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Advancing Inclusion & Representation in Government

Strategic Dialogue
Programming Partner: Women Political Leaders



  • Silvana Koch-Mehrin opened the Strategic Dialogue with an update on female representation in today’s political realm. She commended the relatively stronger performance of female-led countries during the coronavirus pandemic. However, Koch-Mehrin noted the persistent gender disparity in leadership around the world: 93% of presidents and prime ministers are male, and approximately 75% of electoral seats are occupied by men. 

“Countries that are led by women [are] doing relatively better [at coping with the COVID-19 crisis],” Silvana Koch-Merin

  • Dauda Sesay emphasized the importance of strategic policy discussion in creating more inclusive, diverse local and national governments that better represent their constituents. 

“When you look at our national Congress, it is predominantly—what I call—pale, male, and stale, and doesn’t reflect the full vibrancy of our population,” Sayu Bhojwani

  • Sayu Bhojwani discussed the capacity of first- and second-generation Americans in shaping politics and promoting policies that are inclusive and responsive to the full vibrancy of the U.S. population. She discussed the shortcomings of political “diversity” when only the ethnic diversity of politicians is considered, without any attention to the diversity of citizens who benefit from these politicians’ policymaking. She insisted that, once elected and bestowed the power of policymaking, Black, Latinx, and Asian politicians must not lose sight of who they are advocating for. Bhojwani also emphasized the value of collective liberation—finding ways to better our lives and access opportunities that do not come at the expense of others. 

“We need to be mindful of the fact that there is a system that we need to control and it’s not enough to have representatives in the system. We actually have to work on transforming it wholesale,” Hafsat Abiola

  • Hafsat Abiola, whose work with KIND promotes a stable society and democracy in Nigeria, warned against tokenism of political figures, and asserted the need for all politicians to integrate the values and ideals of their nation’s grassroots movements in policymaking, no matter the personal identities of the politicians. She cited the decades-long grassroots movement to abolish South African apartheid, and how the inequalities generated by apartheid have only begun to be addressed when politicians took these movements into account and committed themselves to reconstructing South African economic systems entirely.

“When we think about what we need in leaders, there’s a difference between competence and confidence. Competence is how good you are. Confidence is how good you think you are,” Laura Liswood

  • Lois Auta spoke of the historical discrimination against, and exclusion of, people with disabilities in government and policymaking, and the continued under-representation of people with disabilities in elections.

“There’s no such thing as a glass ceiling for women, it’s just a thick layer of men,” Stefanie Brown James

  • Stephanie Brown James reflected on the life and legacy of the late-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and expressed optimism for women’s representation in politics in the future. She noted the uptick of American women running for office since the 2016 presidential election and hopes they bring their lived experiences as mothers, daughters, and educators to the table. Some challenges female candidates still face, however, include the gender fundraising gap during campaigns, the disadvantages they face with voter suppression, and the personal household and familial responsibilities unduly shouldered by women.
  • Laura Liswood discussed the budget-shifting and cultural effects of gender quotas in India’s local governments, as female representatives push to redirect funds toward healthcare and education, and as the traditional preference and privileging of Indian sons over daughters declines. While male political leaders feel affirmed, many potential female leaders have yet to bridge the gap between their high competence (how capable they are) and lower confidence (how capable they believe they are).

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Advancements in civic education for all are needed in order to foster greater political participation and popular engagement in policy making. 
  • Awareness of female voter agency and independence must be spread. 
  • Political allyship between marginalized groups must be promoted.  
  • Challenges facing female candidates—including gender fundraising gaps experienced during campaigns, voter suppression disadvantages, and the personal household and familial responsibilities that are unduly shouldered by women—must be addressed.


Session Speakers