Celebrating International Women’s Day 2023: How Will You Embrace Equity?

Eva Koelzer
Graduate Student, MA Peace and Justice
University of San Diego
LinkedIn: /in/evakoelzer

Dear GlobalEd Readers,

Here’s a blog from Kroc School graduate student, Eva Koelzer, in which she examines the role of women and their contributions as leaders in ensuring equity for all.

Happy International Women’s Day!

This day has its roots in the early 20th century in the U.S. women’s suffrage movement and labor movements, U.S. socialism, and European communism. International Women’s Day (IWD) has been celebrated annually on March 8 in several countries since 1913. In 1975, the United Nations recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day. IWD serves as an important reminder to reflect on the battles that have been fought and won around the world for gender justice and human rights, and also the inequalities and injustices that women and nonbinary folks still face across the planet. On this day (and every day!), we should all consider the spaces in our work, our organizations, and our lives where there are opportunities for improvement in advancing gender justice and fighting inequality.

In the spirit of highlighting the accomplishments of women, as well as pushing for continued action and progress, today we want to share with you the Women PeaceMakers Fellowship program at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (Kroc IPJ) in San Diego, California. This program invites women from across the globe who are engaging in peacebuilding work in their communities, to collaborate with international partner organizations, co-create peacebuilding research, and engage with the Kroc community in San Diego. The program has hosted fellows from over 52 different countries, including Afghanistan, Morocco, Botswana, Egypt, Honduras, Myanmar, Jamaica, and Mexico, since it began in 2002.

I had the privilege of speaking with Aliza Carns and Cassandra (Cassie) Barrett, graduate students at the University of San Diego’s Kroc School of Peace Studies who have worked as Practice Fellows in Women, Peace, and Security with the Kroc IPJ (Cassie last year and Aliza currently). In their roles, both Aliza and Cassie have supported the Kroc IPJ’s various Women, Peace, and Security projects, which—in addition to the Women PeaceMakers Fellowship program—range from intergenerational peacebuilding collaborations between women, to partnerships and research focused on ending cycles of violence.

Having worked closely with the Women PeaceMakers Fellows in their respective years’ cohorts, Aliza and Cassie shared what they learned from the fellows, why it is so important for women to be leaders, and more. My interview with them is below* with Aliza represented by “AC” and Cassie represented by “CB.”

*Interview responses have been edited only as needed for clarity and conciseness.

Aliza Carns (left) and Cassandra Barrett (right), the current and former (respectively) Women, Peace, and Security practice fellows with the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice in San Diego, CA.

What have you learned from engaging with the Women PeaceMakers fellows? Why do you think it is important for our Kroc community to hear the Women PeaceMakers’ voices and to learn from them?

AC: I’ve learned so much from them, but I think the biggest personal takeaway for me is that they are people who were once where I am now! They were once graduate students, ready to build peace but still figuring out the kinks and stressed about an uncertain future.

In any academic program sometimes it’s easy to get swept up in theory and to see conflict and peacebuilding as an academic, a researcher. And while that’s important, I think it’s critical to also see it from a personal angle as well, and to remember that we are not only studying conflict, but that we live in it every day in some way through our various identities. How does it affect me, my perspective, and my vision for the future? It’s been a really grounding experience for me in that it’s reminded me to look inward and really reflect on the change I want to be in the world. What kind of environment do I want to be part of, as a resident of San Diego, the US, and the world? As a woman? So, I think it’s really important that Kroc be grounded through these sorts of visits from practitioners and people that are living in the work. And to hear from women peacebuilders is so special, since they don’t always have the easiest time being heard and receiving a platform to share their experiences and expertise in a variety of peacebuilding contexts.

CB: One of my main takeaways from working so closely with the Women PeaceMakers last year was that they’re human. As crazy as it sounds, before meeting them, they feel like celebrities who are saving the world and working non-stop to support peacebuilding initiatives in their communities. It was so humanizing to just have a conversation with them and talk about their favorite music or about the difficulties they face working as a woman peacebuilder. They get sick and they have gone through periods of experiencing hopelessness and they have strategies in place to take care of their own mental health. I felt like they became true role models because I realized they are incredible women who worked hard to get where they are, and Kroc students can do that too.

The Women PeaceMaker program is such a beautifully unique fellowship, and I am grateful that it highlights the necessity of incorporating a global perspective for solving certain issues. Whether it is someone’s goal to focus on domestic or international issues, I think there are tools, strategies, and tactics that can be learned from global perspectives coming together, and then formatted to fit a specific context. The Women PeaceMakers are experts in their field of study but also from their country of origin. Unfortunately, due to time, cost, and COVID, traveling around the globe is not feasible for most grad students. This fellowship allows students to have the globe come to them…and experts who are creating change and peace in real time. These women are role models who have experienced the content we read about in our courses, they have applied the theory that we study, and they have lived a life dedicated to the ideals of the programs at our school: peace and justice, conflict management and resolution, and/or social innovation. They are resources, teachers, and people with whom we can collaborate.

If you feel comfortable sharing, how has meeting and learning from the Women PeaceMakers impacted your perspective on your own womanhood and the way you exist in and navigate the world as a woman?

AC: The Women PeaceMakers are women who hold power through their action. I think part of my own journey has been trying to discover and own that power which I feel like had previously been buried beneath gender norms and structural barriers and my own internalization. Getting to know the PeaceMakers personally has taught me there is no one way to be a powerful woman, no one mold or way of being—each of them individually has shown me that like them, I can be myself, in all that uniqueness, and still be a woman with power.

CB: Watching how confident and inspirational these women are really helped me to better understand my own place within Kroc and the peacebuilding world. Being a female navigating the world of academia, I often feel a bit of imposter syndrome. Interacting with the Women PeaceMakers allowed me to better conceptualize how important women are in the peacebuilding field—and I am a woman in the peacebuilding field. Therefore, I should recognize my importance (I gotta practice what I preach!). Although I still wouldn’t say that I am the most confident to share my experience and knowledge during class, watching how confident these women were has definitely encouraged me to not listen to the self-doubt that sometimes makes its way into my thoughts.

Meeting these women also highlighted my privilege to be a white woman in the United States. Watching two of the Women PeaceMakers from last year’s cohort, Heela and Zarqa, fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan was inspirationally heartbreaking. As the fellowship was taking place, women were continuing to lose rights in Afghanistan. I felt pretty useless during our meetings. We would talk about Afghanistan and provide a space for discussion, and then we had to move on to the topic of the meeting. Although women, as a whole, have had to surpass a plethora of barriers to get their voices heard, there are still many barriers in place, and certain groups of women have less support when attempting to overcome suppression.

Why do you think it is important for women to play active roles in leadership, education, and peacebuilding?

CB: I appreciate your use of the word “active” in the question. Sometimes, I think women are given certain positions in a performative manner where proper recognition, choice, and power are withheld. Women need to be at the table, but they also need to be speaking and participating at the table. Women are rockstars. Women around the world experience varying degrees of marginalization, exploitation, lack of freedom, lack of access to education, and an overall societal expectation of being “less” than men. And even through the suppression and societal doubt, women are trailblazers, forced to be creative and determined to be seen as equal. Due to this experience, women often provide voices to marginalized groups and understand the inner workings of specific cultural contexts. When voices are forced to be silenced, it provides time to listen, and listening leads to understanding: Understanding leads to some pretty darn great leadership, in my opinion.

“Women are rock stars.”

I also feel like women leaders are often scrutinized. Leadership has predominantly been associated with men, and so when there is a woman in a leadership position, she is heavily analyzed and scrutinized and is expected to not make any mistakes. So that is even more indicative of being able to perform well under pressure, whilst also trying to slowly change societal perceptions about women leadership, and having to be creative and determined to even get to where they are.

AC: There is a book I read called Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez, which discusses both the mundane and systemic disadvantages anyone that is not a cisgender man has. The world is literally made for men, because they made it so! Leadership, education, and peacebuilding are some of the most influential spaces in which to make social change, and in many ways, it’s been dominated by men for a very long time. It’s about time that women take over. It’s time for women to lead the charge and create a world that is truly friendly to all people and made for all people—in its laws, its social protections, and its economy.

“It’s time for women to lead the charge and create a world that is truly friendly to all people and made for all people”

Thank you so much to Aliza and Cassie for their time and for sharing these powerful reflections on the Women PeaceMakers Fellowship program. This program and the inspiration and learning it has brought to the Kroc student community is made possible by their hard work, as well as the work of members of the Women PeaceMakers Student Committee, a team of Kroc students that has worked with the 2021-22 and 2022-23 cohorts to design and implement events where Kroc students have the opportunity to engage with the Women PeaceMakers Fellows.

Women PeaceMakers Fellows from the 2022-23 cohort at a student-focused event held in December 2022 and put on by the Women PeaceMakers Student Committee.

The Women PeaceMakers Fellowship program is also made possible by the dedication of Women, Peace, and Security Program Officer Briana Mawby. She shares, “Connecting Kroc School students with the Women PeaceMaker Fellows is a powerful opportunity because it allows students to learn from women peace leaders not only about the practical and daily work of peacebuilding, but also about research and the issues that are shaping the peacebuilding field today. I am excited for the program to continue building these relationships in and out of the classroom and to help inspire the next generation of peacebuilders.” More information about the Women PeaceMakers Fellows and their research can be found at the Kroc IPJ’s website.

International Women’s Day this year also marks the fourth anniversary of the creation of the Global Ed Leadership blog. Thank you all for being here and learning with us. I will leave you with Cassie Barrett’s response when I asked why the Women PeaceMakers Fellowship program should matter to Global Ed Leadership readers: “I hope that learning about the Women PeaceMakers Fellowship program creates a sense of solace for global readers just by knowing that programs like this exist in the world: there are spaces for women from around the world to collaborate, and we need more spaces like this. Lastly, I hope that learning about this program will remind readers about the importance of women leadership. Throughout the month of March, maybe this blog is the reminder that readers need to ask themselves how many leaders at their place of employment are women or to reflect on a woman who they admire and why they admire her.”

This International Women’s Day, where is there room in your work to further uplift and empower women, to instill confidence in future women leaders, and to continue to break down gender-based barriers for all?

Thanks for reading!

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