With the objective of providing a safe zone and a platform for women from all countries to discuss the challenges and achievements of their lives, the International Women’s Forum is a newly formed group on campus that convenes to give women a voice.
“I have been thinking about this project for the past couple of years,” said Darlene Schmurr-Stewart, dean of international student services, who took the initiative to start the group. “I observed that some international women were confident and became quickly assimilated into the campus, but the majority were very reserved, both socially and in class. I am aware of the strength and experience so many of our international women can offer to our campus.”
Schmurr-Stewart said that the agendas discussed are participant-driven and everyone is welcomed to join and speak. “I believe that educating women will solve many of the world’s problems, which is at the core of this initiative,” she said.
So far, the group has discussed issues such as gender roles, defining being a woman and the concept of beauty.
“I feel privileged to be welcomed into these conversations,” Schmurr-Stewart said. “It is sacred territory,”
Nejla BenMimoun, a senior finance major from Djerba, Tunisia, said that she feels proud of the initiative, as the opportunity to freely speak and to share personal issues are otherwise limited.
“The International Women’s Forum is a special place where I feel I have a voice and (I am) heard,” she said.
For Mac-jane Chukwu, an international relations graduate student from Lagos, Nigeria, the forum provides a chance to learn about other cultures and to discuss relevant issues.
“We leave the meeting feeling better that we came,” she said. “We have more knowledge about another culture than we had before, because it’s a free place for people to talk about things from their perspective.”
Chukwu believes that since woman can speak without restrictions or fear of repercussions, a strong bond is created between the members the group. “Basically, being able to be each other’s friend and have each others back,” she said is a benefit of coming to their meetings.
Both Chukwu and Schmurr-Stewart said that although the group started out small with a few people attending, the group has been growing every week with more participation from students, faculty and staff. Janice Hawkins, first lady of the university, also attended the last meeting and engaged in a discussion about the value of inner beauty over external appearance.
“There has been a huge improvement and more people are coming who are interested in what we are saying,” Chukwu said. “I really wish that a lot of women can see the vision of International Women’s Forum. We learn so much from each other.”
Schmurr-Stewart encourages American students to come join the group discussions. “Stereotypes are so easy to develop and so difficult to break,” she said. “Talking, listening, asking questions of one another, begins to open the mind and heart-building understanding and confidence. Women are good at this; sometimes we just need the opportunity.”
Becky Ingram will be leading the next meeting discussion on educating women around the world. The meeting will be held next Tuesday, Nov. 3, in Trojan Center Room 224.