Honors Students, Faculty Attend First Woman Summit Conference By Mary Kathryn Whitaker

Students and faculty from the UCA Honors College attended the First Annual World Woman Summit, hosted by the World Woman Foundation, on Saturday, Sept. 30, in Little Rock. The World Woman Foundation, led by CEO Rupa Dash, hosted a variety of professional men and women to speak on the topic of “gender harmony.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was invited to make opening remarks at the conference. Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock Vice Mayor Kathy Webb, and Lynnette Watts were also invited to make opening remarks. All four spoke on economic and social developments for women, including the increasing percentage of women holding executive positions in companies. Hewlett-Packard, General Motors, Facebook and Pepsi all have women CEOs. “Intelligent, talent and strength are genderless words,” Watts said.

Anna María Chavez, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, was the first keynote speaker at the conference. The first woman of color to hold the highest position, Chavez joined the Girl Scouts of the USA for their advocacy for the protection and empowerment of girls.

“It is our collective responsibility as leaders to invest in girls and women and to model ethics, values and behaviors for young children,” Chavez said. “If we don’t change the dialogue, we will see a gap in leadership representing gender parity.”
Economic development was one of the main topics discussed at the conference. Of the world population, the panel shared, only 55 percent of women participate in the workforce, compared with 77% of men. Women have been found more likely to participate in informal economies, likely without social protections such as healthcare.

An increasing number of girls are displaying interest in technology and science fields. Seventy-six percent of high school girls expressed an interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields (STEM); however, pursuing an education in STEM was ranked lower than the desire to stay at home and raise children.

Arkansas is the first state in the United States to require high schools to offer computer science courses, a decision that may influence the percentage of girls studying these topics in years to come. The biggest factor in girls deciding not to study science or technology, Chavez said, was a trusted, male figure telling them otherwise.

These historical gender stereotypes have carried over into the workforce. When it comes to applying for positions, women have a different mindset than men, Ceylan Rowe said. More men apply for job positions where they have a marginal opportunity for being hired; whereas, women oftimes apply only if they know they are 100 percent qualified. One way to combat this discrepancy, Rowe said, is by encouraging the use of gender neutral descriptors for corporate positions. Women may be discouraged from apply to positions with masculine descriptors, because they see themselves as not being qualified for the position, or feel they may not be welcome in the organization.

Empowering women allows for a more efficient use of the human capital of a country, said Shruti Kapoor, founder of Sayfty, an organization dedicated to educating women and girls in India about gender violence. A 10 percent increase in the number of girls attending schools would increase the GDP of a country by three percent, Kapoor said. Hilary Haddigan, Chief of Mission Effectiveness at Heifer International, said 77 percent of their food providers are women. However, only 43 percent of farmers worldwide are women. If women were given equal participation in the worldwide economy, Haddigan said, there could be a $23 trillion increase to the global GDP.

“The best way to establish change is to educate,” said Samantha Marqaurd, a global health policy expert. Marqaurd has worked closely with the city of St. Louis to establish health care strategies, including a push for school-based health care. “You can’t learn if you don’t go to school, and you can’t go to school if you are always sick.”

The World Woman Foundation ultimately aims to educate and advocate for the gender equality. In order to reach equality, however, we must focus on equity, which recognizes that not all groups require the same efforts and materials to be considered equal. In developing countries, women may face pushback in the forms of barriers in land ownership, information and technology. Just recently, Saudi Arabia announced that, beginning in June 2018, women will gain the right to drive.

“We can compare the human race is a bird with two wings,” Kapoor said. “If one of those wings is broken, no one can fly.”