Susan Markham is the Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Today, for the first time on the trip, I had the best seat in the house. After about a half an hour of wandering around downtown Washington D.C. we arrived at a fine establishment that housed the USAID. The United States Agency for International Development ‘s website says it works to, “End extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.”
After going through a strenuous security line we were escorted upstairs to a conference room. Susan Markham, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, was already seated at the table when I arrived. Since there was no assigned seating, I seized the moment and jumped in the chair directly to her left.
I had only one question, but I was determined to make the most of it. Since going into the interview I had little knowledge about her accomplishments and worldviews, I was surprised in the best way possible by our time with her. In my mind she immediately fell into the category of “cool feminists.” I appreciated how she talked about the need to combine theory and action. She said that people need to take a realistic approach to solving gender equality issues.
I felt that Susan Markham shared with us some new insight and had a new perspective. She seemed to approach things with the big picture in mind. She is in an excellent position to fix many of the issues that we had talked to others about solving.
One thing she said that was similar to a point that Alyse Nelson made was that when one goes into another country to create positive social change, it is very important to make sure that the change you are making is something that the people themselves truly want to have happen.
In our interview with Susan Markham a subject was breached that I had thought about, but had not totally understood the significance of. Habits that we, as women, cultivate to either draw less, or different attention to ourselves. These can be as simple as zipping up a sweatshirt a little bit more before entering a gas station, or pretending to be waiting for someone when standing alone. The example Susan Markham gave was that she would pretend to be on the phone while riding in a taxi so that the driver would believe that if they did not take her to the correct destination, someone else would know. Discussing these situations in the context of women’s empowerment made me realize that they are not universal. Most men would not think twice about walking home in the dark. Sure it might give someone the creeps, but it would not insight the kind of fear and paranoia that is instilled so deeply and from such a young age in women and girls. Growing up we are told the usual “don’t talk to strangers,” and “look both ways before crossing the street,” but there is also another set of rules that is implicit when you grow up female. For girls it becomes “don’t talk to strangers, especially men,” and “don’t ever cross the street if there is someone on the other side that makes you uncomfortable.” The disparity between these guidelines is something that never struck me as strange or unusual before our meeting. It was merely the way things are.
After talking with people like Alyse Nelson, Layli Miller-Muro, and Susan Markham, who work in women’s empowerment and equality movements, I have been made aware that these habits and rules should have been made unnecessary a long time ago. Motivation to get involved in women’s rights can come from many different directions. Mine came from realizing that if I have a daughter, I don’t want her to grow up in a world where men on street corners should be avoided, and walking home in the dark is feared.
An interview is always the most successful when the interviewee feels comfortable being open and being themselves. Today, our interview with Susan Markham was definitely one such interview. For the first time this trip, we were unable to bring in our cameras, into the interview. As a result, we were unable to capture the beauty of the discussion and the welcoming atmosphere that existed in the room.
In our discussion with Susan Markham, we were able to connect on a human level and have a true conversation rather than a formal interview. We were even audacious enough to go off the script and ask questions that arose from some of her responses. It was a particularly engaging discussion because she gave many responses that we did not expect. Although she spoke to many of the same topics as previous interviewees, and even some of the questions were the same, her responses were entirely unique and were very quotable. One of my favorites things she said was ,”I rarely regret trying something, I only regret not trying something. “ I found the statement that the person you hate most has the same rights as you to also be very thought provoking.
Overall, it was a very engaging and friendly discussion. The most impressive part for me was that such a prominent and high-ranking figure was able to speak with us at our level, and have a real conversation with us. Although this interview will never be seen by anyone else, those of us that were there will always remember it as one of our most special ones.