Oregon governor leads by example

Governor Kate Brown of the US state of Oregon is often referred to as "the most progressive Democrat in office" in the country. She recently led a business delegation to South Korea and Japan to talk about trade. In both countries, she took the time to hold a women's forum to discuss leadership, to which I was invited. I wanted to find out why she wants to meet with women in particular and what she aims to achieve. This is what the 38th governor of Oregon shared with NHK World.

Ebara: You are currently one of nine women serving as governors of US states. How do you think this impacts young women?

Gov. Brown: We say you can't be what you can't see. And I think it's really important for girls and young women to see women in important leadership roles because they can dream. And they know they can make it happen. I have girls come up to me from all around the state, say they are inspired by my work and they want to be in public service.

Ebara: You assumed your post in 2015 and have been pushing for gender equality and diversity. What would you say has been your biggest achievement so far?

Gov. Brown: I am probably most proud of literally changing the face of our judiciary. Out of seven justices of the Oregon Supreme Court, only two were women. But now we have a majority of women (5 women, 2 men). I've worked really hard to increase the number of African-American, Latina and Asian-American judges, too, because I think it's important that our judicial branch reflect the growing changes in the faces of Oregon.

Governor Brown has signed legislation such as the Pay Equity Law, which prohibits salary discrimination based on gender or color, and executive orders strengthening the protection of LGBTQ rights. But she says change doesn't come overnight.

Gov. Brown: I have the experience as a young woman and young woman lawyer of getting paid less than the male lawyer in the office next to me. And it doesn't feel good and it's not right. I believe very strongly that people, women, should be paid equitably. Change takes a lot of effort. And it feels sometimes very incremental. But it's worth it. I assumed by this time in America, 50 percent of our members of Congress would be women. We are not there yet.

Ebara: President Donald Trump signed an executive order enabling state and local governments to refuse refugee resettlement. You quickly responded on Twitter, saying Oregon is a sanctuary and welcomes refugees.

Gov. Brown: I have to be very upfront with people. Oregon has a horribly racist past. Not just with Chinese Americans, African Americans, but Japanese Americans. But what is so important is that we learn from the past and that we ensure our future is welcoming and inclusive. We are richer by virtue of people coming in from all over the world bringing their talents and expertise.

Brown is the first openly bisexual person to be elected state governor. She says she sometimes faces backlash and has received many threats. But she relies on support from her husband and family to go on.

Gov. Brown: I am pushing us forward in a way that will ensure a more just and equitable society. And that means change, and change is uncomfortable for people. But it's definitely worth it to be able to see that progress in your lifetime.

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