Women of the World
Despite worldwide differences, presidents
and academic deans of women's colleges and universities from five continents
were united this June in a common goal: furthering women's
education. The three-day conference that brought them
Education Worldwide: The Unfinished Agenda," was jointly sponsored
by Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges.
Some 40 representatives
from 29 colleges and universities in the United States,
Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East acknowledged
the challenges of educating women to assume leadership
roles not only in government, business, and especially
science and technology, but also in their own households and local
communities as agents of social change. They also took steps to form
a larger alliance that will advocate for women's education worldwide
and become an international force for women's advancement.
Presidents and deans of women's
colleges around the world gathered at Smith and Mount Holyoke
last June for a three-day conference on the issues and
challenges in women's
education worldwide. Photo by Fred LeBlanc.
surprisingly, the diverse group set forth a number of
notable ideas and ideals:
Sen, one of the keynote speakers, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and
Lamont University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, explained that
basic education for women holds the potential for "facilitating
radical social and economic changes that are so badly
needed in our problem-ridden world." He presented evidence that
basic literacy and numeracy enable women to find their voice in the
family, village and beyond.
Carol T. Christ, president of Smith College: "In
countries without free and compulsory primary education,
gender inequities manifest themselves as early as the primary school
level, making women extremely vulnerable to poverty and deteriorating
Joanne Creighton, president of Mount Holyoke
College: "Advancing educational
opportunities for women across all ethnic, racial, age and socioeconomic
groups continues to be the great unfinished agenda of the
Our goal is to encourage our students to take their place
along with men in the highest reaches of the professions, society and
Haifa Jamal Allail, dean of Effat College
in Saudi Arabia, acknowledged that women at her college "think about what
women lack with respect to the political arena."
Sheila Widnall, another keynote speaker, Institute Professor
of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and former secretary of the U.S. Air Force, explained
that although there have been increases in the number of women in the
engineering field in recent years, "never
has there been such a need" for their greater involvement "in
a world of resource constraints and environmental challenges."
Bourque, Smith College provost and dean of the faculty, argued for coupling
the sciences with liberal arts programs to attract more women and create
scientists and engineers who will bring a broader perspective to their
know that in all the scientific fields there are critical and ethical and
scientific issues [where] we want women's voices at the table -- a
variety of women's voices -- and even women leading that conversation."
Patterson McPherson, chair of Smith's board of trustees, stated "a
commitment to educating women students broadly as well as deeply in their
own rich histories and traditions and in those of other peoples with
whom they will live and work across a shrinking world."
director of the Five College Women's Studies Research Center,
noted that the conference demonstrated "an underlying recognition
that the goals of women's education are the goals of creating a
more tolerant, pluralist world."