, for a total of forty-four women. This is up from seven in 2002.

Some key health outcomes have also improved significantly. For example, from 2000 to 2017, the global maternal mortality rate—or the percentage of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth—declined by 38 percent. And just this week, according to the Pew Research organization, we learned that women now outnumber men in the college-educated labor force in the United States.

But despite pockets of progress there is still a long way to go. As I’m sure many of you know, countries are working toward achieving the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations General Assembly by 2030, and Goal Number 5 focuses on what we are talking about today, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Earlier this year, an organization called Equal Measures 2030 released a report detailing progress to date, and it found of the 144 countries that it looked at, less than a quarter of those countries are making fast progress toward gender equality, while a third of them are making no progress at all, and others still are actually moving backwards. Let me give you a few examples of where we’re really falling short.

According to UNESCO, there are roughly 129 million girls around the world out of school—32 million primary—of primary school age and 97 million out of secondary school, and this leads to a whole host of terrible outcomes: increasing the risk of child marriage, gender-based violence, poverty, and even a higher risk of HIV/AIDS.

Globally, over 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. One in three women globally will be affected by gender-based violence which leads to a whole host of challenges, and globally, despite making up a significant portion of the world’s agricultural workforce, less than 20 percent of the world’s landowners are women, and many women are prevented from inheriting land, and it leads to a whole horrible cycle of poverty and pushing families into poverty when a spouse dies.

So why is it important that we try to solve these problems? The reality is that advancing gender equality is key to helping us solve nearly every challenge we face, including such things as climate change, including the health of children and their families, breaking the cycle of poverty, and increasing security and stability in communities.

Women are critical to addressing climate change. In fact, studies have shown that countries with greater levels of gender equality have lower CO2 emissions. Women are also more likely to help their communities make better choices with adaptation and mitigations, climate change. Women are also essential to security issues; in fact, the participation of women in a peace deal makes it more likely that that peace deal will endure—if you bring women to the table. And states with higher levels of gender equality are less likely to use military force to resolve conflicts with other countries. Women are also vital to economic growth. Studies show that if women were given the same access to economic resources as men—an opportunity—would add trillions to the global GDP.

So I’m going to go back to my original point. Why, despite efforts of—decades of effort on these issues and so much evidence showing why it’s important, have we fallen so short? Yes, we have entrenched, misogynistic leaders around the world, and there’s been democratic backsliding, but I think the reality is that efforts to advance gender equality have fallen short because of a lack of political will, insufficient resources, and unclear objectives. Many political leaders say they are committed to advancing gender equality, but at the end of the day, other issues take precedent, there are crises to respond to, resources are short, or they don’t exactly know how to follow through on implementation.

I think a lot of people really want to do the right thing, but they don’t know exactly how to do it. The paper that I did for CFR really looked at the institutions that we’ve set up to address these problems. And what really became clear is that it’s not the institutions themselves that are going to solve; it’s the leaders who are bringing their political will and resources to bear who will actually help us make the change that we need.

I’m going to give you a quick example of where I think we’ve really failed in an institution. In 2010 the international community decided that we needed to set up an organization call U.N. Women, and it was really touted at the time as the solution to these challenges. And then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was a watershed moment and argued that it was going to be really difficult for the world to ignore these problems. They decided at the time the organization would need an annual budget of $500 million a year, a figure that many activists hoped to see grow to one billion. Yet it took U.N. Women nearly a decade to even get to that 500 million figure; it’s barely over it today. This was 2010; it’s 2022.

And the United States, which is viewed as—I worked for the U.S. government for a long time—viewed as a champion in this space—gave U.N. Women $20 million to address the challenge in 2021—$20 million to address challenges facing all women all over the world. We give—the U.S. gives the U.N. roughly $11 billion a year, so 20 million—and that’s not a—it’s hard to process, 20 million went to U.N. Women. And yes, the U.S. deserves lots of credit for the work that it does, but $20 million doesn’t really show—doesn’t really say that we are showing up and we are making gender equality a priority.

What we need to do now is motivate more people, including policymakers at the international, local, and state levels, private businesses, and others to make gender equality a sustained priority and translate best practices into action. This means political will at the highest levels, and it also means money. I think for a long time the gender community tried to pretend we could do this without money, but it’s going to take money to finance women-owned businesses, to get girls into school, to pay for health care, and to make sure that there really is a level playing field.

And it’s important because it’s going to help us solve all of the problems that we want to face today—that we face today and need to solve. If we continue on our current trajectory and don’t accelerate efforts, the World Economic Forum estimates that we’ll take another 132 years for us to achieve gender equality around the world. And I really think we can do better than that.

So thanks.

FASKIANOS: Thank you, Ann. That is very sobering.

Meredith, let’s go to you now to discuss women’s representation in state governments here across the United States.

MEREDITH MARTINO: Yeah, thanks, Irina, and thanks for having me today. I’m excited to be here and to join this conversation on behalf of Women in Government. Women in Government exists to support and serve women state legislators across the United States. We are non-partisan. We are led by an all-legislator board of directors from across the country who bring a wide variety of experiences, ideologies, and geographies to the table, which is really valuable.

So in the U.S.—and I will say that the statistics that I’m about to cite come primarily from the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, and also the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is a trade group based in Denver that works exclusively with state legislators.

There’s about 7,400 state legislators in the United States. Every state except Nebraska has bicameral legislatures, so two different bodies if you think of it like a House and a Senate. They use different names, but there is sort of an upper chamber and a lower chamber. Nebraska is the lone exception with a unicameral legislature, so there’s actually ninety-nine state legislative bodies in the United States. And of those 7,400 state legislators, about 2,250 of them are women, so about 30 percent of women—excuse me—of state legislators are women. So that doesn’t capture, you know, the participation in governor’s mansions, in the Congress, you know, other state offices like attorney general or lieutenant governor, but women hold about 30 percent of the state legislative offices.

Now that could change with an election coming up—could change for the better; it could change for the worse. CAWP estimates that there’s just over 3,550 women who made it through the primary season—you know, we’re finally done with primaries. We finished up in September. And 3,552 women are on the ballot for state legislative office this fall. And that’s an uptick from 3,446 women in 2020.

Will all those women win? You know, we’re not sure. About two-thirds of women won their races in 2020, so given the fact that the numbers are higher in 2022, we’re hoping to see an increase. But you never know. It’s an election year. It’s also a once-every-ten-years redistricting election year, so even state legislators who are kind of comfortably ensconced incumbents are facing some really tough reelection races in certain instances because 40, 50, 60 percent of their district might be new based on the way that the maps were drawn and finalized.

One thing that I would point out among the women’s participation in women state legislators is that about two-thirds of women state legislators are Democrats and one-third of women state legislators are Republicans. And when you think about the fact that Republicans actually control the majority of state legislatures in the country, about 37, I think or so, are Republican-controlled or under split control. What that means is that in those states where you have a heavy Republican majority, women are often kind of disproportionately underrepresented in the majority party, and in states where Democrats are in control, you often have really robust, almost parity numbers. And in Nevada—I think it’s Nevada, there’s actually a majority of women in the legislature. I think Nevada is the only state in the country to have more than 50 percent of their legislators are women.

So when you hear those kind of national numbers, you know, it sounds like, oh, OK, 30 percent of women, you know, that doesn’t sound bad, but when you look at any given state, it’s not exactly 30 percent. And then when you—again, you look at the state’s party control; i.e., who is setting the legislative agenda, who is determining, you know, what committees they’re going to work on, who is chairing those committees, and you look at the representation of women in the majority party, the picture becomes a little bit more skewed.

I will say that NCSL expects that there is going to be a higher level of turnover among state legislators this year than usual because of the redistricting, but also because of things that are impacting federal legislation, too, right? There’s a lot of uncertainly about, for example, you know, the Dobbs decision at the Supreme Court level and how that is going to motivate or impact voter turnout on both sides of the aisle, right? There is not really a clear picture of exactly what’s going to happen. You know, there’s still a lot of really, you know, kind of pressing issues on the minds of voters. And so we’ll have to see what happens. But NCSL is anticipating that as many as 15 percent of legislators—state legislators could be new starting in 2023.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you both for those introductions.

Let’s open up to the group now for questions. So you can submit your question by raising your hand and asking your question, and I will call on you, or else click on the Q&A icon and write your question there. And if you do that, please say your—give us your affiliation so that we can know where you are coming from. And don’t be shy.

So we have the first question from Catherine Leonard. If you can unmute yourself and give us your affiliation, that would be great. You need to unmute yourself. I think you were unmuted, but—Catherine?

OK, I’m going to—while Catherine is trying to unmute, I’m going to go to a raised hand mayor. There we go.

Q: Hi. I’m the mayor of Middleton. My name is Gurdip Brar, and I have a question for both of you. If there’s one thing which you could change to make it better for women, what would that be?

And I will just tell you that in case of Middleton, the majority of the—majority on the city council is women—there’s five to three—and then the mayor has an opportunity to make appointments to all various citizens committees. And when I started six years ago, they were ready to—well, much less proportion of women, and now it’s about fifty-fifty. So it did take about five years, so at least our city council has more women, and our committees are just about fifty-fifty. So what is that one thing which someone could do to make it better for women?

FASKIANOS: Who wants to go first?

MARTINO: Well, I will say I’m thinking, you know, specifically about women legislators, not so much just sort of women in general.

You know, political elected officials—male and female—are subjected to an extraordinary amount of harassment these days, but that harassment is, I think, especially pointed at women leaders. And it is, unfortunately, I think driving some of them away from elected office, and discouraging other women from running or there is a lot of turnover. Women get into office and it’s, you know, harder than they thought it would be in terms of having to grow a thick skin and deal with the trolls online, and you know, people who really—you know, just kind of actively target them—sometimes for the policies, you know, that they are passing, or the positions that they are taking. And I think that does speak to a larger issue in society, right—isn’t that something that could benefit, you know, women everywhere, is, you know, to figure out how to minimize workplace harassment, I mean, because that’s what it is. You know, when you are a sitting state legislator and you are being trolled—I mean, and I’ve talked, you know, with women legislators, you know, anecdotally. One of them has a stalker who is in jail right now; someone who didn’t like her position on a particular issue and, you know, harassed her to the point where a judge saw fit to put that person behind bars for some time.

You know, and I don’t think that most women have to deal with that level of harassment in their jobs, but you know, there’s a lot of data out there that shows that, you know, women still have, you know, significant hurdles to overcome in the workplaces in terms of harassment and treatment—from colleagues, from superiors, et cetera, in the workplace. And I would say that, you know, even though we don’t think of, you know, women going to the state capital, as that being her job, and thinking of her being at work the same way that we think of a woman, you know, going to a factory or going to an office or something. But it’s their job, and there are a lot of women, I think, who are targeted for that in an unfair way.


NORRIS: So the one thing I would do is make sure that in every organization—mayoral offices, city council offices—that there is a high-level point person who is empowered and kind of tasked with paying attention to these issues because otherwise they get lost, and it doesn’t mean that people don’t want to make sure these things happen; it’s just that everyone is so busy all of the time that if you don’t have the person who is constantly saying, did we think about gender in this—you know, we are going to run this new program in our city. Are we making sure that we are doing everything we can to reach out to make sure that it is accessible to women and girls because it doesn’t always naturally happen?

I live in Los Angeles, and the city here had set up a sports program for kind of underserved kids. And lo and behold, a lot of people signed up and they were mostly boys. And the girls—the families didn’t feel safe; you know, they weren’t doing outreach to make sure that the families felt comfortable. So it’s just—it’s little things like that, and once you start thinking about gender in every decision that you make, I think it starts snowballing, and then you start getting more folks excited because it’s going to take a lot of thinking, and there’s a lot of good examples out there of people that are doing it well. But there’s a lot more that needs to be done, so—

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question—written question from Mike Bahleda, who is commissioner in Alexandria, Virginia, for the Environmental Policy Commission.

What can organizations such as Women in Government do to encourage more participation by women in Republican politics since that seems to be where women are underrepresented and there is a need for women’s voices?

MARTINO: Thanks, Mike, especially as a resident of the city of Alexandria. I’m happy to see you on here and participating. That’s great.

I think there is just an issue in general in American politics, right, where we are seeing the ideological middle of both parties being pushed away for more extreme positions—Republican and Democrat. And I think that unfortunately a lot of women politicians—not all—but a lot are the ideological middle of their parties.

I think when you start to get out to the extremes of both parties—and again, extreme not necessarily being bad, but just more liberal, more conservative—I think that you see more women who are on the far left than necessarily on the far right. So, you know, I’m not really sure how to sort of solve that issue of the ideological middle being kind of unattractive to a lot of voters these days, but I think that, you know, you—we’re going to see an interesting outcome in the elections this fall, right, as the primaries—again, on both side—have kind of put forward more strident candidates, candidates, you know, who pridefully say they don’t compromise with the other side. It’s going to be interesting to see if those candidates can get through general elections and what the voice ultimately is of independents.

You know, again, living here in Virginia, right, we saw several, you know, Democratic governors in a row be followed, you know, and everybody kind of saying that Virginia had gone from red to purple and was now trending blue, and then all of a sudden Virginia made national headlines because we elected a Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who was able to attract those more ideologically mid-voters, and especially the independents.

So I think there’s a little bit of a tug-of-war. I’m not really sure this is a good answer, but I think there’s a tug-of-war between candidates that are really palatable to primary voters and candidates that only participate in general elections or, because they are independents, are only eligible to participate in general elections. But that’s just sort of what I’m seeing kind of working with women legislators nationwide.

FASKIANOS: Ann, does the lack of—or lower numbers of representation here in the U.S. undermine what we’re trying to do around the world, or, you know, our position on gender equality?

NORRIS: Yeah, I mean, I think it does. I mean, the numbers of women in Congress have been growing, but I think that women bring a unique perspective—not always, and there’s great male champions in this space—but it’s hard when you are—you know, you are in another country, you’re trying to explain to them why they need women at the table.

I remember going to one—one meeting on gender equality at the U.N. with the female senator that I worked for, and every single person on the other side of the table was a man. There wasn’t—you know, it just—and it doesn’t mean—men need to be included, and their voices are important, but I think women bring a different perspective to the table, and it’s much easier for us to kind of push and advocate for these issues if we lead by example.

I mean, one thing—the U.S. government doesn’t have a global women’s issues ambassador right now. We are years into the Biden administration. There was an extraordinary woman nominated. She has had her hearing. She cannot make it through the Congress. And this was the office that I worked in at the State Department. And, I mean, it’s—it makes it really, really challenging when you have to—when you are not leading by example, so to encourage others who are facing a whole range of challenges on a whole range of issues to make this a priority.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.

All right. We have a question from—let’s see—Lisa Wright, who is a legislative assistant to D.C. Council Member Robert White.

On the data breakdown on elected officials between Democratic versus Republicans, what is the projection for women officials in the next few years, and what can we do to increase the meaningful contribution of women in politics?

MARTINO: So, I mean, again I think the projection question is a little tricky with all of the unknowns in the election, but as I said, the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers, you know, has noted that we have more women on the general election ballot this fall than we did two years ago. And they also have some great statistics about the number of women running for federal office, and also running for governor. And I think there is an all-time high—I believe there’s 25 states where there is at least one woman gubernatorial candidate on the ballot. So definitely more women on the ballot, I think, than in recent years, but not sure what the outcome will be.

In terms of the meaningful contributions, I think one of the most important things that can happen is to get away from the idea that there are women’s issues. You know, I sometimes hear that from women legislators; you know, especially conservative women legislators who may not, you know—they’re not really into identity politics, you know, they see some of this stuff as being very partisan. And I always say, well, we don’t do women’s issues; we do all the issues.

But I think that’s a—that’s a real situation in certain states. I mean, I talked to a women in leadership in a state, and she’s a Republican woman in leadership—I mean, very high up in here chamber—number two, number three in her chamber—and she was running a bill on human trafficking, which is a societal problem, right? It is societal problem that should be addressed, and everyone, you know, who is a contributing member of society should be concerned about human trafficking. And when her party—when her chamber leader, you know, after the bill was voted on, he said to her, you know, I voted on your women’s bill. And I just think that is a real problem when there are certain issues that are kind of seen as like a token nod or a giveaway to women or women’s issues. I think we need to sort of talk about issues in the broader sense of where they fit into our community.

You know, when we talk about childcare and elder care, it’s very much to support women’s participation in the workforce. It’s an economic participation issue. But again, if you kind of maybe focus it as a women’s issue, it doesn’t feel as important. It doesn’t feel as valid or as worthy of getting resources and attention and solutions.

And so I think that question of participation is important, but I think another thing is to address the meaningfulness of the work that women legislators do, and that’s to sort of just lead on all the issues and not be sort of pigeon-holed and put into things that are seen as women’s issues.

FASKIANOS: Right. And Ann, on the global level, at the U.N., is that—I mean, how is it seen? Is it—is the approach more it is a societal issue not a women’s issue?

NORRIS: I mean, I think that that is the challenge, is that it was—I mean, I worked—I worked in Congress for a long time. I worked at the State Department for a long time. It was always, you know, here comes the women’s office and we’re going to check the box. I mean, I cannot—we were, like, some special interest group. And as soon as the box was checked, you know, the issue was done. And the bigger point is that it’s—these issues affect everyone—poverty, health care, terrorism, climate change. Like, it’s everyone. And you need everyone who is being impacted by these issues to be—to have a seat at the table and to help in shaping solutions.

And that’s what we really need to get at, which is exactly what Meredith was saying. It’s not as—I mean, I cannot tell you how many times we were trying to raise, like, a broad economic issue and, you know, the response was, well, we did that one event four months ago, and there were some women there. You know, and it’s, like, OK, but that doesn’t solve the issue. Like it’s—this is something we all need to be thinking about all the time, because it is going to make the solutions that much better, and that much easier, and that much more sustainable if everyone is part of the policymaking decision process. I mean, it’s important for women to be on the Armed Services Committee. It’s important for women to be on the Environment and Public Works Committee and talking about transportation. They just bring a unique perspective in some ways. So, yes.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Senior Director Dominique Mendiola from Colorado had his hand raised. I don’t know if you still have a question. I’m going to put you on the spot. OK. All right. So I’m going to go next to Lois Reckitt, who has a raised hand. If you can go ahead.

Q: Thank you. I’m a legislator in Maine.

One of the things that we did at my and a few others’ initiatives at the end of the session last year, I did an analysis of all the committees in the legislation and how many women served on them and on which committees. And it was a fascinating exercise. For instance, there was one woman on the transportation committee and, like, eight on the human services committee, and et cetera, et cetera.

But what I did was I sent out a survey to all of the, I confess, Democratic women in the House, where they represent 61 percent of the Democratic caucus in Maine. And I sent it out to them and asked the following question: When you were serving on committee, whatever it was, did something—was anything introduced that anything to do with equity for women? And that was the first question. The second question was, did anybody notice? And the third was, if you come back to that committee the next time what would you do yourself in that arena to move things forward?

And it was—the fascinating part to me is that everybody was sort of a combination of amused and intrigued by the second question, which was did anybody notice that there was something that might have impacted women? So I think it—what we’re trying now to do is organize a Women’s Caucus in the legislature, which, to the best of my knowledge, nobody’s ever done in our state. And I don’t quite know why. But we’re working on it now. And we’re trying to do it as a method also to help new women legislators, of which we presumably will have quite a few.

But we also have term limits. So, for instance, I’m going to be in my last term. And, you know, I’ve spent six years fighting for a state equal rights amendment and a bunch of other things. And I was going to quit on it this year because there was no hope. But then all the young women said to me, no, no, no, no, no, you have to do that. And I said, OK, fine. But, you know, I think it’s—I think we have to band together, and we have to speak out. And some of the loudest voices that I’ve seen in the last few years in our statehouse are coming from young women who have way less patience than some of us who have been hanging around for a long time doing this stuff, although I’ve only been in the legislature for six years because we pay so badly that you can’t run unless you’re, you know, retired—which is what I am, theoretically.

So anyway, I think it’s really important that women just speak out and step forward, and ask the hard questions, and make sure that we are represented. We have one poor woman on the transportation committee. Next year, that’s not going to be the case. We are going to get more than one woman on the transportation committee, because it’s a critical issue for women in so many ways. So we also may have the first woman of color speaker of the house in Maine next year, which would be a really good thing in my view, although I think there’s one or two other candidates. But I think it’s—you know, we just have to step forward and take the risks.

MARTINO: I’ll say good luck in forming a Women’s Caucus. I think that’s really important. And I think the states—there are some states where there are—like there’s, like, a partisan women’s caucus, you know, maybe like the democratic women have a caucus. But the states where I think it’s really meaningful are the states where they make the effort to be bipartisan. And one really great example is the state of Missouri. I was in Jefferson City earlier this year, and they have a really strong bipartisan women’s caucus. Those women will sit down and break bread together, they work on projects together. They may vote very differently on the floor of their chamber, but they know how to be, you know, amenable, how to be respectful, how to be civil. And that’s not worth nothing in 2022, right? I think we see a lot of politicians who could—who could use some lessons in that. So I think women can be the grownups at the table to help provide that. And I think being bipartisan is really significant.

And while I was there, it was interesting. One of the women legislators told the other women in the room who didn’t know that, you know, she is now—represents a woman who was a former state legislator who helped found the caucus. And the women’s caucus in Missouri was founded because there was—and this was at the time when the Democrats were in power in Missouri—but there was a bill moving through the statehouse to outlaw marital rape. And the Democratic women could not get enough of their Democratic male counterparts to sign onto the bill. So they said, OK, we’re going to go work with the Republican women. And they banded together and formed a caucus and created enough momentum in the chamber to move that bill forward. And then the group has just stayed together and been really robust. And just like Maine, Missouri is also term-limited. So it’s a group that really takes itself seriously, and I think does a lot for civility and respect in Jefferson City. So best of luck. Good luck to you.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic. There’s also the comment from Veronica Paiz, who said that she’s been on city council since 2015, a sixty-five-year-old woman. Just won her primary for state representative in Michigan, and is expected the win the general election as her district is strong Dem and I’m a Dem. So looking forward to represent. Also, I’m Latina. So that’s fantastic. If others want to share their stories, we’d love to hear them.

There are two questions in the—in the written from Cassandra Carmona, who’s in the office of Assembly member Mike Fong, as well as Derrick Lockridge—and I’m going to combine them—director of external affairs and engagement. So, Cassandra, how can we encourage men in power to invite and empower women to take on leadership roles in government agencies, et cetera? And Derrick’s is, I see a lot of women running for local positions—council, commission, school board—but not most of the main leadership, such as mayor. Is this something that’s happening, you know, endemic across the U.S.?

Go ahead.

NORRIS: I mean, I think it gets a bit to what Meredith and I were just speaking about, that it’s—we need to make the case that we will see progress when women are at the table. You know, like, to get to—as I mentioned kind of in my early—in my opening remarks, if you have women sitting at the table in a peace negotiation and you are able to achieve an agreement, that agreement is much more likely to hold because it’s accepted by the community at large because women make up—sometimes more than 50 percent—of local communities.

And so to get—I think it’s not an include women just because we need to include women. It’s, you know, you are going to be more successful—we are going to be more successful, we are going to be more productive economically, we are going to make better decisions with more lasting outcomes when you have inclusive voices at the table and it’s not just one group making all the decisions that are than kind of imposed on the rest of us. So they will be more successful in their endeavors by bringing in and making sure, and making it a priority.

You know, when you are coming to a meeting on an issue that largely impacts women, not to kind of jump back into that women’s issues box, but I don’t even want to step in it, but, you know, childcare, taking care of elder family members, like, make sure that there are women’s voices at the table in those processes. So, I mean, I think it’s just making the case and showing that outcomes are better when we have an inclusive environment.

FASKIANOS: Ann—I’m sorry, no Ann. Meredith.

MARTINO: Yeah. I think that’s such an important case to make. You know, whether globally or, you know, here in the states. And kind of to the part of the question about, you know, asking why women aren’t necessarily going for the top office, you know, again, we are seeing—you know, looking back at the CWAP statistics, more women, again, running for governor. You know, not sure about mayors.

But I will say, you know, when you think about, and Representative Reckitt kind of addressed it, but, you know, the truth is—and Ann just kind of hinted at it—you know, the care—the care economy exists really to support women, right? Women are—the chief care officer of their family. You know, when there’s childcare, when there’s eldercare. Even if they’re not necessarily the main provider, they’re often the administrative person in their family who is—who is figuring out where their preschooler or their aging, you know, parent with dementia can go.

And that’s a lot to take on at the same that, you know, you’re—I mean, I think it’s not a coincidence that Ann mentioned the number of female CEOs, you know, for large companies. It’s a hard thing to do when you’re kind of carrying all of these roles and responsibilities for your family and at the same time trying to advance your career. It can be exhausting. And especially in state legislatures, they’re not well-paid. You know, there’s a couple of state legislatures—New York and California jump to mind—where the legislators are paid a meaningful wage and it’s essentially a full-time job that you can have.

Most state legislatures, it’s not like that. You know, these people—you know, I have women legislators who are pharmacists, and insurance agents, and, you know, nurses. And, you know, they have active jobs. And then they’re making time alongside those jobs, alongside family obligations to just be in the statehouse. And the idea of stepping into a leadership position, it’s sometimes just too much. So I think, you know, addressing some of those, you know, again, like, larger societal issues would also help women in their ability to be political leaders as well.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. We have a raised hand from Katie Scott.

Q: Hi. I hope that I am unmuted.


Q: OK. Hi. My name is Katie Scott. I am a county commissioner from Washtenaw County in Michigan.

And I’m so glad that you called on my hand right after this because this was sort of my story. So I’ve been serving as a county commission since 2018. Would love to, you know, continue in that role. But also serve at the statehouse and was asked by people to run in a newly created statehouse seat and state senate seat. And both of them I had to decline because as a single mother who works full time as a nurse, it was taking an enormous pay cut for me, and I couldn’t afford my life. And it’s so frustrating to think that, as a single woman, I could only do this if I was very young and the pay would be meaningful or retired like your previous speaker from Maine talked about. Whereas I know that I have things to offer in that statehouse.

And so how—your commentary about the care economy is so spot-on. And I would just like to think, even if I can’t get there at this age hopefully later I can. But what I can do to help women be able to do this and afford to do this, it seems like that’s something tangible we could do. Because I don’t want to see anybody else stopped from leadership positions because of those economic concerns. Thanks for the conversation. I’ve really been enjoying it.

FASKIANOS: I want to go next to—thank you for that—to Karen Hanan, who is at the Washington State Arts Commission. And this goes to—within the problem, that is a lack of women in meaningful positions of power, that discrepancy is much greater for women of color or LGBTQI+. Has that improved much over the past few years? Or is it stagnant? What can be done to—on that front?

MARTINO: Yeah, you know, and I will say, I don’t know the exact numbers. Again, CWAP has really good statistics where you can actually—I know you can look by race and ethnicity. I’m not sure whether you can look by gender identity or sexual orientation for LGBTQ issues. But there are groups that exist to support certainly minority women, like NOBEL Women, the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, is a group that’s having its conference, actually, here—well, close by—in National Harbor, Maryland, under the strong leadership and support of several Maryland state legislators.

And I think that is one thing that is really important to addressing some of those gaps, is making sure that there are groups and communities for women legislators, especially women of color legislators, like you said, to plug into on a broader scale, because, you know, I’ve talked with women of color who might be, yeah, the only woman of color in their entire chamber or maybe even in some cases in their entire legislature. You know, I was in Oklahoma City for a conference earlier this year, and there was an event hosted by the Black Caucus there. And I think there were eight members of the Oklahoma legislature who formed their Black Caucus.

And, you know, so in certain states there can be really small representation. So I think there are groups that exist to try and support, you know, women of color when they get elected. And I know there are organizations like Vote, Run, Lead that really work to recruit women to run for office. And I think they specifically target women of color. I will say that women of color are almost always Democrats. You know, when we look at the breakdown of the Republican versus Democrat.

There is more party diversity among Hispanic women state legislators, but when you look at, for example, like, Black women legislators, Native American women legislators, mostly Democrats. Asian American legislators, there are some Republicans but disproportionately Democratic. Among the Hispanic women legislators, there’s a little bit more parity among Democrat and Republican. So, you know, that’s—again, that’s another thing to just sort of think about, that if most of the women of color who are running are Democrats, they’re either going to be in the smaller number of states—again, those, you know, thirteen or fifteen states where Democrats are in power—or they’re likely to be in a super-minority in some of the states where there are Republicans. And it can be tough. You know, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, it can be tough to get things done when you’re in the minority, but especially when you’re in the super-minority.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. There are two questions here from Kara Ault, who’s in Ohio, been appointed to the local city council in 2020, and has been reelected. She lives in a very small, rural town in Ohio. And they got equality legislation passed in their community. Great. So we are now one of only thirty-four municipalities in Ohio. She’s been very empowered to move past city council towards state legislation but wants to talk more about the process. Is there a group or center for women to discuss and share information regarding running for state office, and resources?

And then I’m going to add onto that, Michelle Proctor. What advice would you give to a single mom new to a state who would like to become more involved? Again, any organizations to join or jobs to seek to accomplish that goal?

MARTINO: As I mentioned, I think Vote, Run, Lead is a good group that is really targeting women. But again, I think finding sort of an ideological group to plug into—you know, Republican or Democrat—I think can be a valuable way to get information about that and to, you know, hopefully make some connections and have some conversations about what that really looks like. You know, I can tell you that it’s—fundraising is tough. You know, a lot of women, I think, struggle to have the resources needed to run for state office. You know, they’re not as significant as running for Congress, but it’s not—you know, it’s not free either, right, when you’re running a campaign. And so, again, finding some groups that you can, you know, maybe plug into that would help connect you with financial resources or campaign managers.

You know, there’s a professionalization in campaigns that I think a lot of people don’t realize. And I think that would be a good way to take some of the—to address some of the dauntingness of, you know, the idea of how do I start this? You know, is to try to find people who have done it before. And I think those ideological groups or political parties are a good place to start.

FASKIANOS: Ann, any suggestions from your perspective of having worked at all different levels?

NORRIS: I mean, I think you have to decide if you’re most interested about local issues in your community. And I think Meredith’s suggestions were great. You know, find groups that are working on issues that you care about. I think, whether it’s a local environmental group, or a group working on housing policy, I think there are a lot of opportunities. And you can kind of figure out where your passions lie. I think—I mean, it’s tough as a woman. You know, when I worked for the administration—when I worked for the executive branch—that may have changed—there was zero days of paid maternity leave from the U.S. federal government, OK? There were literally zero days. You could take—I ended up going in the hole a couple of months when I had our daughter, and I had to move—I had to earn that back. So it took me months to be able to use all my vacation days to try—for maternity leave.

I just—I think that there are a lot of hurdles that make it hard for women to—and not just women. Men are responsible too. I mean, men need affordable childcare as well. I think we just—I think there are a lot of obstacles that make it difficult for women to get involved and to stay involved for decades. And, I mean, that’s—we need people who want to go into public service, who are passionate about public service. And we need to make it a lot easier for them to be able to do those jobs without it taking such enormous sacrifice. You know, because—and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and there’s a lot of good that needs to be done, and we need change in a lot of areas. So, yeah.

FASKIANOS: Katie Scott also said: Emerge focuses on training Democratic women for office. So I’m just sharing that. I don’t know that that was mentioned.

So we are almost out of time. So there’s one last question from Heather Ferguson Hull. Do you have any thoughts about what factors might make a difference in overcoming the electability hurdle that women presidential candidates face?

MARTINO: And I’m going to—I want to hear Ann’s answer on this, because this is some place where the world has done better than us, right? Like, maybe not every country, but there are certainly women prime ministers leading large industrial nations across the world. And so, Ann, what do those countries have that we don’t?

NORRIS: I mean, I spend a lot of time talking about this. I think we need to—it needs to be normalized more here. Like, the woman is not the special candidate. The woman has an equal voice. She has as much experience to bear. I think we’re always kind of—you know, I think there are some countries where they assume that the leader is going to be a woman. And here, it’s, like, we’re trying to make a special exception. And I mean, I think it’s just—this stuff takes time. And I think we’re getting there. But I think it’s everything that we do. It gets to Meredith’s earlier point about suggesting that, you know, some issues are just all left to women.

You know, like every single issue that we face affects women and men. And women should be viewed as equal, viable candidates, and not something kind of—some special accommodation that needs to be made, because it’s time for a woman president. Like, it is time for a woman president in my opinion—but I think there are—I’ve worked with, for women legislators. And they are powerful, and tenacious, and hardworking. And I am in awe of what they do.

It is a tough—I worked in Congress for a very long time. We worked on—I worked for a very liberal California senator. We spent most of our time working with Republican senators on the other side. That’s where we got our best work done. I mean, there is so much to be achieved if kind of we all work together. So we just need to normalize women, and stop making it kind of a niche group, even though that’s—yeah, although we have to continue talking about it until we get there, so.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. And, Meredith, any closing thoughts from you?

MARTINO: No. I mean, I just completely agree with what Ann said just, you know, in general about, like, I think the less we can talk about women’s issue and just have women be voices solving all the issues, I think that will help. And, Ann, I really appreciated your comments. I mean, it’s great. It was Representative Reckitt about the transportation committee in Maine because, as Irina mentioned at the beginning, I spent seventeen years at the American Association of Port Authorities.

And I can tell you, when I started in 2004, you know, I went to my first conference. And I came home, and my family said: How was it? And I said, it was great. And there was no line for the ladies’ room. You know, it was just—but that dynamic over the seventeen years I was there really changed. And the biggest—in the sense of women becoming CEOs of ports, sometimes major ports. And what happened there is not that—to Ann’s point—not that leaders said: We need to have a woman in this role. What happened is that the port commissions started accepting the idea that there were multiple paths to the CEO role, that you didn’t have to have worked at a shipping line or been in the Coast Guard, which are two very male-centric professions.

You could be in real estate. You could be in communications. You could be in finance. You could be in human resources. And so that has just changed the background of the leaders of those organizations. And so there are, you know, just kind of coincidentally more women there, but not because anyone said we need to get more women. It was just, like, hey, maybe there’s different paths to rising up to leadership. And so even the men who are, you know, the heads of port authorities now are not all necessarily coming from the exact same path and the exact same background. And so I think that if we can start doing that in politics, I think that’s going to be to society’s benefit, and women will absolutely be swept up in that.

FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Well, thank you both for this hour conversation, and for all of you for your questions and comments and stories. We all just have to continue to work on this issue. So for resources, Ann Norris, you can find her on CFR.org. We also have a Women Around the World blog, so you should check that out. And with Meredith Martino, go to Women in Government. They have a lot of resources. And again, I will say the National Council of State Legislators is also a wonderful resource for all of you. So thank you both, again. We really appreciate it. And go to CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for more expertise and analysis. You can also email [email protected] to let us know how we can continue to support the work you are doing. And I hope you will join us for the next conversation. We will send out an invitation.

Thank you all, again.


Top Stories on CFR


Nigeria needs a change of direction, not a change of government.  

The War in Ukraine


The United States and its allies have imposed broad economic penalties on Russia over its war in Ukraine. As the conflict continues, experts debate whether the sanctions are working.