Students Interview Ambassador Swanee Hunt

Students Interview Ambassador Swanee Hunt
Swanee Hunt answers questions from HCM Tower Scholars before her Tower Center lecture Feb. 19.

Three Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars interviewed former Ambassador Swanee Hunt about issues facing women and starting a career in D.C. before her talk at the Tower Center Feb. 19, “Rwandan Women Rising.”

HCM Tower Scholar Morgan Peterson: 64% of Rwanda’s National Parliament is made up of women. How can that model of representation be implemented all across the world?

Swanee Hunt (SH): The power of informal gathering can spur more representation. When women meet together at a grassroots level, it can increase their participation in government. Relationships that are built on the outside can bring more women into Congress. Women are less corrupt when appointed as ministers. Also, if a country builds on a strong group of women during post-war agreements, then that will increase representation. By having more women participate in post-war agreements and peace agreements, there is a 35 percent increase in the chance that the peace agreement will last 15 years.

HCM Tower Scholar Visakh Madathil: What are some of the largest challenges facing women today?

Visakh Madathil, Swanee Hunt, Morgan Peterson and Ryan Cross.

SH: Women are instrumental for peace, economic progress and political stability – the key problem is that woman are not allowed to lead or engage in the political system.

Power dynamics are a major factor in the lack of women in leadership roles around the world. Women are threatened with physical, sexual, and emotional violence across the world, forcing them to be submissive toward men. The threat of physical violence is enough to scare scores of brilliant women away from positions of power and change.

Another key challenge that women face is derived from their economic situations. Women may be relegated to domestic roles or face severe pay discrepancies when allowed into the workforce. Without equal economic footing, women find it extremely difficult to challenge and advocate for their interests.

There are many problems that women face, but the world is moving toward gender equity. More emboldened and courageous women across the world are challenging traditional power dynamics and effecting change – hopefully beginning a successful trend in the world.

HCM Tower Scholar Ryan Cross: Ambassador Hunt, many Tower Scholars hope to embark upon a career in public policy. Based upon your experiences in Washington, what advice do you have for us? What’s the best way to get started in this field? If you were in our shoes and searching for a job, how would you navigate the current political climate in Washington?

SH: Some of the traditional destinations for new graduates in Washington are not feasible at present. Due to political pressure and budget cuts, the State Department hardly exists these days. While students previously flocked to the Foreign Service, nowadays they need to look elsewhere. As you would expect, many policymakers are frustrated with the state of things in the department; the State Department has declined since I was Ambassador to Austria in the 1990s. Looking forward, I suggest students consider think-tanks and foundations, which offer an alternative career path to government agencies. My foundation, Swanee Hunt Alternatives, is always looking for smart students to come work for us as interns. There are still plenty of opportunities out there, you just have to be a bit more creative.