Female leaders discuss pressing world issues at the United Nations meeting in Braunschweig

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Moderator Mary Herman (left) speaks to panelists Mattie Daughtry, Julia Lester and Karen Parker at a United Nations National Day event about “What if women ran the world?” Maria Skillings / The Times Record

The Maine Chapter of the United Nations Association invited a panel of local women professionals to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick on Monday to discuss the women’s approach to hunger prevention and peaceful justice in strong institutions.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, Deputy Majority Leader; Karen Parker, executive director of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program; and Julia Lester, principal of the Oxford Hills School District, all agreed that women leaders would approach global issues with empathy, compassion and collaboration rather than competition.

Daughtry said the state of the world today falls into two camps — an “I camp” with a self-interested agenda and a “We camp” with a collaborative agenda. She said that if women ruled the world, everyone would most likely opt for the “we camp.”

Peaceful justice in strong institutions

According to Daughtry, the number of incarcerated women in the US has quintupled since the 1980s, and that’s even more true for women of color. She said after looking at who convicted these women, she noticed a serious lack of diversity in positions of power in the US justice system.

Of all the lawyers, paralegals and judges across the country, she said, “Only a third of them are women.”

“We need diverse representation, understanding and compassion,” Daughtry said. “It’s important to have someone with empathy, and possibly someone who looks like you, in those positions of power.”

Daughtry said Maine has a strong female presence in the legislature.

Maine ranks among the top 10 in the country for female representation and has 43.5% of seats held by women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

“It really comes down to thinking about how many changes can be made when we walk into a room and they don’t all look and sound the same,” she said.

hunger prevention

“If women ruled the world, we would prioritize financial resources around the world differently than we do today,” Parker said.

With over 139,000 people food insecure in Maine, Parker helps operate a soup kitchen, food bank and pantry at 12 different facilities to help fight hunger in Cumberland, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties.

She said that although women are responsible for preparing most of the world’s meals and growing most of the world’s food, women and girls make up 60% of the world’s food insecure population.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are 161 million people affected by food insecurity worldwide, which means 96 million of them are women and girls.

Parker believes that women are most likely to be more affected by food insecurity due to traditional gender roles.

“Women are responsible for meeting many basic needs in a household around the world, including meals, but they often lack the resources they need, such as education, to meet basic family needs,” Parker said. “When women earn an income, they most likely use it for food because they want their families to thrive.”

One of the more than 20 women present, Rebecca Strasburger from Braunschweig, asked the committee for advice.

How do you keep your optimism and energy to get the job done that you all do?” she said. “And with the level of suffering in our world and even in our country, and the passion with which so many world leaders seek to thwart progress?”

Parker said for her, it’s about taking a step back and looking at how many people she’s helped “get access to food that day.” She said that seeing the impact she has made makes her feel good about her work.

Educator Julia Lester emphasized the importance of conversation, compassion and acceptance of diverse backgrounds. She vowed not to be thrown off course by those who would undo progress by staying positive.

“Joy is resistance,” she said.

“I think about how we create a peaceful world, how we have a just world, how we have a just world, and how we make sure we have effective accountable, inclusive institutions,” Daughtry said. “It comes with the realization that everything you do, every day, in every room you enter, is about us and not you.”

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