The importance of role models
Earlier this week, in anticipation of Glow Ed’s event at the CBIE conference, I chatted with my mom, who has worked in international development and education for more than 50 years, about what it was like to have young kids in the early stages of her career. Specifically, I asked her “How did you feel when you had to leave us for long periods to travel overseas?”
Without missing a beat, she said, “Terrible … just terrible. Unless you were being horrid and then it was quite wonderful.”
“But mom, seriously,” I said (secure in the knowledge that I was never horrid), “What made it worth it? What made you determined to work in such a demanding area while we were young?”
This time, she took a little longer to respond. When she did answer, she simply said, “Because I knew how important it was. I could see that the work was making a real difference, that it was changing people’s lives. That’s what made it worth it.”
Modeling gender equity
My mom started her career as a volunteer for CUSO in Nigeria, and over the years, her work had her move our family to Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Indonesia. She’s led projects in too many countries to count, most recently in Jordan and Vietnam. Now a vice president at Agriteam Canada, she remains as committed as ever to the power of education to alleviate poverty and to better people’s lives.
My mom views both girls’ and boys’ education in war-torn and/or desperately poor countries as crucial to progress toward societies that are more just, equal, and peaceful. Underpinning such model societies are the ideas that women deserve education, deserve a chance to find meaning outside of the family if they so desire, and deserve respect and safety. In promoting these ideals, organizations working in international education need strong, educated women serving as role models.
"Part of working toward gender equity is modelling gender equity."
But it’s not always easy for women working in international education. The travel required is sometimes more difficult to manage for women than for men, particularly when women have babies and young children.
So why do it? Why log the long travel hours and long days in conference rooms and schools? Why leave the kids behind and/or the comforts of home?
The answer is that women are crucial to promoting the power of education around the world, especially given that in so many countries, women still have much less access to education than men do. As Hillary Clinton has said, “Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan agrees, noting that, “When women thrive, all of society benefits.”
Quite simply, the world needs more women in leadership positions, including those in international education. The more that happens, the more natural it becomes and the more likely the trend continues and grows. Women’s perspectives become integrated into programs, into curricula, into other education systems … in in the grand scheme, into society itself.
Talk about important work.
Therefore, I’m thrilled to see the creation of Glow Ed and applaud its goals of supporting, mentoring, and celebrating women in education. It’s a welcome addition to an essential industry in general, one that touches the lives of so many people across the globe. Congratulations, Cyndi and Magda … and all of the women who make sacrifices large and small in the belief that their work makes a difference. It does.