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March 12, 2013 at 8:22 AM

How do we get more women leaders, from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg to Tajikistan?

A group of political leaders from South and Central Asia are in Seattle and what they say may surprise you.

There are regions in India where women make up a higher percentage of legislative seats than the Washington state Legislature. Child care is more affordable in countries like Uzbekistan for a middle-class family, freeing more mothers to pursue careers. In Afghanistan and India, many political offices are reserved specifically for women to hold.

The group is visiting Washington, D.C., Florida and Seattle, organized by the World Affairs Council here, to discuss how to get more women into leadership in their countries. The topic is as relevant to these women — from Uzbekistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, India, Tajikistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyzstan — as it is to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, author of the new book “Lean In.” Here is an Associated Press story about Sandberg’s new book, describing the blow back she’s getting for being a privileged woman talking about feminism.

Sandberg talks about how women hold themselves back in the workplace, and about the need to find men who are real partners. Her points are as valid as an Afghan politician working to improve the rights of women and reverse the Taliban’s oppression of women.

I spoke at a session about women in the 2012 U.S. elections, and here is the presentation I put together for the women leaders form

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Few of them had heard of Todd Akin, the U.S. senatorial candidate from Missouri who made the infamous “legitimate rape” comment during his campaign. None of them had heard the phrase “binders full of women,” the Mitt Romney quote that went viral after a presidential debate. But almost all of them had seen Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. They asked about Hillary Clinton’s chances were of running for president, and winning. They also wanted to talk about Sandberg’s crusade to increase the number of women leaders in the corporate world.

Many of the participants took Americans to task for not having made more progress. Good for them. We haven’t lived up to the promise of 1992. That was the Year of the Woman, fellow panelist Christine diStefano, a political science professor at the University of Washington. That year, Congress held hearings interrogating Anita Hill, who had been sexually harassed by Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas. The specter of a panel of men questioning Hill motivated many women to run for political office, driving their political representation to a record high. Since then, diStefano said, the numbers have declined.

What needs to happen for more women to move into positions of leadership, both in business and in government? Let us know in the comments below.

Comments | More in Interactives | Topics: politics, women


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