Political, cultural, and business leaders from around the world visited Heathwood on May 3 as part of a program on Women in Politics and Civil Society sponsored by the U.S. State Department and coordinated locally by the Columbia World Affairs Council and the City of Columbia.
Female leaders from Chile, Ecuardor, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Turkey spoke to female students in Heathwood's government and multicultural studies classes about their professional journeys, their political goals, and their perspectives as women who are trying to bring about change in everything from healthcare to education to political participation rates in their countries.
Personal experiences motivated many of the women to become more professionally ambitious and more socially engaged. Lilian Mabula, the Tanzanian president of a software company, said that watching women walk 60 kilometers to the nearest clinic where they could give birth inspired her to accelerate her business career so that she would have more authority to effect change, while Ecuadorian politician Nathaly Toledo Hidalgo spoke of quitting her career in broadcast journalism so that she could more effectively combat the injustices she'd been reporting on.
The panelists also talked about their experiences overcoming and pushing back against various kinds of discrimination. Nepali politician Ranju Tolange had to battle pervasive caste discrimination to achieve a prominent place in society. Turkish professor and activist Sanem Ozturk pointed out that while every culture has different norms, women face common challenges all over the world. If people try to tell you that you can't fight certain kinds of discrimination because "that's just our culture," she advised, you have to remember that "culture is never written in stone," and that even when change may seem to come slowly, it can be achieved.
Summing up both the life experiences of the panelists and the advice they had for Heathwood students, Chilean university professor Sofia Schuster Ubilla said, "Pick one thing that really matters to you and do something about it." To which Ms. Mabula added, "And you will be surprised how many people will support you."