Beyoncé Was Right, Girls Run the World

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By: Natalie Gonnella-Platts, Deputy Director, Women’s Initiative, George W. Bush Institute

Yesterday, the George W. Bush Institute hosted The Spirit of Liberty: At Home, in the World a national forum in New York City focused on freedom, free markets, and security.

Amid an incredible line up of experts and advocates, including poignant remarks from President George W. Bush, something subtle yet significant occurred: Six women led the opening charge.

During the first half of the event, Mrs. Laura Bush emphasized the value of civic engagement and the need to confront the decline in democracy around the world. North Korean escapee Grace Jo courageously shared her story, attesting to the “treasure” that is the legacy of liberty here in the United States. And former Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice joined U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and the Bush Institute’s Amanda Schnetzer for a panel exploring American interests and leadership internationally.

In a world where the “all male panel” is known far and wide, I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a plenary comprised entirely of women. And one focused on democracy and security, at that.

When you think about this reality, it is difficult not to pause at the magnitude of the event line up, especially when over half the speakers were female (Bush Institute Executive Director Holly Kuzmich and Jean Case also spoke later in the program).

Like many in the policy world, I grew up admiring the tenacity and resolve of women like Mrs. Bush, Secretary Rice, and Secretary Albright. Trailblazers, their example and the example of others like them broadened my view of global affairs and advocacy, the substance of principled leadership, and perhaps most importantly, the integral value of women in positions of influence. Their presence on stage in New York reaffirmed this view. Ambassador Haley even described the experience from her perspective, sitting between Secretary Rice and Secretary Albright, as “the greatest highlight.”

Regardless of your political opinion, it’s hard not to appreciate the astuteness of some of the most powerful voices in foreign policy covering topics like the domestic divide and emerging security threats. Though their assessments differed at times, their respect for candor and civility captivated the conversation. And, perhaps most refreshing, not once did the direction of the discussion focus on the fact they were women. They were simply brilliant minds speaking on some of the most important issues of our time.

But just because they did not point out the wider emblem of their presence, does not mean it should go unnoticed and without applause.

Women are a much needed influence on good governance and prosperity around the globe. Countries where women hold an equal role in society are more prosperous and stable. Where women have equal access to markets, their families and communities are more likely to thrive. Where women are included in conflict resolution and peace building processes, outcomes are more sustainable.

Yet despite our best efforts, too often women remain excluded in decision-making and security solutions. Too often, women are confined to tokenism and denied the opportunity to lead. And too often, women harbor the burden of poor governance, tyranny, and injustice.

But there is hope. Case in point: the overwhelming female representation at yesterday’s event. And slowly but surely, more broadly as well. For example, two weeks ago, the bipartisan Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017 was signed into law. Backed by mounting evidence on the positive impact of women in peacebuilding, the legislation aims to ensure “that the United States promotes the meaningful participation of women in mediation and negotiation processes seeking to prevent, mitigate, or resolve violent conflict”.

Women’s leadership matters. We know this. The Bush Institute and so many others advocate for this. And time and again, we rally from local to global levels to advance equality and inclusive representation in support of stability worldwide.

As Secretary Albright stressed during her comments yesterday, "it is more important than ever for the U.S. to act in a leadership role on democracy.” Demonstrated by her example and that of her fellow speakers, women leaders are vital to this cause.