International Connections: Women and Justice

This October, the World Affairs Council welcomed a delegation of women from around the world to Seattle to examine the American legal system and U.S. efforts to protect and strengthen women’s rights. 20 women were nominated to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which seeks to cultivate relationships between emerging foreign leaders and their American counterparts.

The Women and Justice IVLP welcomed international professionals from the legal field, including judges and attorneys, as well as non-profit representatives working to defend women’s rights and equal access to justice. During their stay in Seattle, the delegation met with various organizations and individuals working to promote the rule of law and to demonstrate how discriminatory practices based on gender are addressed and resolved in the U.S. social, political, and legal sectors.

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The delegation after their tour at the WCCW.

The delegation spent time in Gig Harbor visiting the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) and in Olympia meeting with the Washington State Supreme Court’s Gender and Justice Commission (GJCOM). At the WCCW, the delegation toured the largest women’s prison in Washington State. During the tour, prison staff provided perspectives on trends in women’s incarceration and highlighted some of the educational and vocational programs offered at the WCCW. At the meeting with GJCOM, held in the Washington State Supreme Court Building, justices and committee members discussed their efforts to combat gender bias and discrimination in the legal and judicial system. 

Back in Seattle, the international visitors met with the World Justice Project (WJP), an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law around the world. The WJP also cooperates with international and local organizations to advocate for women and girls and promote global social justice activism. This meeting highlighted the WJP’s Rule of Law Index and the quantitative assessment tools used to measure justice around the world.

Young Women Empowered (Y-WE), a non-profit with a mission to empower young women, shared information with the delegation about their programs designed for young women of all socio-economic backgrounds. Y-WE works to bring diverse people together and to provide a framework for discussion. By initiating conversation and providing a safe place, young women can work towards improving their leadership and individual capacity.

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The delegation meeting with Y-WE representatives at El Centro de la Raza.

A meeting with the ACLU addressed the legal representation for minorities and under-served communities. The ACLU’s Washington Campaign for Smart Justice works to address racial disparities in incarceration rates and establish best practices for sentencing, bail, and prosecutorial reforms. During the conversation, visitors were very impressed with the practice of having one’s legal rights printed on cards as a reference. Some visitors even indicated that they will try to implement this in their home countries.

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The delegation meeting with the NWPC-WA’s State President Maggie Humpreys.

The National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington (NWPC-WA) shared with the delegation their efforts in recruiting, training, and supporting women for elected office. Faced with a regression of progress in the U.S. for women representatives, this political activism also aims to provide public education, campaign training, and technical assistance for running for elected office. The visitors were surprised to learn that the U.S. is one of three countries in the world without paid maternity leave, a fact highlighting how even developed countries such as the U.S. have their own challenges. The meeting ended by addressing the importance of electing women representatives to advocate for policies that promote and protect women’s rights and encouraged the visitors to consider pursuing such political leadership positions in their home countries.

The City of Seattle Office for Civil Rights met with the delegation to provide an overview of their Gender Justice Project and efforts to expand women’s voice in government and politics. The Gender Justice Project works to achieve gender equity within the Seattle City government and to cooperate with the public and private sectors to address gender disparities and equity issues in the community. While the City of Seattle remains far from having complete equity in the workplace, the Gender Justice Project works to reinforce gender equity laws.

The program concluded with a networking event hosted by the Center for Women and Democracy (CWD). The CWD is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes women’s full representation, participation, and leadership, while also respecting the political, economic, and social diversity of cultures worldwide. This event brought together remarkable women from the Seattle community involved in the justice sector in a networking opportunity for the international visitors to share their experience and challenges. Many of the women from CWD had spent time abroad in some of the visitors’ countries, which fostered conversations about the common challenges faced all over the world in fighting for women’s rights and access to justice.

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The delegation with members from the Center of Women and Democracy

Thanks to the great work of individuals and organizations in the Seattle area advocating for women and justice, the women were able to see how the U.S. legal system works and some of the various efforts to protect women’s rights.  The women have returned to their communities with new ideas and perspective for fighting for women’s rights and access to justice. This program was inspiring to our international visitors and our Seattle community, as conversation highlighted the common challenges and shared approaches to decrease discriminatory practices and to strengthen women’s rights.

By Celia Louie, IVP Intern