For two weeks, from June 11 - June 22, 2012, Wellesley College hosted the first Women in Public Service Project Institute. The pilot institute brought together 50 emerging women leaders from across the globe between the ages of 25-45 who are currently serving in different fields of public service and/or political or elected office.
On Friday, June 15th, Kathryn Kolbert, Director of the Athena Center, served as a panelist in a discussion titled Women’s Rights as Human Rights. Alongside Kathryn was Hina Jilani, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; Dorothy Harbeck, a judge of immigration laws and a Wellesley alumna; and Meryl Frank, Former Ambassador for the UN for US Affairs of Women.
Jilani began the conversation, speaking to delegates about honor crimes in Pakistan and how persecution of honor codes has changed. In the Pakistani law system, murder was a compoundable offense, which gave families to opportunity to forgive and compromise - and often causing families to be threatened or bribed off. Kolbert, who has previously worked as a lawyer with domestic violence cases, described the changes in domestic violence laws. Even in the past ten years, women had to have a witness - an impossible task when violence often happened privately - and often when police were called, asked the batterer to take a walk or cool off. In addition, women had to file a report in person for a private criminal action. “When you file a private criminal action, it doesn’t have the same enforcement,” Harbeck also explained. “Now, if the crime is committed, even if the woman says ‘no’ the judge is required to still look at evidence, and determine if there’s enough evidence to go through.” Harbeck also described the impact sharing stories has. Previously FGM appeared as a cultural tradition, something the US doesn’t understand and couldn’t enforce on US citizens. Now, after hearing stories of women involved in the process, law-makers are able to realize FGM is violence against women. “Without hearing those voices, people say well that’s what they do. That’s their country.”
Meryl Frank spoke to delegates of her experiences running for mayor after being a stay-at-home for 12 years. While running, she experienced political violence she chose not to report. “Women often don’t report violence because they don’t want to seem weak.” When she told her story to women of other countries while working as an ambassador, she said many had an experience like hers, threatened or a victim of violence.
Delegates discussed the impact of the media on women's rights, as one delegate from Israel told everyone that some crimes are prosecuted because the attention of the media, while others are ignored. Another delegate from Pakistan had doubts about the media's influence, saying that when women run for office in Pakistan, the media concentrates on her clothes and how she appearance, whereas that is not the case with other politicians.
“No matter what women do, you are going to get people who don’t like it, & the more powerful you are, they more they don’t like it. Be resilient, and remember to fight for what we believe in because we’re worth it.”
- Kathryn Kolbert