For some of the women from Afghanistan and Rwanda, the view Wednesday in the Oklahoma governor's conference room in the state Capitol wasn't that much different from in their government buildings back home: All the pictures of Oklahoma's former governors were of men. Then Gov. Mary Fallin, the state's first female governor, entered the room.
The nine women asked Fallin questions, ranging from how she balanced her family with work and what was it like to be in a job not previously held by a woman.
“Being the first woman in office is a very serious job, being the first you always feel the pressure of all eyes looking upon you,” said Fallin, who was elected governor in 2010, the state's first female lieutenant governor in 1994 and in 2006 was elected the second woman to represent Oklahoma in Congress.
As far as being a working mother, Fallin said she and her guests shared common ground.
“We may live in different countries and different political systems, but we as women all have the same challenges,” the governor said. “We just want to make sure that our children get a quality education, that we are able to have successful businesses … and hope that our children can have a better and brighter future than what we had.”
The nine women were taking part in the peace through business program, a training and mentorship plan for women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda that is part of the Oklahoma City-based Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. After completing an eight-week training program in their home countries, they arrived last week in Oklahoma City and stayed with women who have similar businesses and serve as mentors. They leave this weekend for Dallas, where they will attend an international women's economic summit, and then head home.
Terry Neese, chief executive officer and founder of the seven-year-old nonprofit, said the women taking part in this year's program are in their 20s and 40s and have been in business from one to eight years.
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