LBJ School students Susan George and Elizabeth Green traveled to the Middle East in March to attend a landmark conference that focused on the empowerment of women around the globe. The international event was the first of its kind held in the Persian Gulf region and drew about 1,000 students, educators and leadership professionals from over 40 countries.
Held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) city of Dubai, the event was hosted by Zayed University and was called “Women as Global Leaders: Educating the Next Generation.”
Among the distinguished women on the speakers list were Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and former director-general of the World Health Organization; Tipper Gore, former mental health policy advisor to President Bill Clinton; Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada; Rowaida al-Ma’aitah, member of the Jordanian Senate; and Nathalie Goulet, member of the French Senate.
“It was not simply an academic conference,” said George. “It brought together students, academics, activists and leaders from various fields including public service to address questions of leadership.”
Because the participants and presenters were mostly women and they represented many cultures from around the world, George said that the event provided a unique perspective on gender and leadership while opening “a window to understanding the social and political realities of the Middle East.”
Green concurred, adding that Dubai is more western than other Arabian cities because its economy is based on commercialism and business.
“I believe that they (government officials) recognize that in order to compete at a global level, women need to be more involved because women in other parts of the world are very influential in the companies that are coming to Dubai,” she said.
More than 200 students from the United States attended the conference and many of them presented individual research in panels that discussed such topics as women and Islamic society, leadership and political development, gender and peace, and gender stereotypes. Among the universities represented at the conference were UT Austin, Harvard University, Georgetown University, Tufts University, the University of California, George Mason University, Rutgers and the University of Virginia.
Green, who is originally from Nigeria, is a former LBJ School Barbara Jordan Scholar. This spring she is completing her last semester of a four-year dual degree program at the LBJ School and the UT Austin School of Law. At the conference she presented her research on international law and violence against women in Nigeria during a panel on women, activism and change.
George, a native of India, has a master’s degree in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. She took a sabbatical from her post as an officer of the Indian Revenue Service to attend the LBJ School and is the recipient of a Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship. At the conference, George presented a paper titled “Gender, Leadership, and Politics: The South Asian Experience” during a panel on women, politics and culture.
In addition to presenting their papers, George and Green had an opportunity to experience Arabic and Islamic culture. During their stay in Dubai, they participated in a desert barbeque extravaganza, a gala dinner and various tours.
“International experience is critical in our present world,” Green said. “Since we are all interdependent on one another, it is crucial that we understand or are at least exposed to other cultures.”
Both Green and George agreed that there are many misconceptions and biased views about Islam and that region of the world.
“I learned a lot about women in that area and how they truly feel about their roles,” Green said. “Our western bias has caused problems in the past and only through communication can these ills be avoided in the future. It is important for American students to go out into the world and learn firsthand what other regions have to offer.”
George described the conference as a tremendous learning experience because of the cultural diversity and the different approaches to the study and practice of leadership.
“Participating in the Women as Global Leaders Conference has certainly made me aware of the tremendous learning opportunities that conferences of this kind offer,” George said.
According to Green, Zayed University plans to make this conference an annual event. Next year, the conference will be held in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
by María de la Luz Martínez
© Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
2 May 2005
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