Bryn Mawr Now guest blogger Jomaira Salas ’13 was among the Bryn Mawr students who attended The Next Wave colloquium.
In her keynote address Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking, spoke about our duty to ask important questions. After she talked about women being “good business,” given the fact that they are more loyal consumers, and are more likely to buy other financial products, she called on the audience to think about how women are served by different institutions.
She said that rather than assume that innovative solutions used by NGOs and private companies are working to solve gender disparities, we must ask how they are accounting for gender and whether women are being well served. To demonstrate the tremendous difference between innovative solutions and innovative solutions that actually help women, she told the audience a story about an organization that gave refrigerated trucks to women in a village to help extend the amount of time in which they could transport products and therefore make their business more profitable. What they later found out was that soon after, women were no longer spearheading this project. As she said in her presentation “even the most well-intentioned project will have unintended consequences.” What do we do to ensure that women are not forgotten in our quest to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time?
What Mary Ellen Iskenderian’s speech and that of other panels and speakers taught me about women’s advancement in the world, is the importance of recognizing that solving gender inequity is not only a complex task, but also an urgent task. By looking at women’s advancement, as President McAuliffe said in her opening address, “not only as a moral issue, but also an economic issue” we will begin to recognize that working to propel women’s advancement is not an act of charity; it is instead an opportunity for the growth for every nation. Therefore, when Iskenderian asks us to question whether women are being well served, she is asking us whether we want a bigger return on our investments. She is telling us that all of our lives will improve when women’s advancement becomes a priority.
At Bryn Mawr, the importance of asking questions is valued just as much as having the right answers. This is because when we ask questions, we make statements about our priorities and we ensure that these are being met. When we ask an NGO whether it’s collecting data for both men and women or tracking a project’s impact on women, we are not only asking for a concrete answer or a number, but also for a commitment to women. So, along with Mary Ellen Iskenderian, I ask you to join us in creating a “next wave” of questions, and in doing so hold leaders, NGOs and private companies accountable for women’s advancement.