DeLauro to women politicians from Africa: ‘It’s about tenacity’

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The Leadership Forum for Strategic Impact brought together legislators, ministers, and judges from six African countries. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Be tenacious in your policy goals, said U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro to the 11 African women, all public officials, who are attending the Leadership Forum for Strategic Impact this week at Yale.

As an example, she described her 19-year effort to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that would address the country’s gender pay gap.

“I introduced that legislation in 1997,” DeLauro said. “This is not something that’s brand new. But I’ll tell you what: It’s part of the public discourse in our presidential election today. You know and I know that it’s about tenacity. You can’t give up.”

DeLauro, a Democrat who represents Connecticut’s Third District (which includes New Haven), was the keynote speaker for the five-day forum, which convened 11 women public officials — legislators, ministers, and judges — from Ethiopia, Liberia, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Uganda to discuss issues faced by women in leadership roles across the globe. The forum is organized by the Fundación Mujeres por África with the support of Banco Santander (through Santander Universities), and is sponsored by the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and the Office of International Affairs at Yale University.

DeLauro, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1991, said women members of Congress have raised issues that were previously overlooked, such as paid family leave, sick leave, childcare costs, and equal pay for equal work. She emphasized that these issues affect men and women alike.

Representative Rosa DeLauro said she has earned the respect of her Congressional colleagues by being well informed on the issues and by not taking “any guff.” (Photo by Michael Marsland)

“These issues now are front and center on both sides of the aisle in our presidential debates,” she said. “You will hear both of my colleagues on the Democratic side talk about paid leave and equal pay for equal work. On the other side, they are talking about the same issues.” 

AminataTouré, the former prime minister of Senegal, asked DeLauro how the perception of women politicians has evolved in the United States.

“In my context, it takes you time to be recognized as a full politician, not only as a female politician fighting only for women’s issues, but also embracing the whole gamut of popular demand,” said Touré, who served as prime minister from September 2013 to July 2014.

Touré said the press in Senegal is harder on women politicians than on men, criticizing their appearance and questioning how they can both lead and care for their families.

DeLauro agreed that women in politics face unique challenges. She said that when women are ambitious, aggressive, and articulate — traits prized in men in Congress — they are demeaned as shrill or emotional. She said that she has earned the respect of her colleagues by being well informed on the issues and by not taking “any guff.”   

“The men in Congress can stand up and make a fool of themselves, and it doesn’t make any difference,” she said. “You don’t get a second bite at the apple if you do that as woman. They won’t take you seriously. That exists today.”

DeLauro’s talk was part of the forum’s program of seminars and discussions with Yale faculty on range of issues, including health, climate change, economics and globalization, and governance and transparency. On Wednesday, the participants will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with senior officials at the White House, U.S. State Department, and other agencies with an emphasis on issues related to peace and security.

Fundación Mujeres por África will work with the participants to develop similar leadership programs in their home countries.

The forum participants are: Shitaye Minale, deputy speaker of Ethiopia’s House of Representatives; Meaza Ashenafi, a judge and human rights expert from Ethiopia; Julia Duncan-Cassell, minister of gender and development for Liberia; Gloria M. Scott, president of the Constitutional Review Committee and former chief justice of Liberia; Awa Niang, a member of Senegal’s National Assembly; Sophia Wambura, judge of Tanzania’s High Court; Faouzia Charfi, former secretary of state for higher education for Tunisia; Neila Chaabane, former secretary of state for women’s affairs for Tunisia; Victoria Sekitoleko, former minister of agriculture for Uganda; Maria Kiwanuka, former minister of finance for Uganda; and Touré.     

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