Women in power — Canada's Chrystia Freeland

Canada's Deputy Prime Minister Chyrstia Freeland

Heads of state and government typically dominate the spotlight, but it's the office holders that work for and around them who are responsible for some of the biggest policy decisions that forge their country's place in the world. In 2021, still, women leaders are even more likely to go under the radar than their male counterparts.

This International Women's History Month, we shine a light on a few women around the world who are pulling the levers of power.

Chrystia Freeland — dubbed by POLITICO as "Canada's Minister of Everything" — serves as deputy prime minister, finance minister, and was recently foreign minister and a top trade liaison. What sets her apart from many of her counterparts, and how has her worldview shaped her policymaking?

Negotiator in chief. As Canada's point person on NAFTA renegotiations, Freeland had the mammoth task of overseeing delicate US-Canada relations under the Trump administration in 2018. On the one hand, Ottowa wanted to protect the sometimes fragile relationship with its giant neighbor and top trade partner. On the other, it wanted to ensure that a new deal didn't undermine Canada's long-term economic interests.

Tasked with managing the back-and-forth with an oft-combative Washington — Trump said of Freeland at the time that "we don't like their representative very much" — she played a critical role in getting the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement across the finish line. In the process, she scored a big win for Canada — and a personal political boost — by getting the Trump administration to agree to keep NAFTA's trade dispute settlement mechanisms in place, providing needed protection for a country with much less negotiating leverage than its superpower partner.

Meanwhile, the governing Liberal party has also leveraged Freeland's negotiating skills and connections to communities in energy-rich Alberta, where she grew up, to try and find a middle ground between the provincial leaders who back the oil and gas industry and the Trudeau government, which has put forward an ambitious climate agenda.

The world through a feminist lens. When Freeland, a former financial journalist who entered the political fray in 2013, was tapped to become Canada's foreign minister in 2017, she advocated to adopt a "feminist" approach to international affairs. She pushed hard to persuade skeptics to see feminism not as a dirty word, but rather as an equalizing force that benefits all members of society. Empowering women and girls by allocating resources to expand female participation in the workforce, as well as investing in reproductive healthcare, makes countries more peaceful and prosperous, she said.

As a result, Freeland has helped put Canada at the forefront of a global movement in feminist foreign policy, an approach taking shape in countries as varied as Sweden and Mexico. In practical terms, Canada committed to directing 95 percent of its foreign aid budget toward gender equality programs by 2022 (improving girls' education, investing in reproductive healthcare and boosting women's political representation) — one of the boldest targets set by any country.

And now, as the post-COVID economic cleanup gets underway, Freeland, as finance minister, is pushing for a stimulus package that prioritizes the particular needs of Canadian women, who, like women globally, have been disproportionately impacted by the economic toll of the pandemic and increased demands of domestic life. (Consider that 20,600 Canadian women left the labor force between February and October last year, while nearly 68,000 men joined during that time.)

What does this mean in practical terms? Canada is going big. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to a $79 billion stimulus package that, among other things, will prioritize getting women back into the workforce, while also making a heavier investment in childcare. While skeptics say this could balloon Canada's debt and impede growth, Freeland argues that Canada has more to lose by going too small than too big. Analysts have noted that in appointing Freeland to the finance post during a once-in-a-generation economic crisis, Trudeau is very much banking his political fortunes — and the country's economic comeback — on her leadership.

Progress and the illusion of merit. When Freeland accepted the finance portfolio last summer, critics charged that she wasn't qualified. Much of the discourse ignored the reality that she had a proven leadership track record on a variety of complex issues, and that after leading the way on USMCA, even colleagues across the political divide praised her as the "hardest-working" lawmaker. "They're sending an all-too-familiar message to women seeking high office: No matter what you accomplish, it will never be enough," one Canadian academic said in response.

Freeland's future: The deputy PM has been touted as a future leader of the Liberal party and potential successor to Trudeau. In its history, Canada has had only one female prime minister, who served for less than six months. After the past year has forced many Canadian women to confront the inequality within their own day-to-day lives, many are surely hoping for another one.

Meet Zoe Marshall, grandmother, fishmonger, and thriving business owner.


When Zoe Marshall decided to switch careers in her forties and become a fishmonger, she was scared. After leaving her job of 23 years, Zoe was forced to pivot in order to keep her family's home. Despite challenges, she forged ahead, opening Sea-Licious. Accepting Visa payments in her fishmonger shop, this access to commerce helps Zoe provide convenience to her customers and confidence in their transactions. Though she's one of the only women in the fish market each morning, her business and its place in the local community are flourishing with Visa's help.

Learn more about Zoe and her story.

Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.

China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?

Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

A Trump media platform? Is this for real?

This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.

The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.

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Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.

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