Uncategorized Archive


Tourist Eyes

Monday, June 7th, 2010

For two weeks my husband and I traveled to London, Paris, Zurich and Bern—familiar haunts where one can drink water from the tap.

I had tourist eyes just the same, framing pictures in my mind—the royal architecture of Hampton Court, the symmetrically laid out gardens with brilliant rhododendrons. It did not take effort to imagine Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn strolling these grounds.

Scanning the London crowds, I tried to define what made them different from Americans. It wasn't just the red double Decker buses and the square taxicabs that told me I was abroad. It was the faces in all shades and hues, the accents, the clothes—a subtle difference that told me I was not home.

The conversations on our travels were more intense, when having tea, lunch or dinner with cousins and good friends. Not seeing them often makes seeing them now a focused experience. We talk about what matters. Inevitably, politics comes up—the lively British election, how different from our own. Every British taxi driver had an opinion. They not only know every corner of London, but every nuance of the election. One said of the defeated Gordon Brown, "He's a radio man. Never should have appeared on TV."

Taking the Eurostar train from St. Pancreas station in London to the Gare de Nord in Paris gave me a thrill. In the Chunnel I was barely aware that we were slipping under the English Channel, a trip I had made years ago in stormy weather by boat.

Paris at night is gilded by light, the landmark Eiffel Tower is magical, the bridges arching over the Seine look weightless. By day we walk through the gardens of the Tuilleries, go to the Rodin museum—and take a trip to Giverney, where Monet lived for his last twenty years and tended his watery Japanese gardens. Like every other tourist, I photograph the famous bridge, draped with heavy clusters of lavender wisteria. We are about to sit on a quiet bench, and see a couple embrace. This is France, after all.

Then a smooth train ride to Zurich, filled with memories of family and friends. My official days as ambassador are brought back by an elegant dinner hosted by the new ambassador who invited us to stay overnight.

The morning after our return, shedding jet lag, I took a walk on the bicycle path along Lake Champlain, smelling the newly mowed grass, feeling the wind smoothing the water, seeing the wispy clouds against the clean blue sky. I told myself to concentrate, to absorb, to savor the moment, to be a tourist here, where I live.

 
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of
Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Gays in the Military

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

We’ve come a long way in the sixteen years since the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was adopted to deal with the question of gay and lesbian members of the military.

This time, advocacy for repeal did not come from any outside group; it came from the apex of the military establishment itself.

What a thrill it was to hear Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say these words to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape from being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

He got to the heart of the matter. Not only do gay and lesbian service members have to use subterfuge to serve their country, they live in fear of being outed by a third party, who may be a rejected suitor.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates shared the podium with Admiral Mullen. He made it clear that he was acting on orders from his Commander in Chief. He said the decision was no longer a question of whether or not “don’t ask, don’t tell” will be repealed, but how.

The final decision, both men agreed, rests with the Congress.

Once again, the Senate appears to be divided on partisan lines. Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan has long supported this change.

Senator John McCain chastised the Secretary of Defense for “being clearly biased.

He said repeal was too much to ask of a military that is already fighting two wars.

He seems to have forgotten the position he had taken in 2006 when he said that the day the military leadership “comes to me and says ‘Senator, we ought to change this policy,’ then I think we ought to seriously consider changing it.”

That is exactly what happened. The military spoke loud and clear. If there was any doubt about where the military leadership stood, Colin Powell, who created “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced he fully supported Gates and Mullen.

The argument that letting gays and lesbians serve their country openly would weaken our defense has proven to be dead wrong. Some 13,000 soldiers have been dismissed as a result of the law, many of them valuable interpreters and experts.

Soldiers who risk their lives together must be able to trust and respect one another. A majority of Americans today agree with repealing “don’t ask don’t tell. Let us hope that John McCain, the son and grandson of four star admirals, will have the decency to recognize a good solider when he sees one, not by his or her sexual orientation, but by their willingness to serve their country.

 
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of
Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

 
Cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

The Supreme Court and Corporate Electioneering

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

The Supreme Court decision which will allow unfettered campaign contributions from corporations and unions poses a threat to the very workings of our democracy.

To equate a corporation with a person is a travesty of justice. The voice of the individual voter will be drowned out by the cacophony of corporate voices which will be free to spend unlimited funds to blast their messages by every possible means of communication. Unions will have the same right, but clearly, they have but a small fraction of resources compared to corporations.

It is ironic that the so-called conservative majority on the court made the most radical decision possible, overturning a century of precedent, nullifying election laws of many states, and laws passed by Congress, including McCain-Feingold.

The Court reversed its own position, taken as recently as 2003 when it upheld a ban on “soft money.”

This is the same court that grilled Justice Sonya Sotomayor to make certain that she would not dare to make new law, but would relegate herself to interpreting existing law. This court adheres to this judicial philosophy only when it suits its own purposes. In Citizens United, it purported to defend Freedom of Speech, something we all venerate in the Constitution. To assume that when the founding fathers upheld freedom of speech, they meant to defend the power of corporations to spend unlimited funds on campaigns is more than a stretch—it is outlandish. In their wildest dreams they could not have imagined the wealth of 21st century corporate America and its potential impact on elections.

Justice Stevens, who wrote an impassioned minority opinion, got it right. He wrote: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.”

He concluded: While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

What can we do to curb the power of special interest money in politics? Demand that Congress restore equilibrium between money and politics and respect the voice of the individual voter by enacting a law that enables public financing of federal elections.

 
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of
Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

In the Wake of Massachusetts

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

A political earthquake hit Massachusetts last night. The tectonic plates of the Democratic Party shifted with the election of Republican Scott Brown to the United States Senate and left untold amounts of debris in its wake.

I woke up this morning with the hope that one has after a bad night—that it wasn’t really true. Not in Massachusetts, not Ted Kennedy’s seat, just a year after a seemingly euphoric country cheered the inauguration of President Barack Obama!

No one could have then dreamed when we watched Obama place his hand on the bible that the political climate would shift with such an unexpected lurch, displacing all of our previous assumptions about a wunderkind new leader who would unite us as never before.

The Democrats seemed invincible. The agenda, full of hope—yes, hope.

Political pundits are quick to cast blame everywhere. Obama was not bold enough, he was too bold, he didn’t move fast enough on the economy, he moved too fast on health care, he was too liberal, he was not liberal enough.

And then the blame is showered on Martha Coakley: she went to sleep after the primary, made some political goofs and disparaged shaking hands, she was too serious, or simply, “she was a bad candidate.”

I believe part of what happened is that the Scott Brown people got energized and got their people, who included many independents, to the polls in larger numbers than expected. The Obama/Coakley people simply were not as excited. Despite the last minute efforts to get out the vote, they did not ignite the same enthusiasm.

What all of us under estimated, myself included, is the broad popular appeal of the Tea Party message. I had thought and hoped that this was a fringe group. I was in Washington, DC, the Saturday morning when the Tea Party march was underway. Walking through the marchers to get to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue was one of the more frightening experiences of my life, past swastikas, past signs so hateful I could not bear to repeat them.

For sure, this was not representative of the United States of America. Yes, not all the voters who cast their ballots for Brown yesterday are Tea Party adherents. But some of their cry of "too much government" has rubbed off on them.

But the economy is no doubt the biggest factor that influenced this election. When people have lost their jobs or are afraid of losing their jobs in the future, they lash out. They want others to know about their fears, their pain.

How much have race and gender influenced the Massachusetts outcome? It’s impossible to calculate what role both played, but there is no doubt that racism is a part of the anti-Obama crusade. Gender may have played a part in Coakley’s defeat because, like Hillary Clinton, Martha Coakley’s credentials—so much more substantial than Brown’s—were not given much attention. Finally, a woman who prepares herself for the Senate, works her way up, is dismissed for not being “likeable” enough. Again, the double bind which women at the top have to balance—being tough enough to qualify for the job and likeable enough to be elected.

Massachusetts has been known for its macho politics. The most recent woman to be elected to Congress is Niki Tsongas, who got there after her husband died. She is one woman out of ten Congressmen. No woman has ever been elected to the Senate from Massachusetts.

The national consequences of this election are now being dissected and the biggest question is: what can Democrats achieve without a filibuster proof Senate?

I hate to think about it, but think we must. We cannot let the candidate of Hope and Change dissolve into pessimism and status quo. Now is the time for all those young and eager Obama supporters to wake up and work for the agenda we believe in—including health care, the economy, and climate change. It is also time to recognize that Obama had to make compromises to get legislation through, not because he wasn’t liberal or adamant enough, but he compromised and will continue to have to do because the country is not tilting left; it sits squarely in the middle.

Greeting the New Year

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

This time of year we automatically say "Happy New Year" to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, days after the champagne corks have popped and the fireworks are but a memory. It has become a standard greeting for the first days of January, partly to cheer ourselves up so we can face the rest of the winter.

For the Jewish New Year, which occurs in the fall according to the Jewish calendar, the greeting of the New Year is more serious. Most people say "I wish you a happy and healthy New Year" with the stress on the word "healthy." The New Year prayer theme is somewhat foreboding: “May you be inscribed in the book of life."

Is the Jewish recognition of the New Year–it cannot really be called a celebration–more pessimistic than the non-denominational New Year that we all celebrate in one form or another? Or are we too afraid to contemplate the possibility of ill health, or even death, in the New Year and therefore settle on the simple and easily understood word "happy," which is all inclusive? It can mean anything from peace on earth to peace in the family to peace of mind.

The word "happy" when we say it, almost makes us happy. We smile when we greet one another because we want to convey good will, and to wish someone else happiness, it's almost a requirement that we look and sound happy ourselves. Is that why we're so generous with the greeting, and happily non-specific?

If we start to seriously think about what might happen in the New Year, as so many pundits do at this time of year, we might not be really happy, unless of course we are optimists.

There is a quotation I like which I sometimes include in my speeches when I encourage people to get politically engaged. It is: "Pessimists are usually right, but optimists change the world."

Pessimists, on this dawn of a new decade in 2010, might say that the economy will continue its slump, that terrorism will always be a threat, and that global warming will not be arrested. And they may be right.

Optimists, however, would say that the economy will improve, that we will strengthen our ability to stop terrorists from boarding airplanes, and that this is the year the leaders of the world will come to their senses and take action to stop the earth's temperature from rising ever higher and the seas from rising to new heights.

I come down on the side of the optimists, because, as the saying goes, only optimists are cock-eyed enough, determined enough, and gutsy enough to change the world.

So I say Happy New Year, yes, once again, Happy New Year. And may the earth and all the creatures on it be inscribed in the Book of Life.

 
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of
Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Cross-posted on the Huffington Post, and it originally aired as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio.

Giving Obama the Benefit of the Doubt

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

The sea of gray uniformed, black collared West Point cadets that faced President Barack Obama last night sent a mixed message. These were the crème de la crème of the military. Their bright young faces, which included a sprinkling of women and minorities, exhibited pride and preparedness. They were ready to follow their commander in chief wherever he would send them.

At the same time, I could not help but scan these rows of alert faces and wonder, which ones would not be there a year, two years, from now? The attractive side of war was portrayed on our television screens last night—the stirring “Hail to the Chief,” the lively sound of “The Caissons go rolling along,” which sounds so merry that one cannot help but want to hum along.

What we did not see, of course, was the burst of IED’s blowing up tanks, the faces of the wounded, or the flag draped caskets of the dead.

Listening to the President’s careful outline of his strategy for moving into Afghanistan, and then moving out, I found myself wanting to believe him. The plan sounded logical, thoughtful, and possibly successful. We are not committing ourselves to an open-ended struggle with no clear goals and timelines. In fact, the time line is what made the headlines in many newspapers. It loomed larger than the figure of 30,000 additional troops. This is a very narrowly circumscribed decision to continue the war.

But doubt keeps creeping into my mind. What if he’s wrong? What if the Taliban and Al-Qaeda just hide out in Pakistan and wait us out? What if the Karzai government can’t shape up and continues on its corrupt course? What will I feel when I look at the photographs of the young men and women who will have lost their lives?

On the other side of the argument, I recognize that President Obama inherited this war, that he, unlike his predecessor, is not making a “gut” decision but has reached a conclusion that was carefully analyzed and thought out. I also realize that if the Taliban and Al-Qaeda succeed in taking control of Afghanistan, they may provide a threat to the United States, but they will most certainly close schools for girls, and keep women within the confines of their homes. This is not the only reason to send in troops, but it is on my list.

I had reservations about the surge in Iraq, and it worked. Afghanistan is different from Iraq in many respects which the President pointed out, but this one last, concerted effort may be effective in stabilizing the country. Fortunately, we have no illusions about nation building.

Are there really good wars and bad wars? We thought so during World War II, and in retrospect, we were right. But in Vietnam, and Iraq we were wrong. Will our renewed effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan keep us safe, can we leave a more stable situation in our wake, and can we really pull out in 18 months if we’ve made little progress?

Will we ever reach a time when we can beat swords into plowshares?

So many questions. I have no final answer except to say, for now, I will give our President the benefit of the doubt in the hope that this careful man, who does not like war any more than we do, will have made the right decision.

 
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of
Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Gray Days of November

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

If months were marked by colors, November in New England would be colored gray.

T.S. Eliot called April the cruelest month in his poem, “The Wasteland.”

He understood that April is about waiting, waiting for the spring that he feared would never come.

I believe that November is about anticipation—anticipation of the winter that will come as we adjust our bodies, our houses, and our minds to this darker, colder season. We put another layer of insulation in the attic to keep out the cold, and turn the lights on early in the kitchen to keep out the dark.

The landscape has become monochrome. The brilliant foliage colors that had painted the hills in cheerful reds and yellows just a few weeks ago have been transformed into a carpet of dark brown leaves which we feel underfoot. Do I kick the leaves to get them out of the way, or do I do it as a protest against the season?

The beautiful Green Mountains are neither green nor white, except perhaps at the very top edges of Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, where they are sprinkled like sugar by a hand from above. Snow, I think would be welcome because it etches the trees in sharp black and white.

Am I projecting too much of my mood on the landscape, I ask myself?

Is it really the disconcerting health care debate that makes the world look gray, or the weighty decision Obama has to make on Afghanistan that is making me feel cold drafts? Why can’t the world be like a summer day, when I thought that health care would be an ethical decision and wars existed only to be stopped? How much does the weather affect our moods?

One of the reasons we live in Vermont is that we love the cycle of the seasons—the contrast between hot and cold, wet and dry, wind and calm. The suspense that each day’s and each hour’s weather brings, keeps us guessing. We even get used to the idea that the weather is in fact, not predictable. It always gives us something to talk about. What do people talk about, I’ve often wondered, in parts of the country where the temperature is steady and the sun shines every day?

Surprise! This morning I woke up to blue skies and fresh winds. Even November can fool us, fortunately. Maybe a health care bill will pass after all, and a solution to the war in Afghanistan may be found.

 
This article originally aired as a commentary on Vermont Public Radio.

Lessons on Birth Control from Afghanistan

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Some 536,000 women die in pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. That figure has not changed in 30 years, even as child mortality rates have been reduced.

How do we save those women? I found one answer in a small story in The New York Times last week. The dateline was Afghanistan.

The reporter described a group of mullahs attending a class on birth control. Afghanistan has the second highest rate of maternal mortality, second only to Sierra Leone. The mullahs were “reluctant participants”; the writer acknowledged and had been paid to attend. Yet they listened, partly because the class was taught by one of their own, a fellow mullah.

Islam does not forbid birth control but having a child is considered a gift from God, the more births, the greater the blessings. On average, women bear six children in this country which has an average per capita income of $700 a year.

What were the lessons? Wait two years before having another baby to give your wife’s body a chance to rest, breast feed babies for 21 months. Simple advice, but new to a country where old traditions are difficult to change.

Providing birth control information and giving out pills is still dangerous in some areas. Many fear that birth control is an American plot to weaken the country.

If the mullahs decide to approve spacing their children and keeping both mothers and babies healthy, the transformation could be dramatic. Islam has one advantage: the mullahs are obeyed. “If the clerics will support this, no one will oppose it, “ one trainer said.

If spacing children takes hold, not only would the maternal mortality rate plunge, but the average family income would rise. It may seem strange to have to ask for the approval of the mullahs to enable women to survive childbirth. But as I think about it, we in the United States of America, who do not suffer like women in poor countries, still have to ask for the approval of the 83% male Congress for the right to have insurance plans cover abortions.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I re-acquainted myself with Eleanor Roosevelt last weekend when I received the Eleanor Roosevelt medal for public service at Val-Kill, her Hyde Park retreat.

When asked who my role models were, Eleanor Roosevelt led the list. My mother read her column “My Day” every day. I discovered she wrote 8,000 of these columns, often working late into the night. I must have read over my mother’s shoulder, because I, too, was in awe of Mrs. Roosevelt, her travels around the world, her attention to the poor and the powerless.

Before the ceremony we were given a tour of Val-Kill by her grandson Elliot, and Doris Mack, who had worked for the family. I was struck by the modesty of the house and its furnishings. Photographs lined the walls of every room; Eleanor and Truman, Eleanor and Kennedy, Eleanor and the Queen of England, Eleanor (Elliot called her grandmere) and the numerous grandchildren. No paintings. She wanted to be surrounded by people.

Doris Mack pointed out the elegant china in the dining room, and then referred to the water glasses and the picture frames, “probably bought in the ten cent store.”

In the living room she explained, “None of the furniture pieces matched, just like the people she invited to her home—they came from all walks of life.”

Eleanor was very good to her staff but she couldn’t keep a cook. “They would quit after two weeks.”

“Why?” we asked.

“Because she would keep inviting people she met during the day for dinner, and would forget to tell the cook.”

Once, on the cook’s day off, three people showed up at the door. Eleanor had forgotten that she had invited them. There was no food in the house. What did she serve them?

“Scrambled eggs, toast, and champagne.”

In my research for my remarks, I found the resignation letter that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote to the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) when that organization refused to permit Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall in 1939. Instead, Mrs. Roosevelt arranged for her to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, before a crowd of thousands.

I was surprised by its directness and simplicity. I read the typed letter out loud.

“My dear Mrs. Henry M. (the “Henry M.” was inserted in ink, as an afterthought) Roberts:

“I am afraid that I have never been a very useful member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, so I know it will make very little difference to you whether I resign, or whether I continue to be a member of your organization.

“However, I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send in to you my resignation. You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.

“I realize that many people will not agree with me, but feeling as I do this seems to me the only proper procedure to follow.”

Mrs. Roosevelt, I noted, had the courage to act–and with that simple gesture, she changed lives.

Eleanor today remains famous for her succinct wise words. One quote that appeals to me at this stage of my life is: “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”

In my remarks after I received the medal, I quoted this line:

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run, it is easier.”

Courage is what I learned most from Mrs. Roosevelt. I noted that our lives were very different; she came from a privileged background and a political family. I did not have either, having been an immigrant to this country and raised by a single parent.

What we had in common is that we had re-invented our lives. She had no role models for the kind of First Lady that she wanted to be. She had to make herself up from scratch.

I, and the other woman who received a medal, retired New York chief judge Judith Kaye, also had few role models. With the help of the women’s movement, and the encouragement of others, we allowed ourselves to dream and to strive.

Like Eleanor, I too, needed the support of my women friends when I embarked on a political life. I could relate to Val-Kill where Eleanor met with the people who were closest to her, who loved her, unconditionally.

Lynn Rothwell was the mother of the woman who introduced me at the medal ceremony, Mary Rothwell Davis. She was one of a small circle of friends who sustained me throughout my years of public life. They stood by me, no matter how I voted or what I said.

In the audience, I could point to my husband, brother, daughter and some of my former staff and several good friends. I acknowledged the obvious; none of us win medals by ourselves.

The Friday before the event I had received an e-mail from the Pomfret, Vermont elementary school. I read it from the podium.

“Dear Mrs. Kunin. Congratulations on receiving your award on Sunday in Hyde Park. We are very proud of your accomplishments and as a leader, who just happens to be a woman. We are all involved in the leadership group at the Pomfret Elementary School where we are 6th graders. You are our modern Eleanor Roosevelt!

"Morgan Hartman, Anna Tracey, Hayley Usilton, Dana Burrington, Jocelyn Hewitt and Kaelen Heaton.”

The true meaning of ceremonies like this, I discovered, is not what they convey to the person being honored, but the message such events send to others.

Women Make Nobel History

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Call it payback time for former Harvard President Larry Summers (remember he opined that the reason women were rarely found amongst top scientists was because they didn’t want to work that hard and that their brains might be different) but female scientists made history with this year’s Nobel Prize awards.

For the first time ever, three women won top science prizes and we saw the first woman in Nobel history awarded the economics prize. Is this the result of years of more equal education opportunities, or the result of the Nobel committee’s effort to tap into a different network that includes women?

No doubt, education played a big role. Girls are now just as good at math as the boys, something my generation unfortunately cannot claim. Math is a prerequisite to science.

We also have men in science who have mentored women, and these women have encouraged other women, according to Carol W. Greider who won the physiology prize with Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Jack W. Szostak.

In a NY Times conversation she explained there are several women in her field of telomeres partly because their work was fostered “early on by Joe Gall, and they got jobs around the country and they trained other women. I think there’s a slight bias of women to work for women because there’s still a slight cultural bias for men to help men.”

No doubt Greider made Nobel history in another way—she was the first person to pick up the phone early in the morning and hear that she won the prize while doing the laundry. Later that day at the Johns Hopkins University press conference she made sure her two teen-age children were in the picture. How many men with kids the same age would do that? she questioned.

Do women bring something different to science than men? There is a possibility that women would be more collaborative and that would change how science is done—although experiments would continue to be done the same way, she said.

Elinor Ostrom was not only the first woman to win the economics Nobel Prize; she was the first political economist to take a practical, rather than a theoretical approach to her research. She has an inter-disciplinary approach, combining economics, political science, sociology and other fields. Her focus has been on how people share resources, such as forests and fisheries, without the dictates of government or private companies. She did extensive field work to reach the conclusion that people often made wise decisions as citizens and this work has huge implications for development in poor countries.

Is the ability to jump over discipline barriers a female trait? Do women, more than men, want real life solutions to problems? It would not be very scientific to reach that conclusion from one woman’s resume, but it is interesting nevertheless to speculate that more women in these fields might lead to different kinds of research.

What we can say, without reservation, is that the country and the world, benefit when we can harvest the brilliance of the whole population—not just the fifty percent that has historically been in the spotlight.

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post.