Empowering Women, Unleashing Success
Terry Branstad, U.S. Ambassador to China
Today is International Women’s Day. Two women who made a tremendous impact in my life are my mother, Rita Branstad, and my teacher, Laura Sewick. My mother drove home the importance of a good education, “because no one can take that away.” My eighth grade teacher, Ms. Sewick made American history come alive and inspired me to seek a life in public service. I regularly reflect on the ways their wise influence benefited my life.
Around the world, women have this type of influence every day. Individuals and countries benefit when they remove obstacles to full participation by all members of society, including women. The evidence shows that countries with a greater balance of men and women in the workplace have greater growth, innovation, and stability. In contrast, countries where the opportunity gap between men and women is larger are also more likely to be involved in violent conflict. Societies benefit when they remove barriers to opportunity—be they gender barriers or racial barriers or religious barriers—and instead create a more inclusive environment for all. The United States has made tremendous progress, and we still work every day to tear down more barriers.
I have personally experienced the value of increased gender inclusion. Among my senior advisors here at the Embassy I depend on several prominent female diplomats who lend their deep experience and superb abilities to U.S.-China relations. In another example, when I left my former post as governor to become Ambassador to China, the new governor became Kim Reynolds, the first female governor of Iowa. After a year in office, Governor Reynolds’ performance won her the support of the citizens of Iowa, who re-elected her to another term in office. The election of a woman to high government office was much more limited when I was young, and is still limited or even impossible in many parts of the world. Yet the people of the United States benefit today because women have increasing opportunities to realize their potential and achieve their dreams.
Another example, last month, the entire world took notice when Domee Shi, originally from Chongqing China, won an Academy Award for directing the short film Bao. Among other accolades, commentators pointed out she was one of the first female directors of a short film for a major studio, producing a touching portrayal of motherhood. Other commentators noted that Shi’s Chinese background brought a unique perspective to the film that connected with audiences worldwide. Domee Shi won an Oscar, created value for her industry, and showed the creativity and innovation that comes from diversity and women’s empowerment.
While the cases of Governor Reynolds and Domee Shi make headlines, the real benefits of women’s empowerment accrue in quieter ways around the world. Women’s empowerment means a young female student can go to school in safety, confident she will be treated the same as her male classmates. Women’s empowerment means a businesswoman can access resources and grow her business on equal footing with the businessmen against whom she competes. Women’s empowerment means recognizing and acting on the basic premise that all deserve to be treated equal regardless of gender, ethnicity, or race.