On Thursday November 20th, 2014, I attended the Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations World Leaders Forum. I was energized and inspired by keynote speaker, Leymah Gbowee who is a Liberian Peace Activist and the 2011 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is eighth in a prestigious line of speakers at the World Leaders Forum over the last 10 years, but what is most striking, is that she is the first woman. Past World Leaders Forum (WLF) guests include UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, former President of Poland Lech Walesa, former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Tony Blair and current Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. These are all impressive names in the world of Foreign Policy and their visits to campus, have certainly helped to raise the profile of the Diplomacy School at Seton Hall. However, even during my time as a graduate student at the school, I was struck by the absence of female leaders in this line up. The previous guests were amazing figures with global recognition, but as a young woman, they were not leaders I could aspire to become.
As a woman who hopes to make an impact in the international community, I have learned that women don’t always get to leadership roles the way the men do. It’s important to hear from female role models who have been trailblazers on their way to the top. During my time as the President of the Diplomacy School’s graduate student organization and more recently in my current role as the President of the Diplomacy School’s Alumni Association, I continued to express my concerns about the all male WLF choices to the deans of the school. I believe my voice, along with many others helped bring the first female WLF speaker to campus. I am also hopeful that she will not be the last. In fact, when Ms. Gbowee found out she was the first woman to speak at the WLF, her response was that she would be happy to leave a list of 10 names, “just in case the school is having a hard time finding women to come do this work.”
I was proud when I learned that Leymah Gbowee was selected to speak this year. However, I was even more impressed once she took the stage. She is an incredibly engaging speaker and her message around the importance of local action driving global response was something that resonates well for the servant leaders at the Diplomacy School. Her courage and tenacity mobilized communities of women in Liberia and drove a message of hope and peace that rippled throughout the international community. Working with Leadarise New York, we try to emulate Leymah’s message by growing a community of women locally, so that we can drive an impact globally. As Leymah said, “Things that you don’t fight for, you always take for granted.” As we weather the ups and downs of building a community and fighting for change, it’s important to remember that the fight is worth it. It is also important to have role models like Gbowee remind the world, “Girls too can be leaders.” See here for a full video of Leymah Gbowee’s talk at Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Article by Emily Pease McKenzie, NYC