For the past three weeks, a group of women in politics from Japan has been touring the United States, visiting various cities and learning about how politics works in the United States.
They’ve visited cities like Portland and Washington, DC, and their last tour stop was Austin. As part of their visit, the women took a trip to Liberty Hill to learn more about small town politics.
During a luncheon Thursday, the women, along with three performers, met with Mayor Liz Branigan, County Commissioner Cynthia Long and female members of the Liberty Hill City Council and staff. The group was able to talk freely and ask each other about what it’s like to be a woman in politics and public service.
Visitors also asked Branigan several questions about her role as mayor, how elections work in Liberty Hill, what business growth is like in the city, and how women balance serving in the public sector while being mothers and running homes
They were shocked to learn of the rapid growth Liberty Hill is experiencing, audibly gasping as they learned of the city’s population growth over the past few years. In Japan, cities and small towns are getting smaller and smaller, and it has been a challenge to attract families to smaller cities. Visitors asked Branigan and Long what the secret to growth is.
Long said an economic development partnership between Williamson County and each respective city helps attract businesses, such as Samsung’s facility going vertical in Taylor, to the county, which is a win-win for all cities. Branigan added that Liberty Hill has also been able to attract investors to build apartment complexes in the area, which were previously uncommon in Liberty Hill. This allows younger people with lower incomes to live and work in the area.
Through their travels, the visitors have been learning how to empower women’s political leadership in Japan. The women traveled to the US as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, which has several goals, including helping visitors examine programs that encourage women’s political participation and representation; develop strategies to achieve leadership and address gender inequality; and observe the shared challenges between the two countries, as well as discuss strategies to create a more representative government.
Yuki Ebisawa, a former member of the Osaka City Council, Japan, and current member of the Tokyo Ward House of Councilors, said (through her interpreter) in recent weeks that she and her colleagues have been to many cities and talked to many different women who serve in politics.
“Everyone said it was hard to balance housework and raising children, but here [in Liberty Hill] it’s the first time we’ve heard people say it’s such a peaceful place where people can relax,” he said.
The rest of the visitors in the group agreed. Among them were Ayako Fuchigami, who is a member of the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly; Yukiko Fujiyama, who is a member of the Kyoto Prefectural Assembly; Chiho Kato, political advisor to Yutaka Arai of the House of Representatives; and Sachiyo Sakaguchi, policy secretary of the House of Representatives.
Visitors were also able to learn some of Liberty Hill’s historic past from Branigan, including information about when the city hosted the International Sculpture Symposium in 1976, which attracted artists from around the world to Liberty Hill, including a sculptor from the Japan