A Global Conversation: Women Leaders Respond to the United Nations General Assembly

by Samantha Plotner

Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand,
spoke at Barnard last Monday

This past Monday, Barnard hosted foreign leaders, diplomats and students in a conversation about The Women in Public Service Project and women’s empowerment. The Project was launched last December by Barnard and the other seven Sister Colleges. The Women in Public Service Project has an admirable goal: for 50% of leadership positions to be held by women by 2050 (“50 by 50”).

Certainly the women at this past conference spoke eloquently, and addressed the need for an organization like this one. However, for young women looking to get involved or how to make a difference there was not much–besides being told to enter public service. While the Event Oval started out packed, the crowd had thinned noticeably by the end. Yet, all in all, it was a wonderful event and certainly exciting for our whole college community, and while the event ran long, woman remains inspiring.

After a welcome from President Debora Spar there was an opening address from Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister of Thailand. She highlighted the unique strengths that women bring to the table, as well as how she has been judged and treated differently for her gender. Prime Minister Shinawatra also emphasized how education can “reduce the chance of violence against women.”

Debora Spar, President of Barnard College

Following that was an address from Atifete Jahjaga the President of the Republic of Kosovo. President Jahjaga came to the Presidency from the police force, a compromise candidate after Kosovo’s election results were thrown out. She seeks “to represent the new Kosovo…a country that grows in peace.” As the Balkan’s first female head of state she wants “to inspire especially young women of the region.” Women, she said ”are the bearer of security,” the “foundation of society,” and “true agents of change.”

The evening then moved to two panels. The first was moderated by President Spar with Jane Harman (a former Congresswomen and the President of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars), Marta Santos Pais (Special Representative, United Nations Secretary-General on Violence against Children) and Farah Pandith (Special Representative to Muslim Communities, US State Department). Harman articulated her seven rules of leadership. In her words,

    1. Leadership is inside out.
    2. It takes work, lots of work.
    3. It takes work, lots of work.
    4. Failure is your friend.
    5. Leaders never give up.
    6. Leadership is lonely… some people really won’t like you.
    7. Leaders have lives–real lives.
Atifete Jahjaga, President of the Republic of Kosovo

Harman, Santos Pais, and Pandith were joined onstage by students from the eight participating schools, including Barnard senior Olivia Low. During that panel, each student posed a question to Harman, Santos Pais or Pandith. As Low eloquently put it in her question “there are women at the margins who remain unseen and unheard–who are on the frontlines, fighting for justice without any recognition.”

After the panels the former President of Finland Tarja Halonen spoke. She emphasized the “empowerment of people, men and women.” And that despite progress, we have a long way to go. She ended with “your life is yours.” The finale was Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer who declared “women are the changemakers…I just want to cheer you all on.”

Samantha is a senior at Barnard and Senior Editor and Co-Founder and Senior Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Link2Angela Radulescu, and Cybill Shepherd.

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