Advocating for gender equity across the globe
Peace Corps held its final Thought Leaders Forum event for the 2022-23 school year.
At a March 22 forum co-hosted by Bennett College on gender equity, diversity, and service on the university’s Greensboro, North Carolina campus, the two institutions’ top leaders, returned Volunteers, and Peace Corps staff from around the world shared their thoughts on the intersection of these powerful themes.
The event started off with a fireside chat between Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn and Bennett College President Suzanne Walsh. The onstage conversation focused on how university students can prepare to become global leaders and advocates for gender equity. Director Spahn spoke about providing equal skills and opportunities to reach our full international development potential, while the college president discussed how Bennett Belles are global citizens who continue the legacy of breaking down gender equity barriers.
Director Spahn pointed out the transformative experience of Peace Corps, as Volunteers work and live side-by-side with the community they are serving, leading one to drop previously held assumptions as “you connect at this human level and you're able to listen. You become a part of this global network, not only returning Volunteers, but of host families, community members, students, people working at the grassroots level for changemakers.”
The fireside chat was followed by a panel of returned Volunteers who are also subject matter experts on gender equity. Participants included Latanya Mapp-Frett, president and CEO of Global Fund for Women; Jaynice Del Rosario, program officer at Girls First Fund; and Besem Obenson, representative at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Latanya Mapp-Frett spoke about jointly volunteering for the Peace Corps and UNICEF in Lesotho, where she assisted the government in upholding conventions on women and children’s rights. “I did a gender analysis; the program really was an opportunity to provide solutions on attacking gender issues and ensuring that the country has a capacity to serve all…members of their society, it allowed me to do a lot of communication documents that went out to families in languages I had only learned because of Peace Corps,” she said.
Mapp-Frett noted that her organization has funded more than 5,000 women’s groups in 76 countries and created meaningful change that will last lifetimes. “Broad social movements are making these effective changes, we know the need for movements to….strengthen and sustain powerful organizing, and that is a lot of what we get in our work that we have done with Peace Corps. Then we are actually set up to be able to help with gender justice and, in short, gender equality happens.”
Next, Jaynice Del Rosario, who was an education Volunteer in Ethiopia where she taught English at a local school. She created after-school programs for further interaction with students and conversational clubs for teachers, where gender inequality was part of the discussion. She also spearheaded a gender and development manual for Volunteers to use on-site for gender-related activities. This project led to some Ethiopian youth becoming gender equality ambassadors in their respective communities.
“We launched a project to test the first-ever girls’ club toolkit, so that folks could use that in their sites. We monitored and evaluated forms to tell us how girls responded to different activities in the workbook. Those experiences are critical to my understanding of gender equality, its complexities, and it helped me realize that this was work I want to dedicate my life to,” said Rosario. “Though I was an Education Volunteer, I spent so much of my time doing gender work in Ethiopia that I felt like a gender equity Volunteer.”
“As a program officer, I work in the Dominican portfolio because I understand the conflicts that I know well. Women and girls are doing incredible work in the global South, and it needs to be better resourced. The reason I think it is not resourced is because they are women and girls, because of gender inequality, because these things are not perceived as particularly important by a lot of people, and that is why I started the feminist idea lab to resource girl ideas and give them an opportunity to bring those ideas to life,” she said.
Besem Obenson was a Health Volunteer in Paraguay where she engaged in water sanitation and conducted health training. “I have the skills that we got in training, but really how to use your imagination to figure out how can I best do this, what can I do. The whole idea…was for me being open,” she said.
Obenson mentioned that as refugees, women are more exposed to risk, so programs need to be focused not only on the humanitarian side, but also on psychosocial peace. “We need to focus our projects based on who we are serving and then in terms of the people…the staff need to reflect the people, in terms of for the people who are making decisions, it has to reflect who we are serving,” she said.
The forum provided a roadmap to navigating the complex crossroads of gender equity, diversity, and service. The speakers illustrated how Americans can show up in the world, engage with the global community and make a difference in international development.