Lean In, Rise Up

Day5-9 (1)

Summer Seminar on World Affairs, Air Conditioning, Power, and Girls

Last week marked the World Affairs Council’s Summer Seminar on World Affairs, when about 60 area high school students gathered in the well air-conditioned Bayer Learning Center at Duquesne University each day to hear from several distinguished guests about the world they are about to inherit. We began with an interview with Ambassador Cameron Munter, former ambassador to Pakistan, and included sessions with a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force, an economist, photojournalists, writers, and documentaries. The chilly students engaged with each speaker, asking thoughtful questions, even asking a PNC economist about derivatives–whew. Students also participated in policy scenarios representing different actors in a Chinese labor dispute and video conferenced with students from schools in Taiwan and South Africa, both of which seemed to be gathered in warmer classrooms.

While last week’s seminar was not school, it did involve some homework. Each student received in their folder two items from the May/June issue of Foreign Policy; the first was the annual Power Listing, where FP collects their choices for the 500 most powerful international figures, in politics, business, media, crime, and military. The second was a commentary on this listing, where David Rothkoph writes that the most alarming factor of this list is that women consist of merely 10 percent of the list. How is it that 50 percent of the population continues to be shut out from the boardrooms and the podiums despite women’s equality in the developed world?

It starts with education. Wednesday our students watched the film Girl Rising, beautifully documenting the challenges for nine girls as they demand their education. Educating girls continues to be a challenge, especially in rural communities, where families feel that they cannot spare the extra help around the house, and girls simply aren’t worth the investment.The benefits for educating girls are extraordinary–by welcoming girls into the schoolhouse, a community doubles its educated work-force. Bibhuti Aryal, founder of the Rukmini Foundation, a Pittsburgh based organization raising funds for educating Nepalese students, added to our discussion: “When you educate a boy, you educate a man. When you educate a girl, you educate a family.”

At our very own Summer Seminar, 37 out of the 60 students were female. Students were asked to share their career ambitions; responses included international lawyer, doctor, journalist, and even future Secretary of State–goals that were indistinguishable by gender. Women in the United States have outnumbered men in postgraduate education since 1988. While the film focused on education in developing countries, it’s clear there are questions to ask ourselves in the US. If women are receiving more education, why aren’t they in power? Perhaps we have yet to see the fruits of shifts in education. Perhaps current education trends will precede hiring trends, and executive offices in the next years will fill with more and more women. Perhaps not–maybe we remain in a cycle of discrimination, or maybe women tend to be less likely than men to put career goals ahead of family life.

Whatever the reason, there was a bright signal of hope for equality of opportunity in the presentation of Laila Al-Soulaiman. Ms. Al-Soulaiman graduated this past spring from Ellis School, and while only 18, she captivated her audience during her presentation of the Syrian Awakening. Al-Soulaiman’s passion for the cause of her homeland struck a chord in every student, serving as a living example of what students are capable of, regardless of their age. While women continue to be underrepresented in positions of power, young women such as Laila Al-Soulaiman and the students from the Summer Seminar will continue to make their own opportunities, ignoring the fact that they’re breaking ground–they’ll be too busy building.

By Ian Graham, World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh Intern