By: Sheher Bano
You! takes a look at the struggles that women of the United States of America initially faced before they became powerful figures…
Can women really have it all? -a satisfying job, a peaceful home with all the luxuries of life, lovely relations around, peace of mind and a bright career ahead. Sounds quite interesting, yet the question is, can they have it all in reality and can she balance her domestic roles as a daughter, mother, sister and wife along with her career responsibilities.
This was the topic of the presentation, which was delivered by Angela Price Aggeler, Counsellor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Islamabad, recently in Karachi. The presentation was rooted in the fact that in the late 18th century, US national, state and local governments were run by white men who probably couldn’t imagine women running for any elected office, let alone the presidency. The purpose of the conference was not to give a history lesson though. It was to define all the struggles women initially faced before they became powerful figures. Using the US history as an example, the women of Pakistan can also gain inspiration of being ‘the jack of all trades’.
In the early 21st century, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first politically viable female candidate for president. In the years between, generations of American women overcame stereotypes and broke down barriers to elected office.
While narrating the history, Ms Aggeler, introduced some of the women. For example, Abigail Adams was an early advocate for women’s rights, in the 1700s and early 1800s. She was the wife of the first vice president of the United States of America and her son, Quincy Adams, became the sixth president of the US. What was striking about Abigail was that she always urged her husband and son not to forget women’s rights.
In 1873, Myra Bradwell sought her admission in the Illinois Bar. She was denied admission to the Bar by the US Supreme Court due to her natural and proper timidity and delicacy. Later she was granted her law licence in Illinois in 1890. As many as 16 years later, Susanna Salter became the first female mayor of Argonia, Kansas. She was only 27 years old and the men put her name on the ballot only as a joke. However, after her victory in the poll, the awe-stricken men didn’t find it funny! However, things still weren’t easy for the US women and they had to struggle for years before they actually made a mark.
Jeannette Rankin, the first US congresswoman, used to say that men and women were like your right hand and left hand. Hattie Caraway was the first elected female senator in the US. Her husband was a senator and after his death she filled in for him temporarily. Luckily, after completing that term, she was elected for another two terms. She said that she may have been the first Congresswoman but she wasn’t going to be the last.
In later years, Shirley Chisholm, who passed away in 2005, became the first African-American woman elected to Congress. She broke many barriers and became the major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. There are many such women who paved way for their successors to grab the coveted positions of power. Today, there are 21 women listed as CEOs in the Fortune 500.
Ms Aggeler also briefly explained about the women suffrage movement which was achieved gradually, at state and local levels during the late 19th century and early 20th century. The first women’s rights convention in the United States was held in 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York.
Progress was slow. By 1913, only nine states – all in the West – gave women the right to vote. President Woodrow Wilson gave support to women’s right to vote in 1918. Legislative support for women’s voting rights produced the Nineteenth Amendment, passed in both the House and Senate in 1919.
Citing the example of First Lady and Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton Ms Aggeler said: “She was a politically viable candidate for president in 2012 election, and still is a potential candidate for 2016. Not getting to run for president in 2008, she said in her speech, ‘We have not cracked the glass ceiling but put eight million cracks in the glass ceiling’.”
As for women in US politics, in 2012, women held 17% of the 100 US Senate seats, 17% of 435 US House seats, 16% of 7382 seats in the 50 state legislators and 12% of 50 state governorships.
Ms Aggeler furthermore referred to an article, ‘Why women can’t have it all’, written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, which reads: “It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.”
To Ms Aggeler socio-economic differences are of great significance for women awareness. “If you as a girl have been raised in a family that encourages you to get education and follow your dreams, you can feel the discrimination against women in society. But if you are from an underprivileged family then you won’t even know about the glass ceiling,” she added.
On another note, the example of one of the powerful women of today’s time was given; a woman who has it all. The newly-elected Female President and CEO of Yahoo, was pregnant when she took the helm of affairs at Yahoo. But she was much criticized for her policy, requiring Yahoo employees to close up their home offices and report to work. However, in order to facilitate working moms, she announced to build a nursery for their kids as she found great opportunities for working moms in the telecommunication sector.
Having gone through the achievements which the US women have attained after years of continuous struggle, their counterparts in Pakistan seem to have done far better in just 65 years history of this country. Starting from Fatima Jinnah who played equally important role along with her zealot brother Quaid-i-Azam, and the first female ambassador Begum Rana Liaqaut Ali Khan, Pakistan has a long list of women who made it to the top. We have women generals, ambassadors, editors, ministers, governors and even two-time elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Besides, there are countless women CEOs, MDs, Managers serving at top and middle level management cadres, not to mention the role our peasant women are playing while handling 75% of farm work as compared to their men folks. Whether all these women are superhuman or not but their journey to the top is on. In the words of Aggeler “the women’s struggle for recognition and equal rights while enjoying career success, having a family, social life and personal interests is global issue.” And it will continue until they are recognised equally important as their male counterparts.