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  Women's Education in the Arab Middle East

A panel discussion examining the history and future of women's education in the Arab Middle East. Free and open to the public.
Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall, 5 pm



Women's Education in the Arab Middle East, March 1, 2011

In recent decades, dramatic changes have taken place in education for women and girls around the world. Nowhere are those changes more evident than in the Middle East. The number of women receiving secondary and tertiary education has risen, and literacy rates for females have improved steadily in the region since the 1970s. Increasingly, governments are recognizing that the benefits of female education are substantial, leading to improvements in family health, strengthening domestic labor forces, and invigorating national economies. Studies have shown that a better-informed and literate population—including both women and men—is more politically active and citizens participate more effectively in making decisions about governance.

But challenges still remain. Many girls and young women are still excluded from education entirely, and those who are able to attend school do not receive sufficient education to be prepared to participate successfully in 21st-century job markets, policy setting, and domestic or international affairs.

Fellows in the Kahn Institute's yearlong project Why Educate Women? Global Perspectives on Equal Opportunity, with support from the Betty Hamady Sams '57 and James F. Sams Fund, the Global Studies Center, the Project for Women and Social Change, Presidential Seminar 315, and the Middle Eastern Studies Program are pleased to bring three distinguished scholars to Smith College for a one-day conference and panel discussion examining the changes in and challenges for women's education in this complex and dynamic region.


Isobel Coleman, Keynote

Isobel ColemanIsobel Coleman directs the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy initiative and the Women and Foreign Policy program for the Council on Foreign Relations, a New-York-based independent, nonpartisan think tank and publisher dedicated to being a resource to help its members, governments and others understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the U.S. Her areas of expertise include democratization, civil society, economic development, regional gender issues, educational reform, and microfinance. Prior to joining the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Coleman was CEO of a healthcare services company and a partner with McKinsey & Co. in New York. A Marshall Scholar, she holds Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Philosophy degrees in international relations from Oxford University and a BA in public policy and East Asian studies from Princeton University. She serves on several nonprofit boards, including Plan USA and Student Sponsor Partners.

She is the author and co-author of numerous publications, including Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women are Transforming the Middle East (Random House, 2010), Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), and Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (Hoover Institution Press, 2006). Dr. Coleman’s writings have also appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, and Forbes, and online venues such as the Huffington Post. She is a frequent speaker at academic, business, and policy conferences. In 2010, she served as the track leader for the Girls and Women Action Area at the Clinton Global Initiative.

In her keynote, Dr. Coleman will present the research and observations documented in her book, Paradise Beneath Her Feet. She will discuss how the rise of a political Islam that condemns women’s empowerment as anti-Islamic or Western cultural Imperialism has affected education for women, and will show how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism. Her presentation will journey through the strategic crescent of the greater Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to reveal how activists are working within the tenets of Islam to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women. She will argue that these efforts are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition. She will also explain how achieving success in building that bridge will bring greater stability and prosperity to the Middle East and how it stands to transform the region.



Stacy Philbrick Yadav

Stacey Philbrick YahdavStacey Philbrick Yahdav, who graduated from Smith in 1999 with a degree in Anthropology and a Five-College certificate in Middle Eastern Studies. After completing her doctoral coursework in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, she spent three years conducting fieldwork in Yemen, Lebanon, and Egypt; she was awarded a Ph.D. in 2007. Dr. Philbrick Yahdav is currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY, but she has also held positions at Mount Holyoke College and at Harvard University, where she was a visiting scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. The author of a number of recent articles on partisan politics and women’s activism in Yemen and Lebanon, Dr. Philbrick Yadav is now completing a book manuscript on the relationship between Islamist parties and cross-ideological alliances, entitled Sanctifying the State: Islamists and Institutions in Yemen and Lebanon.

Dr. Philbrick Yahdav's presentation at the conference is titled Educating Women Leaders: The Limits of Partisanship in Yemen, and it will focus on the relationship between women's education and party politics in Yemen, a country where men and women alike enjoy considerable political freedom but little human security, and where gender gaps on key development indicators are among the region’s highest. She will explore the ways in which "state feminism" and patterns of development assistance have invested in education but produced anemic forms of women’s leadership, and will discuss why Islamist women have been more successful than their secular counterparts in education and politics. She will also explore the structural limits imposed by Yemen’s "competitive authoritarian" regime, where electoral pressures have made women’s education and women’s leadership hotly contested topics in national political debate, detailing some of the ways in which cross-ideological alliance building and regime-opposition dynamics have inadvertently driven women out of political parties and into the associational sector, particularly the civic education sector, in ways that are understandable but that nonetheless impoverish partisan agendas and prevent women from putting their skills to work through elected office.



Areeg Hegazi

Areeg Hegazi

Areeg Hegazi has served as the Education Program Director for CARE Egypt since 2008. She manages program development and quality implementation. Ms. Hegazi holds a Master's degree from teh American University in Cairo in Professional Development. She was the Chevening Fellow studying Gender, Citizenship and Social Justice at University College in London. Before coming to CARE, she worked for Save the Children managing education projects in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. She has also served as a Project Coordinator in the World Bank Social Protection Project within the Ministry of Social Affairs in Egypt.

Ms. Hegazi will explore critical questions about how education can be a tool for empowerment in conservative Arab societies. She will discuss a study that attempted to measure girls' empowerment dimensions among girls who participated in CARE Egypt programmng. In her talk, she will explain ways in which empowerment can be measured for adolescent girls, and will discuss key aspects of CARE’s programs and how they have contributed to positive outcomes for girls.



Sarah Bouchie

Sarah Bouchie. Executive Director, Basic & Girls Education, CARE USASarah Bouchie serves as the Director for the Basic & Girls’ Education Unit at CARE USA and provides technical and programmatic leadership to CARE’s global education program in more than forty countries. Sarah also leads CARE's signature program around adolescent girls—Power Within—a 72-million-dollar initiative aimed at ensuring girls gain basic education competencies and leadership skills. She has worked for several NGOs, managing education programs and partnerships in Africa, Asia and the United States. In addition to having been a classroom teacher, Sarah has served as an advocate for improved early childhood policies in East Africa and South Asia and for women and girls' empowerment efforts in Southern Africa. Sarah's research includes evaluations of education programs, the efficacy of donor mandates around gender analysis in development programs, and situational analyzes of marginalized girls. She has written about and served on several expert panels around girls' education, and formerly held the position of Vice-Chairperson for the Steering Committee of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies.

Ms. Bouchie will provide an overview of the educational programs of CARE's programs throughouth the Middle East.



This conference is sponsored by the Betty Hamady Sams '57 and James F. Sams Fund, a restricted fund established by Betty and James Sams to support the study of Arab history, culture, politics, religion, and art at Smith College. Additional support comes from the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute project Why Educate Women? Global Perspectives on Equal Opportunity, The Global Studies Center, the Project on Women and Social Change, the Presidential Seminar 315, and the Middle Eastern Studies Program.



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