by staff contributor Camry Haskins
“Women here want autonomy and freedom to decide about their education, profession, life, and fate. This is something that women have been struggling for.” Sarah Shahed (LCWU)
On Wednesday, March 25, three visiting scholars from the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) sat down for a roundtable discussion at the Elliott School of International Affairs to have an open discussion about the stereotypes that form when media is the main avenue for knowledge. Barbara Miller, the director of the Institute for Global and International Affairs (IGIS), as well as the Global Gender Program (GGP), led the discussion.
The LCWU visiting scholars, Fareeha Anjum, Asma Seemi Malik, and Shehla Ahmad Rathore, were the first to share their initial stereotypes compared with how their views had changed after landing in America. Overall their fears had been that they would be constantly harangued for their Visa’s and comments on how they dress. Fortunately, that will not be the image of America that they leave with. The words used just after a few days in Washington, DC have been “helpful” and “friendly smiles”. They mentioned that whether they approach a man or a woman, people have all been ready to help them with directions and answering any other questions they may have.
The tables then turned and guests were asked for their impressions of Pakistan. The negative image of the media was brought up, and the difficulties of being born female became a topic of much debate. Though just as in the case for our visiting scholars, those who had been given the opportunity to travel to Pakistan had a much more informed and positive view of the country.
From there the discussion turned toward the plight of women around the world, because one topic agreed on by everyone in the room was that no country had a monopoly on a woman’s struggle for equal rights and opportunities. George Washington (GW) professor, Aisling Swaine, discussed how in her home country of Ireland it wasn’t until the 1970s that married women were allowed to hold a job. A second GW professor, Jane Henrici, followed up with many discussions she has recently had with international groups where they were shocked to learn that the United States did not guarantee paid maternity leave for women. No matter where you are around the world, women are fighting for equity with men, which brings up the questions: are there universal women’s rights that should be striven for and if so what are they?
Those are questions that we are still working to answer.
The Global Gender Program would like to thank our sponsors at the State Department for the funding for our partnership with the Lahore College for Women University.