Albert Einstein said, “time flies when you are having fun.” Today marks the 17th day since the 2023 SUSI Scholars journalism program began at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism. In between the learning, practical sessions, networking and fun, one could barely keep track of time.
At exactly 9:00 AM, SUSI scholars–dressed in business casual attire and looking fancier than usual–assembled in front of Cronkite School, ready to head off to the Arizona state capitol. You could see the excitement on the faces of most of the participants, after so many sessions in room 444 we are always excited to go out and experience a different environment. Today was also particularly special as we were scheduled to meet Katie Hobbs, governor of the state of Arizona, a rare opportunity! Dan Barr, who has been facilitating our sessions this week, took us to the state capitol and facilitated our discussion with the governor. The discussion zeroed in on several important issues including how the governor found herself in politics, politicians and social media, and strategies to address societal problems like homelessness.
It was interesting to note that Katie Hobbs worked as a social worker for several years, in pursuit of having an impact on the lives of the underprivileged. She however encountered several challenges in executing her passion due to poor policies and laws in relation to her field. These challenges propelled Katie to join politics, to contribute to developing better policies.
If you cannot change the laws, sometimes you have to change who makes them.Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2010. Ever since, she has run in four elections and never lost any, what a record! This information invoked the question of whether the political sphere, initially reserved for a few privileged men, opened to women. Unfortunately, the governor had to rush out for another meeting so we could not extensively discuss the topic. Nevertheless, I turned to my colleagues to learn about experiences in their various countries.
Myat from Myanmar remarked, “The political space in Myanmar is still limited mostly to men. Most people in Yemen uphold patriarchal ideologies, looking down on women in power. Of course a few women have ascended to power, however the numbers are low.”
Rakib narrated a different scenario for his country, Bangladesh. He noted that “Though disparities still exist, a lot of progress has been made in Bangladesh regarding women’s representation in politics. For instance, for over two decades, Bangladesh has had a female prime minister. We also have a good number of women in the legislature.”
Elastus, from my neighboring country of Zambia, also shared his observations. El stated, “I would say the situation has tremendously improved, as we have witnessed an increase in the number of women in politics and leadership positions generally. As an example, currently, the vice president of Zambia is female. Additionally, at the local level, Zambia has had several female chiefs leading villages and clans.”
Our discussion on the topic of women in politics was brief, but enlightening. I was thrilled to learn about the strides each country is making, no matter how minimal. A key point that emerged was the fact that representation is key. Once one woman makes it, it’s only a matter of time before others do.
Our final stop was the office of Robbie Sherwood, communication director for the House Democrats. We had an opportunity to have lunch with him, during which he shared his experiences handling communications activities for the party as well as the media. Robbie remarked on how he trains party members how to address and respond to the media. He also elaborated on the significance of social media, as it is a powerful tool to reach the electorate especially young people. He however cautioned against the use of social media by politicians for conversational purposes, as one can easily be misquoted.