Delegates arrived for their second day of the Women in Public Service Project on June 12 for an opening discussion with Mo Suchua, former Minister of Women’s Affairs Cambodia, and Shazia Rafi, Secretary-General for Parliamentarians for Global Action. The two women leaders, in conversation with the director of the WPSP Summer Institute Rangita de Silva de Alwis, discussed the tools needed to overcome the challenges faced by many delegates. In particular, delegates discussed the possibilities of quotas for women in government. As Suchua explained, the race is not equal for men and women. “The men wear Nike shoes and the women have no shoes; that’s not a race,” she said. However, delegates also said a democracy means no quotas; people should be able to choose who represents them.
The keynote speaker was Ambassador Moushira Khattab, who spoke to the delegates about her work passing a law banning female genital mutilation in Egypt, as well as raising the legal age of marriage from 15 to 16. By working with doctors and religious leaders, Khattab showed parents or future parents of daughters that FGM was neither a religious nor healthy practice. “This was a national problem; it went across party lines,” Khattab explained.
During lunch, delegates listened to Dr. Haleh Esfandiari tell her story of being kept in solitary confinement for 105 days in 2007. Dr. Esfandiari, who works as the Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was visiting her family in Iran when she was robbed by two men. When she tried to receive another passport, she was interrogated daily by Iranian authorities until she was brought to prison for months, while the interrogations continued. Captured because of her work with the Woodrow Wilson International Center, she explained that the country was worried she was working against Iranian security in Washington, D.C. After a number of organizations and media platforms worked to free Dr. Esfandiari, her mother sold her house to pay for her bail, and she was released and allowed to leave Iran in August of 2007. Dr. Esfandiari explained the necessity of networking and connections, as in this case, even saved her life.
In the afternoon, delegates worked in groups to discuss a number of topics, including discriminatory traditional practices and cultural norms, the impact of unequal laws, and gender discriminatory family practices. Delegates reconvened to discuss these topics and strategies to overcome the challenges and build their “toolboxes,” moderated by Mount Holyoke College Professor Karen Remmler. Afterwards, delegates ate dinner while listening to the first black woman to be given tenure at Harvard Law School, Professor Lani Guinier. Dr. Guinier explained the importance of finding not only a mentor, but a “constituency of accountability,” a group who knows delegate’s goals and values, and will hold them accountable when making career choices. Dr. Guinier also explained the process of building social change in a country, explaining that it isn’t enough to simply put a different gender or race in a higher position, the “fundamental shape of the hierarchy must change as well.”
Anna Quinn Sillers is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College where she studied Economics and Gender Studies. She is the outgoing Managing Editor of Content for the Mount Holyoke News.