Women’s Learning Partnership Conference

Iran Dokht / By Pari Esfandiari

Pari Esfandiari Interviews Gissou Azarnia
On “Clash or Consensus?- Gender and Human Security in a Globalized World,” a conference held at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University in Washington D.C. and sponsored by the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace.

Pari: Ms. Azarnia, can you start off by explaining what the conference’s main concerns were?

Gissou: The conference focused on the importance of human security in an increasingly globalized world and its relation to gender. Many different issues were touched on over the two days of the conference, including the role of NPO’s in helping to increase women’s security in developing regions of the world, the various projects currently being conducted to increase women’s education and access to technology in respective nations, and the need to increase women’s participatory leadership in conflict-plagued regions.

Pari: For those unable to attend the conference, could you give a brief summary of the discussion concerning the role of national and transnational organizations in ensuring human security, specifically concerning the UN, World Bank, and IMF?

Gissou: There was discussion among the panelists – many of whom belonged to such national and transnational organizations themselves – of how to best mobilize the resources available to these groups to achieve the larger goals of improving women’s civic and political participation. The panelists generally agreed on the integral role that such organizations play, but they also recognized the adverse effects of dependency on organizations such as the World Bank and IMF in achieving these regional goals.

Pari: Who attended the conference?

Gissou: Most of the people in attendance were women, with the exception of some brave men [laughs]. These brave men referred to themselves as “male feminists.” In my opinion, the women and men who were in attendance were definitely to be admired. Many belonged to various non-profit organizations and non-governmental organizations. Because the conference was held at Johns Hopkins University, some of the university’s professors and students were there as well.

Pari: Who were the speakers?

Gissou: The speakers were from various countries all around the globe and many were leaders of various human rights and women’s rights groups. The speakers were divided into six different panels and were led by various panel chairs – the main one being Mahnaz Afkhami, the president and founder of the Women’s Learning Partnership.

Pari: What was the mood like at the conference?

Gissou: The atmosphere at the conference was very warm and supportive, with all in attendance engaging in and encouraging constructive debate on the issues. There were around 200 to 300 people at the conference, and in between panels, many of those in attendance would gather in their own little groups to discuss and debate the issues among themselves. The side conversations proved to be most interesting and worthy of a listen!

Pari: What were some of the key issues addressed by the panelists?

Gissou: There was a lot of debate among the panelists concerning the need for concerted action on these issues, not just further debate. A point made by many of the panelists is that while discussion, like that which took place at the conference, is constructive – there needs to be more initiative for action in order for any of this to make a real difference. Another major issue that was mentioned, quite frequently, was the divide between the worlds of grass-roots and academia and the various ways to bridge that gap.

Pari: What do you think the conference achieved in terms of its objectives?

Gissou: I think that the conference managed to successfully foster a dialogue on the issues that were addressed by the different panels. In regards to the overarching issue of human security, I feel that a lot of key points were discussed that will further the progress made in coming up with and implementing solutions.

Pari: Did attending the conference, change or affect in any way, your views [on the women’s movement] at the start of the conference?

Gissou: By the end of this conference, I realized that, I too, can in my own small way help to make a positive difference on the issue of women’s rights. The conference also called to my attention many issues that I had not previously been aware of and that demand more attention, from myself and the world, than they are presently receiving.

The conference also helped me to realize that if women all around the world band together and work on these issues in harmony, much can be accomplished.

Pari: Specifically, what do you feel was accomplished at the conference that serves to further the goals set forth by it?

Gissou: One of the most important results of this conference was the contacts that were made among the women in attendance. The conference provided a forum for these women to meet and share ideas in the hope of collaborating on future projects. During the breaks, I often found women exchanging business cards back and forth and discussing future events that either they, themselves, were sponsoring or that others were heading. This conference was designed to facilitate the flow of ideas and discussion among like-inded women – and I think that this conference accomplished that beautifully.

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