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8 December 2021: Women Leaders Catalyze the Transformative Power of Education

On Dec 6-8, 2021, the World Academy for Arts and Sciences (WAAS) and the World University Consortium hosted the Fifth International Conference on Future Education.

Distinguished Collaborators of Home for Humanity from around the world contributed to a special panel entitled "The Transformative Power of Education for Women’s Leadership", convened by Home for Humanity Co-Founder and WAAS Fellow, Dr. Rama Mani. The panel featured inspirational women leaders from diverse cultures and continents who are on the frontlines of dealing with crises of human development, conflict and climate change in their home countries and in the world.

Panelists included Ms. Pilar Alvarez Laso (Mexico), former Assistant Director General of UNESCO for Human and Social Sciences, head of UNESCO in Costa Rica, Haiti and Uzbekistan, Dr. Sujata Khandekar, Co-Founder of CORO (Home for Humanity, India) and the Grassroots Leadership Academy, Ms. Thais Corral, Founder of Sinal do Vale (Home for Humanity, Brazil) and the School for Agents of Transformation, and Ms. Zahira Kamal, first Women’s Affairs Minister of Palestine and first woman Secretary

General of a Political Party, FIDA, and Co-Founder of Women's Studies Centre (Home for Humanity, Palestine).

The distinguished panelists shared their views regarding a ‘new paradigm for the future of education’ based on their direct life experiences in mobilising education to transform the crises and challenges they faced in their communities. They identified ‘what is missing today and what is needed in education tomorrow’ to not only respond to but to transform those who are ‘left behind’ by the current paradigm: especially women, youth, minorities and disabled who are worst affected by poverty, climate crisis and youth, based on their specific contexts as well as on the global challenges we face as humanity today. They shared how they catalysed the transformative power of education in innovative, collaborative, co-creative ways - despite all odds - to contribute to human and planetary security, through their exemplary and collective women’s leadership. The panellists shared their unique educational practises and experiences focused on strengthening educational and training opportunities for women in transitional settings, the importance of coexistence between nature and women and epistemic justice through inclusivity, collaboration and cooperation.

Ms. Pilar Alvarez Laso brought to the table a new social paradigm for education. She stressed that UNESCO called for a new social contract for education, which explores new ways of thinking about education, specifically, knowledge and learning. Right to education, a commitment to education should be utilised as a societal endeavour for the common good. She highlighted that attention should be paid to enhancing the right to quality education. She noted the areas influencing education such as age, digitalization and gender. Interdependence is not only about states, it is about individuals, communities and minorities, according to Ms. Pilar Alvarez Laso.

Ms. Sujata Khandekar spoke passionately about grassroots education interventions for marginalised women in India. She shared the powerful story of CORO, the grassroots women's leadership organisation she co-founded 30 years ago, and how much she has learned and unlearned from the marginalised women in the slums she has worked with. She underscored that education programs must be built directly upon the needs and grievances of vulnerable and marginalised women, rather than imposed top-down, drawing on Paulo Freire's 'pedagogy of the oppressed'. The grassroots leadership program of CORO specifically focuses on expanding literacy through collective and innovative educational interventions, like the Quest Fellowship, for marginalised women. She concluded that understanding the vulnerable women's lives and accompanying them on their journey to leadership, as well as taking into account their fragmented sense of identity, and basing all programmes on solidarity, are paramount in designing effective educational opportunities for women on the ground.

Ms. Zahira Kamal touched upon the negative impacts of armed conflict and violence on education for women and their rights to economic, social and cultural rights across the entire Middle East region, including Palestine. She explained that women's literacy and awareness about the current social, economic and digital trends are vital in raising the quality of education. Literacy programs in Palestine helped eradicate substantially illiteracy issues among women, elevate employment opportunities and create avenues for speaking out against violence and human rights violations in the country. Drawing on her own experience as a political leader, former Women's Affairs Minister, advisor to UN agencies, and a former Physics teacher to refugees with UNRWA, she noted that supporting women in different government agencies encouraged them to effectively cope with digital education standards and changes in the digital space.

Ms. Thais Corral brought three main perspectives with respect to developing education for women: formal and informal types of education, communal learning initiatives and ecocentric approach to education. In the context of Paulo Freire's anniversary celebrations in his native Brazil, she underscored that every human being has knowledge which should be respected and honoured. She emphasized that it is important for women to be students and teachers at the same time. Secondly, she noted that education is not only the intellectual process of learning, but it is also an emotional, mental and spiritual journey. Thirdly, she highlighted that modern learning opportunities should shift from an ego-centric approach to eco-centric one encompassing benefits of nature, sustainability and coexistence. "Sinal do Vale", the organization she founded in Brazil's Mata Atlantica forest near Rio de Janeiro, specifically focuses on involving youth in developing sustainable lifestyles, regenerative development, agro-forestry and reforestation, by living in and learning from nature.

As a transitional justice scholar and activist from Kyrgyzstan, I felt honoured to support this session and to hear the fascinating experiences of the panelists as this topic of women's rights and empowerment is of particular importance to me. The panel discussions led me to reflect on exploring possible avenues for addressing gender based and sexual violence in Kyrgyzstan by introducing new themes on the ground, including climate change, environmental protection and women, partnership with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and program development based on the needs of vulnerable women. It has been deeply encouraging for me to realise the multifaceted ways in which women empower other women collaboratively and creatively even and especially in the midst of crisis.

Home for Humanity is immensely thankful to The World Academy of Arts and Sciences and the World University Consortium for organising this stimulating and timely conference. We extend our deepest appreciation to our brilliant panellists for their continuous contributions to co-creating a regenerative future for all life and we look forward to future collaborative initiatives in 2022.

Do watch the recorded conference here on WAA's youtube channel and do share your comments with us.

Text written by:

Cholpon Kainazarova, Kyrgyzstan

Transitional justice scholar-activist &

Home for Humanity Team Member

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