by Camry Haskins
Susan Markham was light-hearted and relaxed when she came to speak at a Delta Phi Epsilon event on the George Washington University campus on Monday night. An alumnus from GW, Ms. Markham received her master’s degree in women’s studies and public policy. She candidly spoke to the crowd of 40 about her journey, from naïve graduate student researching women running for office, to her blind dive into campaign fundraising, and,finally to her current position as Senior Coordinator for Equality and Women’s Empowerment at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Ms. Markham commanded the room with her quick wit and wealth of knowledge. The force of her presence was also relatable to the crowd of mainly undergraduate females, many of whom are probably still working out which direction their paths will takes them. Ms. Markham quickly announced how little of her own career she had planned out; what she thought would be a quick experiment into election campaigning, turned into a love that kept her coming back for many years. “Campaigns are like the chicken pox”, she said. “They are in your system. You are a carrier”. She also shared her personal journey of discovering what the terms “real adult”, “real job”, and “real mom” meant to her. As a self-proclaimed feminist, she confused some attendees when she spoke of actively trying to fit into traditional feminine roles, but her experience shows how overwhelming social norms are in shaping our subconscious thoughts and beliefs. There are times when Ms. Markham still struggles to balance home and work life, but that hasn’t stopped her from following her passion.
As her career advanced, she found herself first refocusing on domestic women’s issues, and later on gender in an international framework. Now with USAID, Ms. Markham uses her position to ensure that the agency looks at every issue through a gendered lens. From brainstorming ways to increase gender inclusivity within the organization itself, to advocating for looking at Ebola and other epidemics through a gendered lens, Ms. Markham won’t yield on important topics. Along with an increased focus on women, she also strives to look at gender inclusively. Whether it is stressing the importance of involving both men and women in projects that increase women’s access in areas they have been traditionally kept out of (e.g. agriculture, education, health) or pointing out that it is not just increasing the capability of women and girls that is important but also the gaps between men and boys (e.g. locations where the older men in the community are the ones determining when the boys reach manhood), she is always pursuing increased awareness and diligence toward equality and progress. With these goals ahead of her, she does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
When Ms. Markham opened up for questions, hands shot up. Her enraptured audience was eager to learn more; each question posed could have generated another long discussion. Walking out of the event that night, I felt confident that Ms. Markham would do everything in her power to advance her goal of “empowering women so they can be part of making the decisions”. USAID can only benefit from their decision to hire Susan Markham.