Think. What is the Role of Women in the 21st Century Democracy? Don’t answer; just think about what role women could play in this century if the world was caring to listen. That was the gist of the conversations at the recently concluded Global Women Leaders Conference 2017, organized by Presidential Precinct and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. More than 400 women leaders drawn from a former President, two presidential candidates, CEOs, educationists, and 30 emerging leaders from 25 countries among others shared their experiences, ideas, and thoughts on how women can seize their role in contemporary democracy processes.

It was indeed interesting listening to experiences from women like Atifete Jahjaga, (Kosovo’s first female president), Halla Tómasdóttir (who run for president of Iceland last year) and Hillary Clinton share their personal experiences of fighting against all odds to assert themselves in a male-dominated political public sphere. Generally, the discussions ranged from addressing the health and education challenges that women and girls all over the world face, discussing the leadership, political power and economic empowerment of women in today’s complex society. Undoubtedly, it was demonstrated that women have a big role to play in addressing the 21st-century challenges.

The highlight and my take-home message was the Keynote address given by Senator Shelley Moore Capital. She called for the need to listen more especially to opposing views. “Listening cannot be overvalued,” she said. “No one person is above the pursuit of knowledge.” The first female senator of West Virginia noted that; in a democracy, our voices need to be heard; but is anybody really listening?

And this has been compounded by the internet and social media algorithms which have reinforced our need to listen to views that resonate with our own ideas. Facebook and Twitter, for instance, rank the content that appears on our newsfeed based on the sites that we visit, what our friends post, the posts that we like and pages that we follow. We visit websites that express the views we identify with, we listen and read the news that align with our political needs, and hang out with friends that hold similar views. Marketers use these algorithms to place ads in our faces. In essence, we are shutting down opposing voices and cheerleading the views we believe in, thereby reinforcing our own prejudices.

The need for diversity of views was reinforced by Secretary Hillary Clinton who said, “The more our leadership represents the great diversity of America, the better, fairer and more dynamic future we will all enjoy.”

Indeed the words of former United States President, Thomas Jefferson; “To learn, you have to listen. To improve, you have to try” spoken in the Charlottesville area, his hometown would not have been more relevant.  I hope we challenge ourselves to listen to each other, to listen to people who do not agree with us; and more importantly to the people that we do not agree with.

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