Just last week, Barnard College hosted a panel featuring exceptional women leaders who make it their life mission to fight for women’s rights and freedom. The event, A Global Conversation: Women Leaders Respond to the United Nations General Assembly, was particularly interesting as it was hosted in the midst of the annual United Nations General Assembly; there could not have been a more perfect time to talk about what we have achieved and what still needs to be achieved in order for women to gain equal access to basic human rights such as economic opportunities and health.
The event opened with inspiring words from the Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra. She pointed
out something that often gets unnoticed: half of the world’s population is made up of women, so it should make perfect sense for women to be included in development and economic growth policies. As many of us know, this is not always the case. She created the Women Development Fund to give women the chance to generate income, and designed policy aimed at ensuring life fulfillment, guaranteeing good access to health for mothers in the early cycle of their child’s life, overseeing the successful development of the child through important access to education to increase opportunities. An important point that was discussed multiple times was the importance of women in public service and women as leaders. Indeed, the goal of The Women in Public Service Project is to have 50% female representation in public service by 2050. Also speaking was the President of the Republic of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, the first female head of state in the Balkans was chosen last year amidst a grave political crisis in which the constitutional court ruled that the election procedures had not been followed. She was therefore chosen as the ideal leader, a true unifying force. She emphasized the role of women in building bridges and the tremendous work women Kosovo did in weaving a shattered community back together, showing exceptional courage and willingness to move in.
The panel of three extraordinary women that followed exemplified the vital role of women as leaders. Jane Harman, the President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, answered President Spar’s question about what it takes to be a great leader in seven points. Farah Pandith, a member of the United States Department as Special Representative to Muslim Communities, emphasized the role of women’s leadership in dealing with serious issues such as extremism and health care in new ways. In addition, Marta Santo Pais, part of the panel and Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children, added that conversations about equal rights need to start with children.
What a great introduction into the next part of the panel, which invited eight amazing young women leaders, all students from each of the eight Sister Schools. They talked about their work in fighting for women’s rights in different aspects of life, from economic freedom and equal participation in economic decision-making processes to incarceration, religious freedom, access to equal water, violence against women and the need to bring grassroots women to the decision-making process during periods of transition.
So, dear Barnard women, it is our duty as educated women to not slam the door behind us but keep it open to help other women in need. We should make it a goal to mentor those who come after us, all the while remembering, as Jane Harman pointed out, that failure is our friend and that we are able to achieve greater success by picking ourselves up, by moving on and most importantly, by never giving up. What an incredible event to attend at Barnard!