Moderator Mary Herman, left, speaks with panelists Mattie Daughtry, Julia Lester, Karen Parker at a National United Nations Day event discussing “What if women ran the world?” Maria Skillings / The Times Record

The Maine Chapter of the United Nations Association invited a panel of local female professionals to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick on Monday to discuss the female approach to hunger prevention and peaceful justice in strong institutions.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry, the assistant majority leader; Karen Parker, executive director of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program; and Julia Lester, Oxford Hills School District director, all agreed that female leaders would approach world issues with empathy, compassion and collaboration, rather than competition.

Daughtry said the state of today’s world breaks down into two camps — a “me camp,” with a self-serving agenda, and a “we camp,” with a collaborative agenda. She said if women ran the world, everyone would most likely choose the “we camp.”

Peaceful justice in strong institutions

According to Daughtry, the level of incarcerated women in the U.S. has grown five times since the 1980s and even more so for women of color. She said after looking at who sentenced these women, she noticed a severe lack of diversity in positions of power in the U.S. justice system.

Of all the lawyers, paralegals and judges across the nation, she said, “Only one-third of them are women.”

“We need diverse representation, understanding and compassion,” Daughtry said. “Having someone with empathy and possibly someone who looks like you in those positions of power is important.”


Daughtry said Maine has a strong female presence in the Legislature.

Ranking in the country’s top 10 for female representation, Maine has 43.5% women-occupied seats, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

“It really comes down to thinking how many changes can be made when we walk into a room and everyone doesn’t look and sound the same,” she said.

Hunger prevention

“If women ruled the world, I think we would prioritize financial resources worldwide differently than they are prioritized today,” Parker said.

With over 139,000 people facing food insecurity in Maine, Parker helps operate a soup kitchen, food bank and food pantry at 12 different facilities to combat hunger in Cumberland, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties.

She said although women are responsible for preparing most of the world’s meals and growing the majority of the world’s food, women and girls make up 60% of the global food insecurity population.


There are 161 million people who are food insecure worldwide, which means 96 million of them are women and girls, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Parker believes food insecurity most likely impacts women more because of traditional gender roles.

“Women are responsible for meeting many of the basic needs in a household throughout the world, including meals, but they often lack the resources they need, such as education, to fulfill basic needs for the family,” Parker said. “When women do earn an income, more likely than not they use it for food because they want their family to flourish.”

One of the 20-plus women in attendance, Brunswick resident Rebecca Strasburger asked for advice from the panel.

How do you maintain your optimism and energy to do the work you all do?,” she said. “And with the scale of suffering in our world and even in our country, and the fervor with which so many world leaders are trying to roll back progress?”

Parker said for her it’s about taking a step back and looking at how many people she helped “gain access to food that day.” She said seeing the impact she has made makes her feel good about her work.

Educator Julia Lester pushed the importance of conversation, compassion and acceptance of diverse backgrounds. She vowed not to be derailed by those who would squash progress by remaining positive.

“Joy is resistance,” she said.

“I think about how we make a peaceful world, how we have a just world, how we have an equitable world and how we make sure that we have effective accountable, inclusive institutions,” Daughtry said. “It comes with recognizing that everything you do, every single day, in every room you walk into, is about us and not about you.”

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