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AUW's Women in Public Service Summer Institute

Chittagong, Bangladesh, August 17, 2012: The Asian University for Women hosted the Women in Public Service Project's (WPSP) Summer Leadership Institute in collaboration with the U.S. State Department and the Seven Sisters women's colleges. The inaugural ceremony was held on August 1, with distinguished guests including Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, Bangladesh's Honorable State Minister of Women and Children's Affairs. Speakers at the ceremony included Fahima Aziz, AUW's Vice Chancellor, and Ryan Bradeen, Cultural Affairs Officer for Education and Exchanges at the American Center. Leading the institute is Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director of the WPSP's inaugural institute at Wellesley College and head of the Global Women's Leadership Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

From the beginning, Dr. De Silva has made the Institute a participatory and hands-on experience for the students. During the first session, focused on the power of storytelling, five student leaders presented narratives of their journeys to AUW. Fellow student Ankhi Banik noted thatthe speakers "sounded determined and passionate to bring changes to their society." After their presentations, Dr. De Silva "highlighted the[ir] strengths and brought to the surface what was most moving and powerful," helping them to cultivate the skills of public speaking and crafting effective narratives.

Later that day, the students broke into groups to role-play scenarios that brought out current policy issues, including women on the Afghan Supreme Court, job discrimination, the gender gap in education, and sexual harassment. Students were encouraged not only to inhabit the roles that they were given and to learn about the issues, but to propose and discuss policy solutions. Dr. De Silva emphasized strategies for advocacy and the importance of networking throughout the workshops--topics that have struck a chord with AUW students. One student leader said in her presentation, "The women with me now will make change[s] in the future and support me, and I will have that same responsibility for anyone who comes after me." Another remarked, "Only when I came to AUW did I get a senses of community--that I belonged to a community of women who thought like me and shared my ambitions...I want to give all women the opportunities I have been given."

The Summer Institute has also engaged representatives from the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers Association (BNWLA), for a two-day session on combating violence against women within a human rights framework. For the first day,Tawhida Khondke, BNWLA's Director, Jamila Akhter, Project Coordinator, and Mitali Jahan, Program Manager led a program about lawmaking on human trafficking in Asia.

Students broke into groups and were charged with tasks such as "creat[ing] an outreach campaign on honor crimes" or "discuss[ing] ways in which anti-violence against women can be integrated into the curriculum in schools." In this way, the students are not only absorbing new information but using their own critical reasoning skills to develop effective solutions to the most pressing issues facing the region. The second day of the collaboration with BNWLA included a field trip to visit the organization's offices in Chittagong and learn firsthand about the services that they provide to women and children in the community.

The Institute ended on August 15. Dr. De Silva and the students explored traditional gender roles, the impact of mentoring, women's leadership as smart economics, and female social entrepreneurship.

Article on AUW website