Women in Politics and Civil Society: A Workshop with Cathy Allen
August 21st, 2019
By: Nicole Vu
Women make up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population  and hold approximately 52 percent of all professional-level jobs in the country.  While they account for 47 percent of the U.S. labor force  and 52.5 percent of the college-educated workforce,  women today hold only 28 percent of seats in state legislatures.  They represent only 18 percent of the nation’s governors  and hold only 23 percent of mayoral positions of the 100 largest American cities.  The lack of representation of women in politics and positions of power, however, is not exclusive to the U.S. alone. Women around the world continue to fight for their right to equal public and political participation and representation, and my experience at Cathy Allen’s workshop highlights one way, in particular, that women are raising awareness and promoting social change through international exchange and citizen diplomacy.
In August 2019, a delegation of 13 women from the Near East and North Africa arrived in Seattle, participating in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), to explore how the U.S. is encouraging and empowering women’s participation and integration into politics and civil society. As emerging leaders representing Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, these women continue to utilize their expertise in policy analysis, gender and development studies, social work, and more to realize the shared goal of promoting women’s political representation, participation, and leadership in their home countries and around the world.
Spanning over six days, the delegation met with prominent organizations and institutions including the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Seattle-King County, Women’s Business Exchange, City of Seattle Women’s Commission, Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), and the Office of U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal to examine the U.S. political system and the participation of women leaders at the local, state, and national levels, exploring programs and initiatives that encourage young women to get involved in civic activities including running for elected office. These aspiring international change-makers ended their brief stay in Seattle with a workshop led by Cathy Allen to maximize their leadership skills, develop strategies for organizing and managing successful political campaigns, and civic engagement.
Cathy Allen is the founder of The Connections Group, a political campaign and communications strategy consulting firm, and co-founder of the Center for Women and Democracy at the University of Washington, a non-profit organization founded to recruit, train, and support women in choosing leadership as a career. With more than ten years of experience, Cathy has conducted trainings, workshops, and consultations in more than 34 states, 8 provinces in Canada, and 18 countries including Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, Spain, France, Algeria, Mexico and Cuba. She continues to empower women every day and led an inspiring and informational half-day action-planning workshop for the delegation to help strengthen their political leadership skills and explore the ways in which they can develop and implement programs to further empower women in their respective home countries.
A majority of the workshop was dedicated to coaching the participants on how to build a confident and reliable public image and how to gain the attention of the people. Cathy emphasized that “only 7 percent of any message is conveyed through words, the other 97 percent is a combination of body language, voice variation, and appearance” (especially for women). Throughout the workshop, the delegation worked on their voice, posture, and facial expressions while learning about how to speak to influence, make their voice heard, and handle conflicts and disagreements. These techniques are purely tools, however, and so to optimize their impact, the delegation also learned to focus on their inner selves, cultivate their minds, and incorporate stillness into their lives. “Don’t just be you; be at your best,” Cathy said. “Healthy body and mind radiate confidence. When you love yourself, other people love you,” and with that nice note, Cathy ended her workshop.
As an intern at the World Affairs Council, I had a chance to join Cathy Allen’s amazing workshop. Born in Vietnam and studying in South Korea and the U.S., like those 13 women at the meeting, I seek for changes to the political situations and representation of women in my home country. Though I am determined and believe in political change, I sometimes find myself lost and discouraged. “Will this ever change? Is it just me? Can I do it? Is it enough if it is just me?” These questions reoccur whenever I hear news about the government, their policies, and elections from Vietnam. Cathy’s workshop, though brief, inspired me. She made me aware that change starts with the individual and empowered me to step up to new challenges, believe in myself, and prepare for the future when women in politics and civil society is a normative practice not only in the U.S., but globally as well.
About the author: Nicole Vu in an intern with the International Visitor Program. She is an undergraduate student at Yonsei University working toward a degree in International Studies. Currently, Nicole is participating in an exchange program at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.
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