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Commentary: Why We Need More Women's Voices

Beth Howard

This month, 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister, was forced to resign as president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee after making sexist comments about women. Basically, what he said is, "Women talk too much."

But research proves Mori wrong.

“Who speaks more has less to do with gender and more to do with status,” writes Kim Elsesser for Forbes. “Speaking up and having your voice heard is a necessary step in gaining recognition and sharing ideas. Instead of discouraging women from speaking up, we should be encouraging them to participate more.”

That is exactly what Western Illinois University professor emerita Janice Welsch had in mind when she revived the “Women’s Voices” series for Tri States Public Radio. As a listener, you may not be aware that on this station the commentaries you hear -- including this one -- are part of that series.

Started by Phyllis Farley Rippey, a political science professor at WIU, and Judy Kohler, who was part of the Macomb Feminist Network, the “Women’s Voices” series went dormant for several years until 2015, when Janice Welsch, with the help of Heather McIlvaine, Rebekah Buchanan, and Barbara Lawhorn, brought it back.

“We need more women speaking up within Macomb and our vicinity,” urges Janice, who taught film studies, women’s studies, and cultural diversity at the college before retiring 15 years ago. “Every issue is a woman’s issue, even when we don’t get equal perspective on it. We need to build the confidence of women to take on more political positions and work with the community.”

I have been thinking about the importance of women’s voices, not just because of the Tokyo Olympics brouhaha, but because while researching a book I’m writing on world peace I read an article on Global that declared, “The secret to world peace is women. When women are involved in negotiations, the probability of a peace deal being sustained over 2 years increases by 20%. It’s 35% more likely that the peace deal will last over 15 years when women are represented at the negotiating table.”

Laurel Stone, a researcher on women's security and genocide prevention, adds that the key to establishing a more peaceful society is “long-term policies empowering women to move past victimization and into leadership positions.”

In other words, the wellbeing of our planet and the people on it rests on the equal participation of women. But we have a long way to go, because between 1992 and 2018, only 13% of peace negotiators and 3% of mediators in major peace processes were women.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum from Japan’s misogynistic Mori is U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who says, “Women bring a consensus-building attitude rather than dictating policy,” and that women have an intuitive sense that’s important in leadership.

I would add that besides intuition, women possess compassion, empathy, and a collaborative spirit. 

“It’s not that we’re saying that women are better than men,” Pelosi insists. “The beauty is in the mix. You have to have diversity of opinion at the table.”

I like how actor Justin Baldoni puts it, saying, “I always thought that humanity has two wings, the male and the female, and these wings need to be equivalent in strength in order to fly.”

The Tokyo Olympic Organizing committee got the message and replaced Mori with a woman, 56-year-old Seiko Hashimoto, a seven-time Olympian. While naming a female president is a good step toward balance, its board is still 80% male and will continue to fly lopsided until that changes.

Various studies suggest that it will take nearly 100 years to close the gender equality gap, but Janice Welsch remains resolute and suggests a call to action. “You don’t have to be elected to office,” she says. “You can be on a committee. Join the League of Women Voters, the Macomb Feminist Network, or look for other organizations in your area.”

Another option is to be a commentator on Tri States Public Radio. “Women’s Voices” is looking for more contributors, so if you’d like to share your ideas, to speak up and have your voice be heard, please get in touch.

Commentator Beth Howard is an author and blogger at The World Needs More

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.