WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ- Three international female speakers shared their personal accounts of growing up in their respective countries and their struggle for empowerment with Monmouth University students and staff in the Wilson Hall Auditorium at the workshop Empowering Women: Multicultural Perspectives on Thursday September 25.
The goal of the workshop was to spread awareness of women’s issues across different cultures and to empower women to overcome adversity within their society. “Promoting female empowerment is crucial to creating a generation of self assured women who believe in themselves and their ability to make choices,” stated Kathleen Stein, the University’s Senior Benefits Administrator. “Women should recognize that they have control in their lives and their decisions.”
“Promoting [a] global and multicultural understanding of life and issues is of paramount importance,” stated Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Associate Vice President for Global Initiatives and co-sponsor of the workshop.
Three speakers were featured at the event, including Mercy Azeke, the Dean of the Center for Student Success and Academic Advertising, of Nigeria; Jing Zhou, associate Professor in the Department of Art and Design, of China; and Ebtihal N. Al-Alwi, a Fulbright student in the Master of Arts in Public Policy program, of Iraq. Each speaker shared their story of what it meant to grow up as a woman in their native country and offered accounts of their family life, cultural norms, and experience with gender inequality.
During the workshop Zhou shared her experience growing up in China and the limitations she faced as a woman. Zhou’s parents encouraged her to empower herself within a patriarchal society that limited the equality of women, and named her Jing, which translates to competition. “Go compete with boys. You are just as good as them,” Zhou’s father would tell her as a child, a powerful notion that helped shape her into the empowered woman she is today.
Although Zhou grew up in a family environment that fostered female empowerment, the same cannot be said for all women in Chinese culture. “Based on my observation,” stated Zhou, “it is going to take a long journey, it will take another several hundred generations to reach equality.”
A number of attendees found great value in Monmouth University hosting such a workshop and many considered them necessary at all colleges. Monmouth Professor Claude Taylor stated, “I strongly believe that colleges have a duty to promote full citizenship and democratic participation, and by doing that [they] must promote female empowerment. Some if it is some by teaching and scholarship; some of it is done through opportunities offered at the college.”
Sophomore Allison Perrine, who attended the workshop as a class assignment, also found value in University hosted empowerment and diversity workshops. “I definitely think it’s important for colleges to host empowerment and diversity seminars, especially in places where it is not so diverse,” stated Perrine. “I think it is important that everybody gets to understand everybody else’s background and understand how diverse we are in the United States and where we live.”
Approximately 25 students and staff members attended the workshop. “Attendance was good,” stated Dr. Sarsar. “I was very glad to see students, professors, administrators, and staff in the audience. I wish more males were present. A workshop on women empowerment is not only for females, but males as well.”
The workshop is a part of a series of workshops sponsored by the Office of Global Initiatives, the Office of Equity and Diversity, the Office of Human Resources, and the Gender Studies program. The University has been hosting similar workshops each semester for the past two years. According to Dr. Sarsar, departments will continue to host workshops each semester on varying topics.
The overarching message of the workshop was the idea that inequality is pervasive, but not permanent. “Being a woman in male-dominated societies has slowly improved over time,” stated Taylor, “but there are areas of women’s lives that are still inequitable and challenging to overcome.”