SAIS Women Lead

A Global Women’s Leadership Initiative
A Conversation with Dr. Condoleeza Rice
Securing a Sustainable Future
Women, Peace, and Security Panel
Roundtable at Bloomberg
Tina Brown on Feminism
A Turning Point
Executive Director of UN Women
Global Women in Leadership Student Club
Award-Winning Writer on Transforming Culture

SAIS Women Lead is a global women’s leadership development program that partners faculty, students, alumni, and public and private organizations to raise the political and economic status of communities through the empowerment of women.

The former secretary of state shares insights from her new book, "Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom" as part of the Women Who Inspire Lecture Series.
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The spring 2017 in Washington Global Women in Leadership (GWL) student conference examined the critical intersection between gender and climate change.
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The Global Women in Leadership student organization filled an auditorium of alumni, faculty, and students during the 2017 Spring Alumni Weekend at SAIS Europe to discuss "Why the United Nations Women, Peace and Security Agenda Matters Now".
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SAIS Women’s Alumni Network (SWAN) Chair Emily Howells (MA ’08) and Yelena Shulyatyeva, Senior Economist at Bloomberg Intelligence, discuss Finance and Economics in November 2016.
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Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli welcomes SAIS Women Who Inspire Lecture Series speaker Tina Brown for a discussion on “Women, Global Leadership, and the Future of Feminism".
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Dr. Kent Davis-Packard, SAIS Women Lead Coordinator, discusses the status of women globally, President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, and her work to establish the SAIS Women Lead curriculum with Rob Satloff.
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Dr. Phumzile Mlambi-Nguka presents “Nothing for Women Without Women: Raising Voices for Change” to the International Development Program and community on April 12, 2017.
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Swetha Ramachandran, President of the Global Women in Leadership student organization, greets incoming SAIS Europe student Sofia Eirini Agrapidi at the fall student club fair. GWL is the largest student club on campus.
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Dr. Chiedo Nwankwor convenes The Political Power of Gender and Women's Empowerment of Gender in Africa Conference and interviews Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi on April 14, 2017.
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Women Who Inspire Lecture Series
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About SAIS Women Lead

SAIS Women Lead is a global women’s leadership development program that partners the school's faculty, students, alumni, and public and private organizations to raise the political and economic status of communities through the empowerment of women. By fostering scholarship and cross-cultural exchange, SAIS Women Lead raises awareness of gap areas in research and advocacy to create more inclusive, compassionate, and service-oriented societies.

Its mission is to increase and amplify women’s leadership around the world to inspire balanced, sound policy decision-making. Our interdisciplinary courses and practicum program, Global Women in Leadership (GWL) (student-led organization), and SAIS Women’s Alumni Network (SWAN) provide opportunities for students and alumni to develop their leadership skills and collaborate on action-oriented projects that advance women. The Women Who Inspire lecture series showcases dialogue with women leaders. The Women of Promise fellowship program enables women underrepresented in the field of diplomacy to study at Johns Hopkins SAIS on two-year fellowships.

These programs, courses, and networks support students, faculty and alumni to integrate the study of women’s contributions to the field of international relations and promote the understanding that women’s empowerment is central to sustainable peace, economic growth, and transformational leadership.

Recent Events and Publications

SAIS Women Lead

Students can follow a curricular path that focuses on inclusive leadership and women's contributions to international relations by enrolling in classes, the SWL Practicum course (full-year commitment), and additional cross-disciplinary courses from a comprehensive list. One of these courses, Women, Peace and Security: Moving Beyond the Myth includes a study trip to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women study trip. Other course choices may include:

  • Gender Politics in Africa
  • Gender Inequality and Development
  • Multiculturalism and the Human Rights of Women
  • Microeconomics of Development. 

SAIS Women Lead Practicum Program

The SAIS Women Lead practicum collaborates with government, corporate, and non-governmental organizations to provide students with hands-on professional experience through action-oriented research projects that advance women. A team of students works closely with a client organization to produce and present a high quality report, policy recommendation, or implementation plan for a new program.  Students in the practicum also participate in a series of leadership and professional development master classes largely curated by alumni experts.

Current practicum projects include increasing women leaders in diplomacy in the Middle East with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy; studying barriers to girls' education in Nigeria with Creative Associates International; advancing equity for women of color entrepreneurs with Ashoka Changemakers; providing best practices on how the Inter-American Development Bank can help women entrepreneurs enter the creative and cultural industries in Latin America; and passing the Equal Rights Amendment with Equal Means Equal in the United States.

Study Trips

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Study Trip
Participants in the Women, Peace, and Security: Moving Beyond the Myth course are invited to attend the annual class trip to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The study trip includes meetings with senior level UN Mission representatives, UN Women, women's NGOs participating in the CSW and members of the school’s SAIS Women's Alumni Network (SWAN) chapter in New York.

The Power of Womenomics in South Asia Study Trek
The International Political Economy and Global Theory and History Programs in collaboration with SAIS Women Lead will embark on a two-week study trip supported by the Starr Foundation. Students will travel to the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh and to Bangalore and Auroville, India during the 2018 intercession. The trip will focus on women in the tech industry and women's economic rights.


Since 2014, the SAIS Women’s Alumni Network, SWAN, has conducted 11 skills sessions for alumni and students in Washington and Bologna. Leadership classes offer participants the opportunity to develop and refine skills critical for women as leaders such as negotiation, finding your voice, and the art of storytelling. Classes are often followed by an alumni panel of discussants on the skills topic.

Marshall Millsap ’76, Managing Partner at Sprezzatura Advisors and former Managing Director at JPMorgan, teaches a Leadership class on Negotiation.

Women of Promise Fellowship Program

The evidence is clear: women’s advancement brings about a healthier, more prosperous and stable world. Placing more women in leadership also improves the success of businesses and organizations. Despite the understanding of women’s positive influence in economic, political, and social life, there is little formal training in the field of international relations that specializes in the study of how women can advance, how to measure their impact, and what this means for the trajectory of global politics. Men hold the majority of elected and appointed office worldwide, and the United States ranks 72nd in a global ranking of women’s representation in national legislatures and parliaments. Only 15% of corporate board chairs are held by women. The “gender gap” persists in other measures of equity such as wage equality and education.
To address the demand for women’s leadership, Johns Hopkins SAIS will provide fellowships and a new curricular track for the academic study, practical training, and social capital required to develop women’s leadership potential.  Our co-curricular programming offers a wealth of mentoring, networking, and skill-building so that participants gain optimal benefit from the program.

In 2018, the first cohort of “Women of Promise” fellows will arrive on campus thanks to a new partnership with Asian University for Women (AUW). In future years, the school will recruit Women of Promise from universities around the world.

Fellows in the program may concentrate in any of the school’s twenty-plus regional and functional areas of study, and also specialize in the women’s leadership track. These young leaders will serve as ambassadors from their countries of origin, and will be invited to speak about issues concerning their experiences and areas of study.

For more information about how to support our Women of Promise Fellows, click here.

Women Who Inspire Lecture Series

In 2015, SAIS Women Lead launched its flagship Women Who Inspire lectures, a series of conversations using the power of example to motivate students to become pioneers in their chosen occupations. Bringing two to three exceptional high-profile women each year to explore different facets of leadership, the program features conversations with trailblazing women from a variety of career and life paths. The series was started and is moderated by Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli herself an inspirational leader and appointed as the first Ambassador for women's empowerment by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among many other accomplished posts throughout her career in government.

To support the Women Who Inspire Lecture Series, click here.

Past Events:


Recent Events:

A Conversation with Helene Cooper, Pentagon Correspondent with the New York Times
Dean Vali Nasr hosted the Women Who Inspire lecture series with Helene Cooper, Pentagon Correspondent with the New York Times and Author of Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson SirleafMadame Presidentis a riveting biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, the world's first elected black female president and Africa's first elected female head of state. This event was moderated by Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Senior Fellow, Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute. Watch it here.

New York: 2nd Annual SAIS Women's Alumni Network (SWAN) Documentary Film Forum: Afghanistan and 'What Tomorrow Brings'
The SAIS Women's Alumni Network (SWAN) hosted a special evening focused on one complex country, Afghanistan, from two distinct perspectives. Sarah Sewall, Speyer Family Foundation Distinguished Scholar at the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, provided expert insights. Read more.

A Discussion on Social Enterprise in Ghana with Bernice Dapaah, Founder and CEO, Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative
Entrepreneur Bernice Dapaah and leaders of the Africa Bicycle Contribution Foundation were hosted by SAIS Women Lead for a discussion on social enterprise and community development in Ghana. Read more.

Abenomics and Womenomics: A Conversation on Macroeconomic and Structural Reform in Japan with Kathy Matsui, Vice Chair, Goldman Sachs Japan
Kathy Matsui is vice chair of Goldman Sachs Japan, co-head of Macro Research in Asia and a chief Japan equity strategist. She is a member of the Asia Pacific Management Committee and Goldman Sachs Japan Co., Ltd. Executive Committee. Matsui joined Goldman Sachs in 1994 and was named managing director in 1998, and partner in 2000. Matsui has been ranked No. 1 in Japan Equity Strategy by Institutional Investor multiple times. She was chosen by The Wall Street Journal as one of the “10 Women to Watch in Asia” for her work in “Womenomics” and was also named to Bloomberg Markets magazine’s “50 Most Influential” list in 2014.

A Conversation on Gender, Development, and Public Service
The World Bank Law, Justice and Development Week 2017 focused on the overarching theme Gender, Law and Development by highlighting the role of law and justice as enabler for a full and equal participation of women and men to development objectives. Distinguished guests added a public service perspective explaining how in their own careers gender has played an important role in re-imagining how national or international laws and institutions could be transformed to enhance equality and women’s opportunities by engaging markets and societies at large.

What's Next? Ensuring Implementation of the New US Women, Peace, and Security Act
A conversation by the United Nations Foundation examining how the US Government, UN agencies, international NGOs, local women’s groups, and others can work together to finally break through persistent barriers and ensure that girls and women are at the forefront of bringing stability, security, and peace to their countries.

Get Involved

We want to hear from you! SAIS Women Lead is dedicated to realizing the collective advantages of women’s political, social, and economic leadership. Collaboration is innately part of our approach, and we invite your investment, participation, and thought leadership. There are a many ways you can be involved, including:

Give to SAIS Women Lead
To support annual operations, name a Women of Promise Fellowship, or create an endowment, visit or contact Kenna Barrett, Director of Development. Be sure to note that your tax deductible gift is in support of the SAIS Women Lead.

Name an Academic Practicum
The SAIS Women Lead practicum program collaborates with premier partners in government, corporate, and non-governmental organizations to provide students with professional experience through hands-on applied learning research projects.

To learn how you can support research that matters through this exclusive naming opportunity, contact Kenna Barrett, Director of Development.

Become a Practicum Partner
Does your organization require research in a field that advances women? Join our vibrant network of practicum organizational partners. To learn how you can partner with a team of students to research and address a topic of interest at your organization contact Professor Kent Davis-Packard.

Support students working to advance women’s leadership
Engage with the Largest Student Organization at Johns Hopkins SAIS: Global Women in Leadership (GWL) and support the annual Global Women in Leadership Conference. To learn more about the conference and naming opportunities, contact Swetha Ramachandran ’18, GWL President.

Mentor a SAIS Woman of Promise
Tomorrow’s leaders will be from every corner of the world. They will be globally-minded. And they will be ready to transform the world. Join their journey and contact Julie Micek, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs to learn how you can mentor a student.

Join the SAIS Women Lead Mailing List
Receive our newsletter and invitations to program happenings and events. Click here to join our list serve.

Subscribe to the school's mailing list:

Take Action with the SAIS Women’s Alumni Network (SWAN)
Join an active community of alumni and make an impact in women's leadership and professional development. Sign up to be on the SWAN Speaker Bureau as a panelist, moderator or facilitator for an event or for the SWAN Documentary Film Forum. Take initiative and facilitate a professional skills workshop, speak on a career panel in your city, or get involved with SWAN Action. Connect with alumni on social media or subscribe to our global newsletter for upcoming events. To learn more, visit us at or email Emily Howells Matson (B’07,’08), Chair, Global SAIS Women’s Alumni Network.  

Become a Skills Course Instructor
Johns Hopkins SAIS welcomes senior alumnae to donate their talents as instructors for skills workshops and courses. For more information, contact Marshall Millsap at

Thank you to our SAIS Women Lead Supporters

Through SAIS Women Lead, the leaders of tomorrow will receive a world-class education together with specific training and mentoring preparing them to remove barriers to women’s advancement. The program has come to fruition thanks to the partnership of individuals and organizations who have made founding investments of $25,000 or more in the initial stages of development. We are grateful to the founders named below, as well as to the many sponsors of the Global Women in Leadership Conference.

Founders Circle of Johns Hopkins SAIS Women Lead:

  • Henna Babar Ali
  • Marshall H. Millsap
  • Peter and Sarah O’Hagan
  • Kathleen M. Pike
  • Edith Quintrell
  • Starr Foundation “Understanding Asia” Endowment

Additional supporters:

  • Veronica Baruffati
  • Elizabeth A. Corwin
  • Leanne D. Galati
  • Gabriela Gold
  • Terri L. McBride
  • Elizabeth Madigan Jost
  • Maureen H. Norton
  • Sara S. O’Rourke
  • Alison von Klemperer

Contact Us

Kent Davis-Packard
SAIS Women Lead Coordinator and Practicum Director
Visiting Research Associate
Adjunct Lecturer of Global Theory and History
BOB 603

Kenna Barrett
Director of Development

Address & Email

SAIS Women Lead
Bernstein Office Building, Room 603
1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036
  1. Reimaging Workplace Productivity through a Gendered Lens
  2. Should We Advocate for Women's Equal Participation in Armed Forces?
  3. The Power of Art in Changing Consciousness
  4. I Am Enough
  5. Learning to Define “Feminist”
  6. Is There Room for Dissent in the Women’s Movement Today?

Reimaging Workplace Productivity through a Gendered Lens

Amanda Lawrence
April 5, 2017
Amanda Lawrence (MA ‘17) is an alumna who was part of the one-year, MIEF program focused on International Economics and Finance.

On Wednesday, March 8, 2017, the Global Network for Advanced Management hosted a webinar to discuss its “Women in the Global Workplace” survey of business school students and alumni. As a data-driven thinker in the Masters in International Economics and Finance program, I was looking forward to hearing what statistics they uncovered about the factors affecting female business leaders. Their results showed that, while there was little explicit bias toward gender, respondents were 36 percent more likely to promote an employee who could be “available to work at any time, including nights and weekends” (3).  This understanding of productivity in terms of hours worked is detrimental to women, who, according to the survey, have more real and perceived childcare and household responsibilities. The authors state that these social expectations pull women away from spending additional hours at work that may otherwise help them be promoted (5-6).

When respondents were given information regarding the productivity of workers other than hours worked, however, the preference for availability was no longer a major contributor to the decision to promote. Rather, the individual’s productivity level (high, medium, or low) was the primary consideration. The authors suggest rewarding productivity, rather than hours in the office, as a means of empowering women and closing the gender gap in the workplace.

There is a contradiction in this thinking, given working hours are often used as a proxy for productivity. Economics, a foundation of the school's curriculum, teaches that inputting capital and labor produces output in the form of GDP or profits. In short-run microeconomics, capital is fixed and any changes in production are the result of changes in labor—either increasing the number of employees or increasing the hours they work. It is an inherent assumption that more hours in the workplace will result in higher output.

The course Transcending Culture: Women as Agents of Change in the International Order has taught me to challenge the one-dimensional view of productivity as established by the patriarchy and employed through traditional economic analysis. By thinking through a gendered lens, it is obvious that this measure of productivity disproportionately alienates women. As discussed in course lectures and readings, feminist economists have called for “the unpaid work and production in households to be assessed, counted and included in gross national product” since the 1920s (Pietila 181-182).

As an economist, I would have accepted the notion that an alternate measure of productivity, say output rather than hours, would be a good step toward evening the playing field for men and women, as described in the survey results. The added perspective of this course, however, has expanded my ability to analyze and understand the multifaceted ways in which productivity measures devalue women’s contributions.  At its root, “gender disparities in earnings reflect the gender-segregated nature of occupational structure” in that men and women are relegated to different tasks, activities, and sectors which, in and of themselves, are characterized by different levels of productivity (Kabeer 210).

Fully measuring women’s contributions to the workforce requires more than acknowledging that hours in the office are not the best determinant of productivity. It would even require more than ensuring men and women at the same job are given equitable tasks. Instead, a radical cultural shift is needed in order to “transform the underlying structural constraints” that limit gender equality in the workplace (216). Not least of which, this change would imply restructuring the value system by which we assess skills. Skills themselves are socially defined based on their relation to white male productivity (Armstrong 267). While “hard skills” are valued and measurable in the workplace, feminine “soft skills” are often undervalued and invisible (266-267). Again, this also calls for a recognition of the worth of unpaid labor women provide outside of the office and the benefit it brings to workplace productivity, rather than a cost.

It is because of this course I am able to pull apart and more fully analyze the assumptions I have relied on in economics. My critical thinking skills have grown as a result and I am able to better analyze and understand the global economic system.
Armstrong, Patricia, (2013) “Puzzling Skills: Feminist Political Economy Approaches,” Canadian Review of Sociology, Vol. 50, No. 3: 256-83.
Global Network for Advanced Management, “Women in the Global Workforce,”
Kabeer, Naila, “Gender equality and economic growth: A win-win policy agenda,” in Women and Girls Rising, ch 16.
Pietila, Hilkka, “Women as Agents for Development: Learning from the Experiences of Women in Finland?” in Global Feminism, 2006, ch 7.

Should We Advocate for Women's Equal Participation in Armed Forces?

Cassidy Lyon
April 26, 2017
Cassidy Lyon (MA ‘19), is concentrating in Middle East Studies and Specializing in International Finance. Pictured here in Morocco where she worked at a technology start-up before matriculating to Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Women, peace, and security is certainly not a new topic for the many of us who have been studying conflict, international relations, and gender. Repeatedly, we hear the critical role that women play in the reconstruction of their communities, yet they are often excluded from the formal peace process. Although it is easy enough to recognize the value of including women in these processes and therefore advocating and educating individuals for this purpose, I want to pose a more sensitive question.

In the subject of women, peace, and security, we typically exclude the full meaning of security as entrenched stereotypes suggest that women are only advocates of peace and peaceful security measures. However, Sanam Anderlini in her book Women Building Peace, What They Do and Why It Matters points out that many women take up combatant roles and therefore need to be explicitly included in the Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) process. I want to go even further though. If we advocate for women’s equal participation in the formal peacemaking process due to the merit of diversity in thought and experiences, should we also be advocating for women’s equal participation in armed forces, especially higher-ranking positions? If we truly believe that women’s separate set of experiences contribute to a longer-lasting and more effective peace process, would it also lead to “safer” wars that attain peace more quickly?

In every country during every century, men have disproportionately or exclusively made military decisions based on a male lens with a male set of experiences. The worst atrocities have been created by men. I am not assuming that if women had exclusively been in control of militaries, the atrocities would have been lesser. However, I do wonder if there were more balanced and diversified experiences, would armed forces consider the consequences to a greater degree? If women are typically the ones who pick up the pieces in their communities after conflict, perhaps their leadership in military actions would more carefully consider how many pieces they wanted to leave behind and for what gain.

Of course, this theory hosts an abundance of logistical issues. How would we advocate and implement policy that encourages women to not only join the armed forces, but climb the ladder to decision-making roles? This type of policy would prove sensitive and controversial in countries like the United States, nevertheless countries that have a stronger patriarchal culture. In the US we advocate for women’s military inclusion for the most part, but women’s equal participation isn’t even a consideration. However, if we want to truly address women, peace, and security, it seems that we should advocate for women’s inclusion at all levels. We don’t want to advocate and support war and manslaughter, but these are realities and perhaps they could be less harsh realities if the other half of the population was included in the decision-making. We have ignored this question just as we ignore the reality of women as combatants who also need DDRR initiatives, but our stereotypes and perceptions shouldn’t cloud this possibility as well. If there must be war, we want the most capable and reasonable people making these decisions, which would undoubtedly include women.

There are other positives to be gained from women’s equal participation in armed forces. Anderlini points out that former female combatants brought employable skills back to their communities. These skills brought economic development and more gender parity to the struggling communities. The combatant role shrugged off many stereotypes and established women as capable, intelligent, and productive members of society. Their service demanded respect from both the men and women around them.

While the notion of equal participation of women in the armed forces does not seem like a reality for any country, I think we should acknowledge how this dynamic could create a safer and more peaceful world and in what ways we could work towards a more balanced armed forces. Women have been excluded from this topic for too long—even in women, peace, and security studies.

The Power of Art in Changing Consciousness

Sara Golden
May 3, 2017
Sara Golden (MA ‘17) is an alumna who concentrated in International Law and Organizations. She was the Events Chair for the student-led group, Global Women in Leadership (GWL) and founder of the SAIS Europe-based Feminist Talking Circle.
A photo collage created by Golden, who was inspired by the connections between art, gender equality and shifting consciousness.

One of the most transformative sessions of the new Transcending Culture: Women as Agents of Change in the International Order course was the first class in which we discussed the analogy of women or the “feminine” as culture, irrational, and emotion and on the other hand men and the “masculine” as politics, rational, and logical. This class also explored different interpretations of the origins of patriarchy – including from an anthropological and biological perspective. This session changed how I think about women and how I think about being a woman myself. It was my first time learning about the origins of patriarchy. It was also the first time I learned about and internalized the concept of woman as culture – and therefore lying outside of international law and universal human rights norms - and man as politics, and therefore determining who is entitled to what protections. If women are enclosed and remain under the jurisdiction of cultural norms, I wondered, then why should women, the keepers of culture, be relegated to a secondary status? If culture is so important, shouldn’t women be lifted up and praised as the culture leaders and be able to benefit from universal human rights? We have tried to answer these questions in class.

Another session that profoundly transformed me in this class was our session on “writing the feminine and the transformative power of art.” The professor asked us to bring in works of art that had transformed our lives and I read aloud a poem by Maya Angelou, Still I Rise. While reading to my classmates I started crying. At first I was upset that I cried because there is no room for white tears when discussing Black liberation and when lifting up the voices of women of color. But then our guest, sculptor and professor Patrick Beldio, shared his story and artwork, and talked about the power of art for changing consciousness. After meditating on this, I realized that I wasn’t crying because of white guilt, I was crying because of the transcending, transformative power of Angelou’s poem that caused me to empathize with her. Her description of her ancestral roots, history of slavery and abuse coupled with her light-hearted, profound depiction of her own empowerment, including her awareness of her own power and strength is deeply, powerfully gripping. This class and experience helped me re-learn that art, the written word, imagery and beauty can bring about social justice and gender equality through changing consciousness.

In my undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, I wanted to specialize in gender and political economy, which I thought would be acceptable at a place like Cal. However, whether it was because my proposal was lacking substance or the course offerings did not support my vision, I was denied. Then it came time for me to choose graduate schools. I had the option to take the road more traveled for folks with my background and goals, the International Gender Policy Program at George Washington University, or to try Johns Hopkins SAIS, with its previously neo-conservative reputation that had few courses or organizations related to gender or women.

This course changed not only my perception of women and the global women’s movement and my role in it, but also my view of the school. It has been a transformative learning experience to meet women from such diverse backgrounds in our class, and to get to know the professor and witness this course plant the seeds of culture change at the school. Watching my peers and myself learn, grow, and blossom has been inspiring and pushes me to continue to do this work.

I’m profoundly grateful to my classmates for sharing strengths as leaders and intellectuals, and for sharing their vulnerabilities as real, down-to-earth human beings. I always say that I am a product of my surroundings, and my classmates and professor and guest lecturers have shaped me. They have reaffirmed my dedication to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and reminded me of why I came to pursue a master’s degree in the first place: to advance women’s economic empowerment globally, as I said in my graduate school application essays. Now, as I get ready to leave Johns Hopkins SAIS and enter the real world, I am more ready than ever to continue working towards gender equality. 

I Am Enough

Ileana Valle
April 12, 2017
Ileana Valle (MA ‘17) is an alumna who concentrated in Latin American Studies. She currently works with Creative Associates International on a Crime and Prevention Project focused on Central America.


"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." —Audre Lorde

I have identified as a feminist for quite some time now, but my journey continues to evolve, especially in the knowledge I acquire. This in turn allows me obtain a different lens with which I see the world. I gleaned this perspective from our very engaged discussions of the origins of patriarchy and Sharia law, to learning about the fantastic work so many women are doing to help achieve equality within our patriarchal society. One true honor was the visit to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. I knew the UN played a pivotal role in gender issues, but to physically see it with my own two eyes served as additional motivation to grow as a person and keep working fearlessly for women.

Growing up, I was taught to feel inferior to men and to accept the role I was born to do. I believe there was even a time when my mother told me “women are brought to this world to suffer.” The misogyny that dominated my family dynamic was a reality I never quite learned to accept. “Machismo” comes in various shapes and sizes in Latin America, but in Central America, where my family is from, it was the main reason why I was later deemed unworthy of higher education, which led me to begin my independent journey at 18-years-old. Thus, this class has taught me to understand a bit better why I never quite fit in with my conservative Salvadoran family. It has been disheartening to realize to what extent patriarchy has been entrenched in our everyday lives; and my rejection to it has been the determination to follow my dreams irrespective of gender. It is through education and classes like this that have made my journey worthwhile.

One main takeaway from this class is the origins of patriarchy and the idea of gender being a social construct, coupled with how religion plays a dominant role in the spread of these patriarchal ideologies. This has certainly allowed me to look at the world and the gender issue from an academic perspective. I now understand that working towards changing ideology and behavior is one of the biggest challenges we face as feminists. Changing behavior is incredibly hard, but history has taught us that societies can change, so we must persist. The second important takeaway is how gender issues transcend cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines, which makes intersectionality and unity critical to gain traction. Women do suffer because of the injustices and inequality that still plague our world-- and due to limited options, many women will continue to suffer. Yet, there are plenty of women fighting the good fight and being a strong voice for the voiceless. I saw that at the CSW61; I see that in our classroom; and above all, I see that within me. 

In just one semester, I’ve evolved as a feminist—both academically and personally. This course has given me additional tools that I’ll need to further the women’s agenda in my professional career and to accept my past and continue looking forward to my future. It has been a true privilege to be a part of this class this semester, surrounded by intelligent and amazing women. Above all, it’s reiterated that I am ENOUGH.

Learning to Define “Feminist”

Amanda Sztein
April 19, 2017
Amanda Sztein (MA ‘18) is a second-year student concentrating in Latin American Studies with a specialization in finance and emerging markets.
A picture taken by Sztein during the Women’s March in January 21, 2017.

On the first day of the Transcending Culture: Women as Agents of Change in the International Order class, we were asked to raise our hands if we identified as feminists. There was some trepidation in the room as we considered our responses. I certainly was not sure if I qualified as a feminist. I had attended the Women’s March on Washington, but I hadn’t worn the pink hat. I wore red on International Women’s Day, but as an intern and a student I didn’t have the luxury of participating in the “Day without a Woman” strike. Had I done enough to earn the right to be a card-carrying feminist? Did I even want the description, given the negative connotations and prominent public backlash?

For something so clearly explained in the dictionary, it is curious that feminism has become such a loaded term. The denotation of “feminism” is simple and elegant as defined by Merriam-Webster: “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” It is a combination of those who do not know this definition and those who think it goes far beyond that has created the chaos and self-introspection required to identify as a feminist believing in economic, social and political equality of the sexes.

Another layer of confusion is disagreement over the fact that feminism need not be inherently exclusionary. You can bring a feminist perspective to any field, as evidenced by my peers’ policy brief presentations on incorporating gender budgeting for the US government, broadening NGO participation in Myanmar, and expanding childcare in US higher education institutions. At the Commission on the Status of Women 61 (CSW61) at the UN Headquarters in New York City, I heard from dozens of women and men working on issues with a feminist lens from their unique sectoral, regional and personal perspectives. Throughout the course, we read famous texts from a varied group of feminists and experts on international relations, peace, and security; talked with practitioners promoting equality; and most importantly, engaged in a conversation with ourselves about how we incorporate the ideals of feminism into our identities, everyday activities, and long-term goals.

Using “feminist” as an exclusionary term, or a description that requires certain views or actions beyond a belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, only serves to weaken the movement and halt any ongoing momentum. There is room for a wide variety of perspectives within feminism, and encouraging this diversity of opinion and dialogue is infinitely more useful than infighting and exclusion. Describing yourself as a feminist should not come with presumptions about views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, abortion or immigration. Of course, a feminist lens can be applied to these situations in a multitude of ways to great effect. A movement working towards the equality of the sexes should also promote dialogue and inclusion of opinions within the feminist umbrella.

As we slowly raised our hands on that first day of class, we considered whether we were feminists as economists, as international relations students, as women, as individuals. Now, when asked if I am a feminist, I answer “yes” far more quickly than three months ago when the course began. And I define “feminist” for myself: an inclusive movement that enriches my opinions, my studies, and my aspirations.

Is There Room for Dissent in the Women’s Movement Today?

Sydney Hulebak
March 29, 2017
Sydney Hulebak (MA ‘18) is a second-year student concentrating in Latin American Studies with a specialization in security challenges and foreign policy. Pictured here at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, a trip taken with Dr. Davis-Packard’s “Transcending Culture: Women as Agents of Change in the International Order” spring course.

I recently read an article from the March 31, 2017 issue of The New York Times entitled “No Room for Dissent in the Women’s Movement Today” by Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who represents Republican candidates and conservative groups. Her main argument could best be summed up in one sentence: “The women’s movement has ebbed because it succeeded.”

However, Ms. Mitchell overlooks one critical element in that statement- not all women are so privileged. The women’s movement today strives to be a proponent of intersectionality. “Intersectional feminism” is much more than the latest feminist buzzword. Rather, it is a decades-old term many feminists use to explain how the feminist movement can be more diverse and inclusive. If feminism is advocating for women’s rights and the equality of the sexes, then intersectional feminism is the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities- including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation- impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.

In order for all women to rise, this key element must be intertwined within the women’s movement. This is especially true because non-white women have even greater barriers to overcome in the fight towards parity. We are often reminded that women earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn, but what sometimes gets lost in translation is that the gap is much worse for Latinas, black women and other women of color. According to a National Women’s Law Center report, women overall lose out on more than $400,000 over the course of their careers, but most women of color are shorted more than double that. When compared to the earnings of white men, that wage loss figure rises to $883,040 for Native American women, $877,480 for black women and $1,007,080 for Latinas. The wage gap, however important, represents merely one issue in which minority women are disenfranchised. There are many others.

Therefore, not only is there room for dissent in the women’s movement, but it should be encouraged. Women that face these additional barriers due to other salient pieces of their identity have every right to continue to raise those concerns with the full support of the feminist community behind them.

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