Helping Women Worldwide

The following is a guest post by Jane McAuliffe, president of Bryn Mawr College, about a new education project aimed at helping women around the world.

At a meeting in Washington Thursday, the U.S. State Department in collaboration with the top women’s colleges—Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley—will officially start a global effort to bring together female leaders to increase the number of women involved in public service. Known as the Women in Public Service Project, I believe it to be an important step in trying to right some of the wrongs facing women around the world.

While in many parts of the word women constitute the majority of undergraduates—in the U.S. their enrollment now approaches 60 percent—they do not fare so well after graduation. For example, women remain grossly underrepresented in governments throughout the world. Not surprisingly, they remain the  majority of those living in poverty. Only a fraction own property and women, and their concerns, attract much less media attention than men. A few facts:

• Out of over 180 countries, only 27 have elected women presidents, and only 25 have appointed women prime ministers.
• There are only 24 ambassadors to the United Nations who are women.
• Of the members of national parliaments worldwide, less than 19 percent are women.  (At 56 percent, Rwanda has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians.)
• Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70 percent are women.
• Women own around only 1 percent of the world’s land.
• Only 21 percent of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female.

(Figures are from the Women in Public Service Project.)

Aside from helping with these specific problems, the project can also serve as a model for colleges and universities interested in working on social issues on a global scale.

With rich traditions of educating women from around the world to be leaders for over 30 generations, our institutions represent the very best of American higher education and a legacy of historic achievement for women. And while each of us has established and strengthened our ties to colleges and universities abroad as scholarship has become a more globally interconnected endeavor, we realized that strong partnerships and collaboration with sectors outside of academe are required if our institutions hope to create real change in the world.

For example, at an international conference last fall, Bryn Mawr brought together both academic and activist leaders, university presidents and executives of nongovernmental organizations, seeking to build connections. After the conference, Bryn Mawr began conversations with CARE, a global antipoverty charity based in Atlanta, to find ways in which our students can support CARE’s work that focuses on women’s economic development.

This approach also fits well with the recommendations set out by the American Council on Education Blue Ribbon Panel on Global Engagement of which I was a part.

As was stated in the panel’s final report, “colleges and universities need to develop unique strategies for global engagement that resonate with their core principles and practices; balance pragmatism with idealism; complement overall institutional strategic planning; and align local and global interests.”

For the top women’s colleges in this country, a partnership with the State Department that encourages women’s leadership throughout the world, that provides focused training for public office and diplomatic service, and that offers our alumnae in public service as powerful mentors fits perfectly with the missions that we were founded to serve.

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