Against all Obstacles: International Women and Higher Education

March 12, 2009

In light of International Women’s Day, on March 8, I thought I would take a moment and reflect on what I have learned and experienced as program assistant for the AAUW International Fellowships. Since becoming a part of the International Fellowships program here at AAUW, this day of recognition has taken on special importance for me.

The most satisfying part of my job is helping women achieve a higher education that might otherwise have been out of their reach. Women face numerous obstacles when trying to reach their academic dreams: discrimination, family responsibilities, motherhood, and financial setbacks, among others. The hardest part of my job is when an outstanding and promising woman is unable to accept our fellowship due to some unforeseen conflict. Our International Fellowships program supports women from around the globe, and for those women there are sometimes even greater obstacles: civil wars, intense gender discrimination, political unrest, and natural disasters.

You may have noticed that recently Sri Lanka has been in the news frequently. Every time I see a report on the conflict in Sri Lanka, I think of one of our fellows who is trapped there and can’t return to school in the United States. She has no access to the Internet or an international phone connection. All we can do is hope that she and her family are safe from the widespread violence.

As someone who grew up in the working class, it wasn’t easy for me to attain a college education. But I am humbled in the face of what these wonderful women have to overcome when they reach for their dreams. As we struggle against a collapsing economy, I can’t help but wonder how this will affect our past, current, and future International Fellows. Education for women is crucial to improving the quality of life for women and their families and, ultimately, a nation as a whole. However, we have all seen how support for women’s programs here and abroad gets cut when we suffer from economic and political strife. At AAUW we will continue to promote higher education through our International Fellowships program, but will it become even harder for women to apply to universities or to travel outside their home countries for school? I hope that both at home and abroad the importance of women obtaining higher education will be recognized and supported despite political and economic conflicts.

Please share with us your reflections on International Women’s Day. What do you think is the most pressing concern that international women face today?

Visit our directory of International Fellows, where you can view some of the achievements and contributions of women from around the globe.

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