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Panel Calls for Assertive Women

Urges Greater Leadership Role, End to Stereotypes

By Maya E. Fischhoff

Women need to be confident leaders to help remove gender-based stereotypes and increase their global influence, participants in a Radcliffe panel discussion on the role of women in international affairs said yesterday.

"We anticipate an era when the voices of women will be heard more frequently in international discourses: an era of stateswomanship," said moderator Florence C. Ladd, director of Radcliffe's Bunting Institute.

The four panelists spoke from personal and academic experience to an audience of about 150 as part of the ceremonies in honor of Linda S. Wilson's inauguration as Radcliffe's seventh president.

"What is it women lack?" asked Tazuko A. Monane, Professor of Japanese language." I think it's the confidence. We should just show the world we can do it, and not give them any choice."

In Norway, India, England, and Sri Lanka, women have attained positions of power during the 20th century, said Dessima M. Williams, a 1989-90 fellow at the Bunting Institute and past ambassador to the United Nations from Grenada.

"Yet the evolution of a handful of women into positions of power, while always welcome for the symbolism and meaning of it, is insufficient for the removing of gender inequality," she said.

Women need to work actively to help each other, Williams said. "Having an education is a privilege," she said. "Those of us who have some skills have an obligation to carry that confidence forward."

Williams said that in Grenada, a national women's movement in the early 1980s established new safeguards and opportunities for jobs.

She said a peasant woman told her that before these changes, "If you went for a job interview, you must go to bed with the man before you get a job. Woman feeling plenty stronger now, because woman is protecting woman now."

Spurred by changing societies and technological advancements, women across the world are ending their subjugation, said Corinne B. Johnson, secretary of the international division of the American Friends' Service.

"Formerly, among the nomads of Mali, a woman's job was to sit in her tent and demonstrate her husband's wealth through her great weight and inactivity," she said.

Now those women are leaving their tents and entering community life, she said.

Johnson said that in Guinea Bissau, new corn-husking machines allow women to abandon the job and spend more time with their families, nurturing their children. "And the men feel the women are warmer toward them," she said.

But there is still progress to be made, she said. On her last trip she saw a man riding on horseback while his heavily-laden wife trudged behind him, she said.

Johnson asked the man why his wife was not riding.

"How can she ride?" he said. "She has no horse."

"It is our job not to dismount the man, but to see together that women get horses," Johnson said.

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