Millennial Must-Reads are student-contributed posts by members of the "Millennial" generation - America's 18-29 year-olds - on current events and politics and public service. Viewpoints expressed are exclusively attributed to undergraduate authors and not endorsed by Harvard's Institute of Politics.
VIDEO: Chair of the Women's Initiative in Leadership program Inesha Premaratne interview Spring IOP Fellow and former Governor of North Carolina Beverly Perdue about the importance of women's week.
Celebrating Our Female Leaders
To say that the start of women's week didn’t go as planned would be an understatement. There was the unexpected snow, the airplane that didn’t take off in time, and one Congresswoman from Hawaii who didn’t quite know what snow in Boston really meant. And yet even these unexpected series of events could not keep the Institute of Politics’ Women’s Initiative in Leadership (WIL) from celebrating the first ever International Women’s Day and the beginning of the College’s Women’s Week.
It helped of course that the Congresswoman in question was Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a woman who, having served on the City Council, in the US Army, and now in Congress, epitomizes what it means to be—as she puts it— a “servant leader.” And thankfully, the snow was no match for her persistence.
Although she was delayed, she arrived just in time to talk with our WIL women about what exactly it means to be a female leader in today’s Congress. In “talking story,” as she calls it, she challenged our women, asking them: ‘Is today the day?’ It was a question she said had been engrained in her, words that had been emblazoned on a sign right outside the military camp where she served in Afghanistan.
In it’s context this question was meant to be a reality check, a reminder to our soldiers abroad that there is a very real possibility that today might be the day they go into combat or come across a hostile enemy. It might very well be the last day.
But for the female leaders in the room, Representative Gabbard’s question would soon prove to be a different kind of rallying call.
So often amidst Harvard College’s Women’s Week we focus on the adversity women face, the very real problems both here and abroad that keep them back. But if I were to fill in what I think today is the day for, it wouldn’t be just about drawing attention to the issues women face but also to the incredible work they’re already doing, work that isn’t being championed enough.
Emboldened by Tulsi Gabbard’s question and a redefined mission for Women’s Week, the Women’s Initiative in Leadership brought together female leaders from across campus—from professors to a current IOP fellow to graduating seniors—and gave them a stage on which to showcase their work and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
The product was an event appropriately titled “Harvard Women Think Big.” In this hour and a half special event that took place this past Tuesday, speakers including Former Governor of North Carolina & Current IOP Fellow Bev Perdue, Women, Gender & Sexuality Lecturer Chiwen Bao, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Emily Balskus, and Professor in the Department of Social Medicine Anne Becker gave TED talks for students about topics ranging from the emergence of eating disorders in Fiji to what organic chemistry can teach us about our lives.
Sitting in the audience, I was blown away by their insight and leadership in each of their fields. More than anything, these women were passionate about remaking and reinventing the very academic disciplines and professional fields they were a part of.
The night’s talks, in my mind, was the perfect response to Representative Gabbard’s question: today—and everyday—we can and indeed should celebrate the incredible work of female leaders across Harvard.
Growing up between Sri Lanka and Hawaii, you could say Inesha enjoys traveling between the many different worlds she inhabits. A sophomore at Harvard, Inesha is concentrating in Government with a secondary in Economics. Having just spent the fall of 2012 interning at the White House and watching the presidential election unfold from a most unique vantage point, she is ready to get back on campus and assume her role as chair of the IOP's Women’s Initiative in Leadership, a position that will let her talk about an issue area she cares deeply about: women’s empowerment in the developing and developed worlds.