Sharing stories, ideas, and viewpoints.
At Harvard GlobalWE, we seek to explore and represent diverse experiences, ideas and perspectives on issues relating to global women's empowerment. In our Perspectives section, we will be publishing essays written by GlobalWE members, as well as other contributors who can illuminate our understanding of issues facing women in various parts of the world today. Over time, we hope our Perspectives section becomes an anthology of stories and essays representing both the diversity of experience and commonality of commitment to global women's empowerment. Please note that some stories and essays will be published anonomously to protect the privacy of the author and those of whom they write.
Harvard GlobalWE Essay Contest: In 2015, we launched our first annual essay contest for high school students. Please visit our Harvard GlobalWE Essay Contest Page to learn about our global contest and read select essays from our first contest in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Volume 1, Fall 2015
Choice as Empowerment.
A personal essay by a Harvard GlobalWE Co-Founder
My mother was a pioneer, the only woman in her law school class, an elected judge, the first woman president of her state’s Judges Association, and the first woman chairperson of the National Conference of State Trial Judges. When I decided to leave my job at a large law firm to spend time with my first-born son, she could not understand my choice. Why had she worked so hard to break the glass ceiling for future generations, only to see her own daughter abandon paid work? Over time, she tempered that judgment. When I presented her with grandchildren, and as they grew, she occasionally complimented me on my choice to work from home.
Still, she knew for sure that she had made the right choice for herself, for two reasons. First, my mother grew up in an era when a female choosing to strive for a high powered career was a revolutionary, and my mother had a rebellious personality. She was a tomboy, the youngest in her family, with an older brother who might have outshone her if she had allowed it. Her own mother, Mildred, my grandmother, had excelled in school and wanted to attend college, but had been denied the opportunity by her beloved father, Michael, and a culture that thought college for women unseemly.
My mother also had a personal a story that gave rise to her career devotion. My mother, her mother Mildred, her father Jack, and her brother lived in the same brownstone as Mildred's parents, Michael and Rose. When my mother was 11 years old, her grandfather Michael developed cancer. One morning, as Jack went to sit by his dying father-in-law’s bedside, Jack suffered a stroke and lost his own life. Mildred lost her husband and father on the same day, one death expected and one a sudden shock. She gathered her children together on her bed and wailed: “What will we do; how will we survive?" The subtext was how will we survive without men to provide for us? My 11 year old mother lost her father and her grandfather that day, and also her sense of security. She learned the importance of education, paid employment, and being able to provide for herself and her family. She wanted that security for me.
But I had my own story. My brother died when I was twelve, an unexpected and shocking event that split my life into two pieces, “before” and “after." When my first child was born many years later, my own story was my guide. My husband had a well-paying job and I faced a choice. I could be home with my new child, or pay for child care and go back to work at my law firm. I felt keenly the impermanence of life, and what I wanted most for myself was more time with loved ones. For me, the choice to work from home fit the needs and goals of my family and satisfied the call of my personal story.
Freedom to choose is empowerment. My mother and I were able to make choices that suited our own goals and stories. I wish the same for other women around the world. Freedom to dress as we wish, to speak up as we desire, to travel where we'd like to go, to drive ourselves, to educate our daughters, to work or to be home with children. I helped establish Harvard GlobalWe to gather Harvard alumni, men and women, from around the world to examine social structures, economic circumstances, governments, and cultures that limit or enhance these choices. We are dedicated to the empowerment of women through education, dialogue, and connection among individuals working for women’s rights. We hope you will bring your own stories and goals, and join us.