Guest post by doctoral student Brian Keilson
A second international videoconference was held on February 19, as part of the on-going partnership between the Global Gender Program at the George Washington University and the Gender and Development Studies Department at Lahore College for Women’s University. In Washington, DC, participants face an early morning, beginning at 8am, while, in Lahore, the get-together means a late evening with the even starting 10 hours later.
Each side was pleased to welcome a special guest. At GW, in attendance was Elliott School alumna, Ms. Arifa Khalid Parvez, a member of the Pakistani National Assembly (equivalent to a U.S. Senator). At LCWU, we were honored by the presence of Vice Chancellor, Sabiha Mansoor.
The one-hour meeting began with presentations from faculty and students at LCWU addressing aspects of women’s empowerment in Pakistan,
Key points from the four presenters were:
- although higher education policies in Pakistan have promoted equal opportunity, there is still a significant gap between female graduates and employment, due to less opportunity because of religious or cultural biases toward different occupations.
- for many females, teaching is the culturally preferred occupation.
- however, there are females in every industry from politics to IT, to the army, judicial system and even taxi drivers.
- Pakistani women have attained success in many areas, including:
- Samira Baig- 1st Pakistani women and only 3rd Pakistani and youngest Muslim women to ascend Mt. Everest.
- Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy- won an Oscar Award for best documentary.
- women are truly agents of change in Pakistan from politics to philanthropy
- there are more women in government in Pakistan than in Sri Lanka, Iran and India
- there is a separate government ministry for women and there are many prohibitions against discrimination including in the country’s constitution
- these protections, however, are not enforced evenly throughout the country
After hearing from our partners at LCWU, Candice Matthews, a doctoral candidate in Human & Organizational Learning at the Graduate School of Education & Human Development discussed her dissertation research on American female social entrepreneurs’ identities as an example of qualitative research. She highlighted her methods and findings from her in-depth interviews will 11 women entrepreneurs in the U.S. This presentation generated interest from the attendees at LCWU and GW, especially, about how these women succeeded and felt empowered in their roles. Key points were: a support network and having meaningfulness in their work, while still keeping in mind that stereotypes were still present regarding women.
Open discussion at the video conference also addressed U.S. laws regarding women’s empowerment, negative stereotypes about women and how women may overcome them, training opportunities for women entrepreneurs, and in what sectors women are succeeding. At one point, a participant from LCWU asked the GW male audience to explain the male perspective of female empowerment. This question put the author of this post on the spot – the answer was a bit complicated but in essence shared that some men might feel threatened by the concept of female empowerment, but not all do.
The conference wrapped up by discussing how to integrate women’s empowerment opportunities into education. GW’s Shaista Khilji emphasized the importance of paying attention to words such as “empowerment” and what it means in different contexts. She reminded the participants that “women’s empowerment” is a cultural construction and needs to be explored in that sense, from a multi-disciplinary perspective, and with attention to studying the different meanings of empowerment. LCWU’s Sarah Shahed provided a very positive note by saying that this conference was even better than the first one that we had in December 2013.
The activity reported in this post is funded by a grant to the Global Gender Program (GGP) from the U.S. Department of State to support a three-year partnership (2014-2017) between GGP and Lahore College Women’s University (LCWU) in Pakistan. At GW, faculty leading the project are Barbara Miller, director of the Elliott School’s Global Gender Program and professor of anthropology and international affairs, and Shaista Khilji, professor of human and organizational learning in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and faculty member of the Elliott School and the GGP. Leading the partnership at LCWU is Sarah Shahed, chair of the Department of Gender and Development Studies. The two groups will work together to share knowledge and understanding about women’s status and empowerment in both Pakistan and the U.S. Another goal is to build capacity of faculty and students at LCWU, and during the first year, the partnership will focus on the curriculum of LCWU’s M.A. degree program. Each year, GW will host video conferences and provide webinars to facilitate intellectual exchange and cross-cultural understanding of shared challenges and solutions. Faculty and student exchanges will further contribute to the goals of the partnership. Every year, several LCWU MA students will attend classes at GW in the second summer session. LCWU faculty will visit GW to offer lectures and develop collaborative research projects, and GW faculty will spend time at LCWU delivering courses.