by Girl Scout alumnae Hannah Cho and Lindsay Horikoshi
On Tuesday, September 27th, we had the opportunity to participate in the first ever Trilateral Forum on Women’s Empowerment between the United States, Japan, and Republic of Korea, hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. We were asked by Lidia Soto-Harmon, CEO of Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital, to serve as emerging leaders on the U.S. delegation, alongside a dozen others, including elected officials, government, private sector, and civil society representatives. The Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the State Department reached out to Lidia Soto-Harmon requesting recommendations on possible emerging women leader candidates to join the U.S. Delegation Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russell led.
Prior to the Forum, we were briefed by Grace Choi from the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and received a schedule of the day’s events. Yet, we were not entirely sure what to expect at such a high-level meeting. We met at 7:30 am to walk over to the Truman Building in Foggy Bottom, and quickly found the rest of the arriving delegations. We struck up conversations with inspiring female leaders, including Atsuko Nishimura, the Japanese Ambassador for Women, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Affairs. To be immediately surrounded by female leaders in their communities and their businesses, so passionate about issues surrounding equality for women, was truly empowering.
In the half-day program, representatives from the private and public sectors spoke about why they believe women’s empowerment in the economic and political spheres is necessary, and the importance of women’s voices at the highest rungs of government and business. Grace Han Wolf, Town Council Member from Herndon, VA, shared a particularly memorable anecdote. Her small town was recently developing new trash bins for homes. The men in charge of this project favored the largest, sturdiest bins. However, Councilmember Wolf advocated for women to test out trash bins as well, and they favored taller, thinner bins that were easier to maneuver. And, as in most households, the women take out the trash, their preference became reality!
This forum opened our eyes to the experiences of women who have faced similar struggles across the three countries; their commitment to advocating for women is admirable, and the governmental and workplace policies they have pushed for will help us both as we enter our careers. They discussed the needs for greater flexibility in the workforce to allow women to balance career, family care, and pregnancy. In the afternoon, a public panel event was hosted at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research think tank, and at this event, Jie-ae Sohn from South Korea shared her experiences in hiring biases. She encountered multiple occasions in which a hiring manager, when deciding between a man and woman of equal qualifications both in their early 30s, would prefer the male candidate on the basis that the woman had a high likelihood of becoming pregnant, necessitating the company to pay for maternity leave. In some cases, she was able to intervene and hire the woman, in some cases not. Her experience demonstrates that, even with policies of maternal leave and anti-discrimination in the workplace, there are still barriers to women in hiring and promotion cultures.
It’s harder to notice the issues that exist today regarding gender inequities because there has been so much progress made during the past century. However, this forum stimulated us to think more closely about issues that women face today in society and realize that there need to be fundamental changes made to economic and political systems around the world so that women can have the power and influence to advocate for themselves.