SEATTLE — Debate is a sport mostly dominated by men. But in developing countries like Cambodia and Rwanda, women in debate are shaking up the sport.
A perfect example of this is Linda Eang, a shy and reserved girl who took Cambodian national television by storm when she won Next Generation, a Cambodian televised political debate show. Next Generation is funded by USAID and organized by the International Republican Institute. The show features debate topics ranging from whether Cambodia should celebrate Valentine’s Day to whether provincial governors should be elected or appointed. It is an important vehicle for letting Cambodian people, both those watching the debate and those debating, engage in political conversation.
Even after Eang won the competition, her experience of debating made her more confident in articulating her arguments and led her to consider a future career in politics. In January 2017, Eang launched a debate club with the express desire to “empower and mentor them [the members of the debate club]to reach their full potential and help shape the future of this country.” Both men and women in debate all around Cambodia are sure to benefit from her teaching.
In Rwanda, Phylis Kabano, Sonia Rugwiro and Mireille Umulike became the first all-women debate team to win the Rwandan national debate tournament. In order to gain the confidence to win, they utilized advice from Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, in which she argued that by striking a confident pose and repeating affirmations, one can become a more confident person, a skill particularly useful for women in debate.
Kabano, Rugwiro and Umulike would repeat phrases like “I’m a debater and I’m a winner” before competitions, and when the men on other debate teams would mock them or look down on them, they would hear those phrases in their mind and eventually go on to beat them and win the national tournament.
After their win, the women’s school, Akilah Institute for Women, partnered with Aspire Debate to organize the National Female Debate Championship, a tournament that gathers female debaters from all over Rwanda to compete against each other and encourages women in debate. As Aspire Debate puts it, the National Female Debate Championship “encourages freedom of speech for women; inculcate critical thinking skills, communication skills, confidence and speech development.”
These two stories about young women from disparate parts of the globe demonstrate a common and powerful theme: debate has the power to uplift people, especially women. Women in debate learn how to articulate arguments clearly and coherently, how to engage in political discourse and how to be confident in who they are. Debate is shaping the leaders of the future and ensuring that they have the skills necessary to transform their countries’ futures.
As Linda Eang puts it: “I am a small person, but I’m solid like the core of a tree.”
– Adesuwa Agbonile