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Putting Women in Charge

January 18, 2020

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Last month I read an article titled, “The Future Is Young and Female.”  Soon after, I saw a photo of Finland’s new prime minister, Sanna Marin, who is 34 years old.  She was surrounded by the party leaders of her country’s coalition government. All are women, and four of the five are under the age of 35. 

Well, I thought, these women certainly can’t do any worse than the (mostly male)  leaders of today.

Consider:  Australia is ablaze, America has impeached its president and seems to be moving toward both a Constitutional crisis and perhaps even a war with Iran, the United Kingdom is no longer united, Syria is ruined and most of the Middle East remains a tinderbox, Asia is ascendant, the Amazon continues to burn, much of Latin America is in chaos, Russia is preparing to interfere in our elections (once again), and floods and fires exacerbated by climate change are ravaging the planet.

Time to put women in charge?

Large numbers of women, in fact, are stepping up to offer their ideas, their talents, and their leadership.  In the United States in 2020, we have more women serving in the U.S. Congress than ever before. The number of female governors, female state legislators, and women serving on boards and commissions continues to increase.

Internationally, we have Christine Lagarde of France, who is president of the European Central Bank.  We have Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, who is president of The European Commission. We have Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who was the world’s youngest head of state (she is 39) until Sanna Marin of Finland snatched away that title last month.

We have the teenaged Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist who was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019 for shaming the world into addressing global warming.  “I want you to panic,” she told the annual convention of CEOs and global leaders last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.  And then I want you to act.”

We have more women filmmakers.  Some 10.6 percent of the top-grossing films in 2019 were directed by women.  Though this seems like a paltry number – and it is – it was the highest percentage in the past decade.  Greta Gerwig, age 36, was one of those directors; her transcendent remake of “Little Women” was released on Christmas Day.

We have more bright newswomen today, covering everything from politics and business to sports and the arts.  Indeed, when I watch programs on cable TV these days, I notice that often there are three or four young female reporters and pundits for every male.  (Women continue to be woefully underrepresented in the executive ranks of the news media, however. It’s still mostly men who make the decisions.)

We have more talented female athletes, such as those playing on the sterling U.S. women’s soccer team.  Led by the cheeky and skilled Megan Rapinoe, these young women won a record fourth World Cup in 2019, all the while agitating for equal pay, gay rights, and social justice.  

Closer to home, we have innovative businesswomen such as Lou Kennedy, president and CEO of West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation.  She was named Health Care Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeast in 2019 by Ernst & Young.   

We have scores of other talented businesswomen in the state, too, including Barbara Rackes, who last year helped found a nonprofit corporation called SC Women in Leadership (SC WIL) to encourage women to step up and lead corporations, boards, and governments; Cheryl Holland, president and founder of Abacus Planning Group; Fiona Martin, founder of FGM Internet Marketing; and Uchechi Kalu, founder and owner of Outlier Admissions – to name just a few.

Why is it so important for more women to take their places at the table?  A look at Nevada tells you why. Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature a year ago, bills “prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda,” according to The Washington Post.  “Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmakers to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.”  

Bills were introduced in Nevada that deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking, and sexual misconduct.  Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality also were introduced.  

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that we wouldn’t have had these conversations a few years ago,” Nevada Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson told The Washington Post.  “None of these bills would have seen the light of day.”

If we want female perspectives and priorities to be taken seriously — in government, business, the arts, sports, the environment and everything else — we must put more women in charge.  As an extra added bonus, I am confident that women would lead us into fewer wars. How important is that?

Collins-Jan-of-self-1

Jan Collins is a Columbia-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).