KARACHI, Dec 11: ‘Can women really have it all?’ This was the topic of discussion organised by the Women Media Centre in collaboration with the US consulate at the Lincoln Corner at Rangoonwala Community Centre here on Wednesday.
“There is the family life — being a good daughter, sister, wife and mother — and then there is the career to think about. And can we balance it all?” asked Angela Price Aggeler, Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Islamabad before her presentation.
The presentation comprised introduction of American women who over the years have made a mark in a ‘man’s world’. In the 1700s and early 1800s, there was Abigail Adams, an early advocate for women’s rights. She was the wife of the first vice president and second president of the United States. Her son, Quincy Adams, became the sixth president of US. “She always advised her husband and son not forget about women’s rights,” Ms Aggeler said.
Ian 1873, Myra Bradwell attempted to become the first woman to be admitted to the Illinois Bar. “But she was denied admission to the Illinois Bar by the US Supreme Court,” said Ms Aggeler. Finally, she was granted her law licence in Illinois in 1890.
“Then 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. But they didn’t think it funny when she actually won!” Ms Aggeler said. “After serving as mayor for a year, she was asked to run again but she turned down the offer, saying that she didn’t find the job that interesting,” she added.
Jeannette Rankin was the first US congresswoman. “She used to say that men and women were like your right hand and left hand. There is no reason why one can’t use both.”
Hattie Caraway was the first elected female senator in the US. “Her husband was a senator who had died so she filled in for him initially. But after finishing that term, she was elected for another two terms. She used to say that she may have been the first Congresswoman but she wasn’t going to be the last,” Ms Aggeler continued. And Shirley Chisholm, who passed away in 2005, became the first African-American Congresswoman.
Next up was the women of substance listing Geraldine Ferraro, the first female candidate for US vice president; Katherine Graham, the first woman to head a Fortune 500 company and Nancy Pelosi, the first US speaker of the house. More recently, the one that deserved the biggest mention is the former First Lady and Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton. “She was a very viable candidate for president, and is still a potential candidate for 2016. Not getting to run for president in 2008, she said in her concession speech, ‘We have not cracked the glass ceiling but put eight million cracks in the glass ceiling’,” Ms Aggeler added.
“Ms Clinton is a fantastic role model for women. As a wife, she has been her husband’s support and been the First Lady. As a mother, she has raised an amazing daughter and her career as a top politician we all know about,” she said.
One of the participants then mentioned late Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s former prime minister as a similar role model here. “She was expecting when she first ran for PM and even had her second child while in office. She too was taking care of her home and career simultaneously,” the participant said.
Sharing some personal role models with her audience, Ms Aggeler showed her mother’s photograph. “My mother was a nurse. She wanted all her three sons and two daughters to be doctors because she wanted a better career for us and that was what she could think of,” she said before also sharing a picture of her own daughter and husband. “Men, too, can be role models for women in their rights struggle and my husband who always supports me in whatever I do is one of them,” she said.
If there is a 33 per cent quota of seats for women in the National Assembly in Pakistan, there is also a quota in the US Senate and House. “So the women’s struggle for recognition and equal rights while enjoying career success, having a family, social life and personal interests is global issue,” she pointed out bringing the subject home.
“Last year Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article on why women can’t have it all in which she wrote, ‘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’,” she read out.
“But there has been a vibrant women’s rights movement allowing women in the US to get out of their houses and work. Mothers no longer teach their daughters to do dishes or washing when they grow up. In fact, I only do dishes at home because my husband does a lousy job of it,” she laughed.
Another thing brought up was the socio-economic differences. “These are significant. If you as a girl have been raised in a family that encourages you to go to school and college and follow your dreams, you can feel the discrimination against women in society,” Ms Aggeler explained. “But if you are from an underprivileged family then you won’t even know about the glass ceiling,” she added.
Movie stars and how a woman in Hollywood can be a leading lady till she is in her 30s brought up the issue of appearance and how people expect women to be and carry themselves. “Women should understand that in order to feel good about themselves, women don’t have to look like Barbie,” Ms Aggeler said.
A young participant said that during another programme at her university they were discussing gender harassment. “Men were also included in the programme but during the programme we noticed that they were leaving the room one by one,” she shared. “Why does talking about issues related to women give an impression to the men that they should not be a part of the discussion?”
This brought up the matter of gender-based violence. “It is very hard to come forward to raise your voice against this. It really takes a lot of courage,” Ms Aggeler concluded.