Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, AL)
Posted on July 17, 2003
By Ken L. Spear
As they entered the state capital, four Russian women marveled at the bust of Lurleen B. Wallace, Alabama's only female governor.
The emerging political leaders, who are here as delegates of the Library of Congress-based Open World Leadership Center, stopped in Alabama to see a democracy at work and the woman's place in it.
"From what we've learned, your state has a balance of men and women in holding elected office," said Rashida Sultanov, who is a full-time legislator in the Bashkortostan Republic and heads a women's association. "That is a huge achievement. This is something we can only dream of."
There are no women who hold high executive posts in federal government, serve as mayors in Russia's leading cities or hold top jobs in ministry, Sultanov noted as she and fellow delegates headed to Secretary of State Nancy Worley's office.
"They say this is a century of information and technology, but the next century will be a century of women," Sultanov said.
Most of the delegates said they were impressed with interpersonal relations and the level of tolerance for differences, especially the perception of women and the attitude toward children.
But Liliya Bazanova, a school principal, volunteer member of a social issues commission and an avowed Communist, wasn't as convinced with what she's seen.
"For the short time spent in a capitalist country, I can't change my views. A week is not enough time," Bazanova said. "I'm accustomed to when you're a guest, you see the brighter side of life."
The Open World Program aims to create ties and foster a better understanding between Russia and the United States. Russian politicians are invited to America to give them an insight into the nation's political and economic systems.
The program focuses its work in eight areas: the rule of law, economic development, women as leaders, health, education reforms, the environment, federalism and youth issues.
"These are very strong-willed women who want to make a difference in their communities," said John Pottenger, director of University of Alabama at Huntsville's Office of International Programs. "It's not that America has all the answers."
But the women delegates say it's a start.
"We have major challenges," Sultanov said. "Even though women are empowered to serve on the Legislature, we can't legislate on federal laws. We have to maintain the balance of human rights."
Ken L. Spear can be reached at (334) 240-0122 or fax at (334) 261-1521. E-mail him at email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org
[Reprinted with Permission]