MCLA brought one of the largest delegations to the "Women as Global Leaders" conference earlier this month when students traveled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the spring break.
The conference, focused on women's emergent and current leadership roles across the globe, as well as the practice of educating students for and about leadership, drew participants from more than 85 countries.
According to Jessica Nestell '12 of Ulster, N.Y., "It was very powerful to go to a conference where every single presenter is female. As a first generation female college student, seeing so many accomplished women from around the world showed me what the future can hold for me."
Conference attendees included a number of well-known women, including actress Sigourney Weaver and the UK's Baroness Helena Kennedy of The Shaws.
"Listening to the speakers was really amazing," said Alexandra Nichipor '12 of Ayer, Mass. "We are truly in the midst of both a humanitarian and environmental crisis. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing; water, air and soil are becoming dangerously polluted; women are left to fend for their families as their husbands and fathers go off to distant cities to look for work.
"Damaging the environment also damages the lives of the most oppressed people, many of whom are women," she continued. "However, by virtue of the place they occupy in the social web of human relations, women are also well situated to halt environment degradation."
The experience changed Nestell's view of the world.
"Before traveling to the United Arab Emirates, I had a relatively closed-minded view of the Middle East created largely by what how the media portrays it," she explained. "Now I'm embarrassed to say that I ever believed that."
"I also learned how varied Muslim women's experience really is," Nichipor said. "Many people from the West immediately assume that Muslim women are all oppressed, but in the UAE, I meet Emirati women who were students, engineers and business leaders."
On a visit to the home of Sheika Sheika bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, daughter of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed, the prime minister and vice president of the UAE, the students met members of the royal family, and toured their palace.
Nestell was particularly moved by an experience the group had at the Mosque when they visited Dubai.
"One of the volunteers was describing the way western cultures portrayed Islam as a religion that promotes blowing people up, and she said, 'There are over a billion Muslims worldwide today. If it was written in the Quran that blowing ourselves up would get us to heaven why are there so many of us? Wouldn't we all be blowing ourselves up?'" she recalled. "Listening to the volunteer speak about Islam in such a matter-of-fact way really forced me to think about the issues."
Nestell continued, "One of the most interesting things about this trip was being in a non-Christian-based country. I had never really thought about what being in a Christian-based country meant until I traveled to the UAE. In the UAE, Sunday is not the 'day of rest.' Everything is open normal hours; however, Friday is the day of rest where everything is closed or has reduced hours ... [That] was definitely an interesting experience."
In addition to making connections with Emirati students and others from around the world, highlights for the MCLA group included the opportunity to stroll the souks (traditional markets), as well as the Iranian market, ride a camel and to hear the daily call to prayer.
"This experience made me appreciate the enormity of the world," Nichipor said. "Everyone knows how big the world is, but when you're in a room with a Moroccan businesswoman, an Omani engineer, an Emirati student and a Bahraini blogger, you really appreciate it more."