A little over a month ago, I visited Iraq and Jordan as part of a congressional delegation. In Jordan, we went to the Zaatari refugee camp, where 80,000 people forced to flee their homes and everything they knew now live. The camp is actually Jordan’s fourth-largest city.
While we were there, I met with a number of women and heard their stories. As you can imagine, their stories were devastating. But meeting with them also reminded me of certain universal truths among people and among women.
We met with a group of women who had all gathered to figure out how to use their sewing skills to make and sell clothes. There was one woman who was talking a lot, explaining what she was doing, how she was going to organize women in the camp, and another woman made a noise – she sort of scoffed, “Oh, she just can’t stop talking.”
Our translator whispered to me, “They’re sisters.”
I looked over at the woman who had interrupted and I asked, “Are you younger or older?” She said she was older.
I told her, “I’m an older sister too. I understand.”
The older sister lit up and hugged and kissed me. It was that big-sister bond.
But I recognized the other woman, the younger sister. She was sitting on the edge of her seat, rallying the troops, taking charge. Any of you would have recognized her too.
She was a leader.
I’ve been thinking about these women who have experienced so much suffering but still have compassion, determination, a sense of humor, and hope. I don’t know what they’ll go on to do with their lives. I really hope that one day they’ll be able to return to their homes and reinstitute themselves in their communities and play a role in rebuilding and leading their countries.
In one of those camps, in places here and around the world, there are women, right now, who are following in the footsteps of Angela Merkel or Indira Gandhi or Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
From my vantage point as the United States senator from the great state of California and only the second black woman in the history of the United States Senate, I believe there’s a lot to be encouraged about, both here and around the world. There are young female leaders all around us, running the PTA, building parks, leading in their communities, or deciding that they will run for office for the first time.
But we can’t lose sight of all the challenges that remain.
Women are about 51 percent of the US population but make up just under 20 percent of the United States Congress and only about a quarter of state legislators. Globally, women are 50 percent of the population but hold only 23 percent of seats in national legislatures.
There are countries where women who engage in the political process face not only slurs or whisper campaigns or comments about their appearance – they face rape and violence and death. That is just wrong. You better believe we’ve got to change that.
I want to challenge all of us to take all our energy and our commitment and ask what we can each do to bring more women into the arena both here and around the world. We need to keep training and organizing aspiring women. We need to keep monitoring electoral violence. We need to keep connecting women around the globe so they can share their insights and experiences.
You’ve probably seen that slogan “the future is female.” It was on a lot of signs at the Women’s March in January. My challenge for all of us is this: let’s figure out how to make that future arrive as soon as possible.