Conference discusses women, education

“Girls + Education,” Circle of Women’s first national conference, was held at Yale this weekend.
“Girls + Education,” Circle of Women’s first national conference, was held at Yale this weekend. Photo by Florian Koenigsberger.


Students from six colleges descended on Yale this Saturday to discuss creative ways of giving women in developing countries access to education.

The Yale chapter of Circle of Women, an organization started at Harvard in 2006 dedicated to advancing women’s issues around the globe, held the group’s first national conference entitled “Girls + Education” at Yale this weekend. The event brought together roughly 25 students, faculty and experts from across the country to discuss a variety of topics including women’s schooling in the Islamic world. Evie Freeman ’14, a co-director for the conference, said giving women greater access to education helps improve their standard of living and often leads to a more stable family life.

“It was great to have varied opinions on an issue that has so many different facets,” Lauren Hoffman ’14, a co-director for the conference, said. “We were able to open up dialogue, which is the first step in creating positive change.”

The conference kicked off with an introductory address by Kara Gustafson, a representative of the Goldman Sachs Office of Corporate Engagement involved in the 10,000 Women project. Started in March 2008, the initiative provides training programs for businesswomen in over 20 countries across the world. Eighteen months after their participation in the program, 80 percent of women saw their revenues increase, 66 percent created new jobs and nine out of 10 began to mentor their female peers, Gustafson said.

Gustafson said programs aimed to empower women often affect more people than just their participants.

“One of the most effective ways to boost the economy and promote prosperity is to increase the participation of women in the labor force,” she said.

The conference featured four workshops on different areas of women’s issues. One workshop, “Islam, Women and Education” — led by visiting professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies Sallama Shaker, a former Egyptian assistant minister of foreign affairs for the Americas — discussed misperceptions about Muslim women.

Rana Dajani, a visiting professor of genetics from Hashemite University in Jordan, said the workshop shed light on the importance of understanding cultural context when analyzing women’s issues.

“Professor Shaker’s speech explained what Islam really is,” Dajani said. “It has been misrepresented by the media. We need more voices of Muslim women to speak of their opinions, their successes.” Students who attended the conference — from Harvard, Georgetown, Princeton, Cornell, Brown and Holy Cross — said they enjoyed the workshops.

Alana Downing and Sophia Haggerty, members of the Circle of Women chapter at Holy Cross, said the conference inspired them to think differently about the issues and initiatives their chapter will undertake.

With the conference over, Hoffman and Freeman said they are already looking ahead to the next Circle of Women project: a financial literacy campaign called LearnLend. Hoffman said the program will launch in spring 2013 in South America and will provide high school girls in developing countries with access to financial services education through interactive, graphic presentations.

The other workshops this weekend included “Women’s World Banking,” led by a Women’s World Bank Senior Associate Anjali Banthia, and a video address by Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative at the Wilson Center.

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