SMC student leaders travel to Middle East
Gallagher, Lisa | Monday, March 21, 2005
With the sponsorship of the Center for Women in Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), two Saint Mary’s faculty members and four students attended the first student leadership conference in the Middle East March 14 through 16. The Women as Global Leaders Conference invited over 1,000 women from 41 countries to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to participate in the historic gathering promoting women to take charge.As members of the InterCultural living community and through participation in dialogues on campus with Sister Marianne Farina, a CWIL fellow and director of research and scholarship at SMC, the four Saint Mary’s students were invited in December to attend the conference. Senior Veronica Fritz and junior Carolyn Madison, both accounting majors, Asma Quddoura, a sophomore psychology major and Angela Johnston, a junior philosophy and religious studies major, all attended.Planned over the course of only five months, the conference was hosted by Zayed University. “By hosting the conference, Zayed University aims to build bridges connecting the emerging generation of women leaders – students from the United Arab Emirates, the Americas, the Gulf countries, Europe, Asia and Africa – with each other and with some of the most prominent women leaders in the world today,” the University stated on the conference’s Web site.The trip was sponsored by CWIL, which also footed the bill since the goals of the conference aligned with CWIL’s goal of fostering intercultural knowledge. Zayed University, a women’s college founded in 1998 in the United Arab Emirates, paid for almost all student accommodations. Saint Mary’s contributed to three lectures with themes of Muslim-Catholic dialogue, social justice teachings and compassionate listening as a form of reconciliation. “We had all shown interest to be in more than just a dialogue,” Madison said. “We still get together every other week to reflect and practice what we learned in the dialogue.” Upon arriving, Fritz, Madison, Johnston and Quddoura, along with Farina and moderator Tracy Robison, director of the InterCultural Living Community, were “greeted in … waves of women in black with red triangles [around their necks] saying ‘Women as Global Leaders.’ I didn’t expect to be greeted by women leaders,” said Madison. Every aspect of the conference was presented in English except for the welcome, which was in Arabic.Entertainment was large-scale and noteworthy, provided with all-out hospitality, according to Johnston. Nothing was held back. A night at a desert resort included fireworks and “a fabulous cookout, henna tattoos, camel rides and flame throwers,” Johnston said. The night the SMC representatives arrived, there was a laser show in an auditorium and a gala dinner complete with sand art, ice sculptures and a young pianist, cellist and violinist – all from different countries, who collaborated to provide background music the entire night.Keynote speakers at the conference were multi-generational and included some of the most notable female world leaders. Tipper Gore, wife of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, spoke about mental health issues; Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director-General of the World Health Organization, the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Patricia de Stacy Harrison, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs also contributed. Other participants in the conference included women and men from the business world.According to the Saint Mary’s participants, panels and workshops throughout the course of the conference helped to break up the huge amount of women who attended and also served to cater to each woman’s individual concerns. Participation in the Women as Global Leaders Conference has had profound affects on the Saint Mary’s Women who attended.Fritz said she initially had reservations about going to a country in the Middle East, but her eyes were opened by the welcome she received.”Because we were treated so graciously, I was able to appreciate the different culture as well as the other cultures that were there,” Fritz said. “We’re all the same, and if we focus on our similarities rather than our differences, the world can be a better place.” Johnston said she felt safe and welcomed “not just in the conference, but everywhere I went in Dubai. Through this conference, my knowledge of the world has grown to include an understanding and appreciation of a Middle Eastern culture that I didn’t have before.””It’s a good thing to understand a different culture and put into action the respect of a different culture I thought I had before. I realized people the world over are trying to make changes,” said Madison, who appreciated Kim Campbell’s idea: “You can be a leader whoever you are – whether a man or a woman.”Johnston said she could see a need for this leadership conference, saying, “It’s not likely to see a ton of women out and about in the city.” “All speakers encouraged leadership both inside families and outside families and how those roles can compliment each other,” Johnston said. “To be a good leader, it involves both men and women working together,” she said.Madison said she learned the importance of realizing one’s potential as a leader, but also how to follow other’s leadership. “Without one culture, you couldn’t have your own ideas. It’s easy to forget that most ideas we have weren’t founded by Americans,” Madison said. “It’s good to remember how similar we are, especially in human rights – inalienable rights.”Participants hope to maintain contact with the women they met in Dubai and are already planning future conferences.”Some women exchanged information and are considering coming to Saint Mary’s for Compassionate Listening this summer,” Johnston added. Next year’s conference is slated to be held in Abu Dhabi, United Arabs Emirates. “We hope the conference will take place every year. I’d love to go back, but I think we have to be invited back, which I’m sure we will,” Fritz stated. “Saint Mary’s College would love to participate again,” Madison said. “You never know who you will inspire.” Major sponsors of the conference itself included Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority, First Gulf Bank, Microsoft, EmiratesMedia, International Printing Press, Women in Business Magazine and CNBC.For more information on the conference, visit www.zu.-ac.ae/leadership2005.