The Barnard-backed Women in Public Service Project held its first institute late last month, a two-week program that brought together forty-nine female students—many of them from the Middle East and North Africa—to discuss and study women’s issues.
The institute was held at Wellesley College and featured panels and simulations on a variety of women’s issues, ranging from “Lessons of the Arab Revolution” to “Combating Gender Stereotypes in Work.” The Women in Public Service Project, which was organized by five women’s colleges and the U.S. Department of State, aims to make the world’s political and civil leadership 50 percent female by 2050.
For Barnard, the initiative is a component of the college’s growing global outreach, which includes annual global symposia that also emphasize women’s leadership. Dean for International Programs Hilary Link said that one of the Women in Public Service Project’s main goals is to “form a global network of women in public service.”
No Barnard students took part in the institute last month, although 12 attended the project's opening colloquium in Washington, D.C. in December. The institute’s participants created action plans aimed toward increasing women's leadership around the world, which they will work to enact under the guidance of female mentors.
One of those mentors, Kathryn Kolbert—the director of Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies—spoke at the institute, during a panel called “Women’s Rights as Human Rights.”
Drawing on her years of experience as a domestic violence lawyer, Kolbert acknowledged the challenges associates with stopping domestic violence, telling students to “be resilient, and remember to fight for what we believe in because we’re worth it.”
Another mentor, Nancy Gertner, BC ’67, was a keynote speaker and panelist at the institute as well. Gertner, a former federal judge and a professor at Harvard Law School, called the institute “a version of my college experience at Barnard,” saying it allowed students to talk openly about controversial topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“You get a number of high-achieving, interesting women in a space, a safe environment to share things they never would’ve shared,” she said.
Some of the institute's attendees are already making strides for women through their work. Naheed Ahmadi, 27, is the youngest member of parliament in Afghanistan, and Tunisian activist Siwar Aouadi is fighting corruption while advocating for women’s rights.
The institute was directed by Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the director of international human rights policy at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She said that it’s “getting very hard to let them [the students] go back, but the people of their country need them.”
Future institutes will include a three-week program for South Asian women in Bangladesh this summer, as well as a global health-centric institute, to be held in Paris in October. Although no institutes have been planned for Barnard’s campus yet, its Manhattan location would present unique opportunities for one, Gertner said.
“I look forward to Barnard’s participation, because Barnard and NYC have so much to contribute to this enterprise,” she said.