May 2013 Articles

Going Global with Women’s Empowerment

Emerging women leaders from around the world to attend the Women in Public Service Institute at Bryn Mawr.

By Priya Ratneshwar

Afghanistan’s first female mayor and a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe are among the 500 women who applied to attend the Women in Public Service Institute, to be held July 7 to 19 at Bryn Mawr College. They and the approximately 50 other delegates who were chosen to attend are early- and mid-career emerging women leaders from post-conflict countries. The Institute’s intensive, interactive program will provide them with a forum for shared learning, dialogue, leadership development, and networking.

Organized by Bryn Mawr and co-sponsored by Bryn Mawr, the U.S. Department of State, and the Wilson Center as part of the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP), the Institute reflects the overall goal of the WPSP: to build the efficacy and leadership capacity of women in all spheres of public service. Launched in 2011 by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in partnership with the U.S. Department of State and Sister colleges Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley, the WPSP is an initiative to advance women to positions of influence in governments and civic organizations worldwide. It has been housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars since June 2012 and has grown to include Scripps, Mills, and Mount St. Mary’s Colleges; CUNY; UMass; and other partner institutions around the world.

“There is now significant research documenting the positive social and economic impacts of women’s participation in government and policymaking,” says Secretary of the College Ruth Lindeborg ’80, who serves on the WPSP steering committee. “When women are in leadership roles, governments are more likely to promote education, social welfare, health and well-being, and broader-based economic development. Bryn Mawr and the other Sister colleges are specially positioned to take our historic commitment to creating opportunity for women to a global level.”

Bryn Mawr chose “Peacebuilding and Development” as the Institute’s theme and focused on women leaders in countries that have recently experienced disruptive conflict but that have reached a state of at least tenuous peace and are rebuilding. The theme was a perfect match, Lindeborg explains, for the College’s Quaker origins and the expertise of faculty leaders such as Professor of Political Science Michael Allen and Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Mary Osirim, who are both on the Institute Program Planning Committee.

In developing the program, the committee drew on the qualities that distinguish a Bryn Mawr education: a strong emphasis on critical thinking and a rejection of top-down models of teaching. “At Bryn Mawr, faculty treat their students like junior collaborators,” Lindeborg says. “Similarly, the Institute is structured to respect the expertise and the experience of the delegates and position them as experts as well as learners.”

Panels and workshops address topics such as the role of the justice system in post-conflict resolution, technology as a tool for social change, and economic development. Delegates will also take a day trip to Washington, D.C., where they will take part in meetings with senior U.S. officials, attend panels, tour the Capitol, meet with women legislators, and end the day with a reception at the residence of the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S. The goal is to provide the delegates with substantive tools for being agents for peacebuilding and development, and to connect them with a global network of women that can support them as they grow in their leadership roles.

In addition to Bryn Mawr faculty, the Institute will feature several prominent speakers, such as Alice Rivlin ’52, founding director, Congressional Budget Office; Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO, Women’s World Banking; Angela Kane ’70, high representative for disarmament affairs, United Nations; and Baroness Mary Goudie, senior member of the British House of Lords.

“In recent years, the College has undertaken a variety of new initiatives to connect our mission with active change in the world,” Lindeborg says. “The excellence of speakers and partners who are participating in the Institute speaks to our role as an important voice in global women’s advancement.”

Learn more about the Women in Public Service Institute: Peacebuilding and Development at