Panel unites international women leaders

by Beacon Staff • March 5, 2008

Bloom, still a junior at Emerson College, was listening to Sen. Hillary Clinton deliver a keynote address when she realized her path in life.,Alyse Nelson Bloom recalls how over a decade ago at the 1995 United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, she was stirred by one particular speech.

Bloom, still a junior at Emerson College, was listening to Sen. Hillary Clinton deliver a keynote address when she realized her path in life.

"I desperately wanted to connect with the 50,000 women at that conference," she said.

From that moment, Bloom, ('97) wound her way through the worlds of both government and advocacy, working with the U.S. Department of State and the Attorney General.

Now, 11 years after her graduation from Emerson, Bloom serves as the leader of Vital Voices Global Partnership, a non-government organization created during the Clinton administration, that enables women to better themselves and the societies in which they live. At Emerson last night, Bloom preached maxims of progress and female empowerment at the Semel Theatre.

A crowd of about 100 women and 20 men turned out to hear her moderate a panel of four other global leaders in women's rights and activism.

The evening was organized as part of Emerson's Leadership Communication Speaker Series and Bloom used the forum to urge audience members away from passivity, and toward action against injustice.

"So many women here tonight are lone voices," Bloom said, before opening the discussion with her panelists. "But we realized we tapped into something, that women's voices are vital to society."

Joining her was Hafsat Abiola, a 1997 Harvard University graduate and daughter of former President of Nigeria, Moshood Abiola. President Abiola won the 1993 election, but never took office after being imprisoned by a military that refused to hand over power. Abiola and his wife were later murdered.

"When my mother was assassinated by the military and I was asked to go on CNN, I said to the Nigerian people, 'This woman has been killed, but we will not let her down,'" Abiola said.

Also in attendance was Mu Sochua, Cambodia's Minister of Women's Affairs, who spoke about her 18 years as an exile in the United States and the time she has spent reforming a Cambodian society that had, over time, come to accept women's rights abuses as commonplace.

"I wanted to give women the place, the values, the integrity to be human beings," Sochua said. "We seek power in order to empower other people."

Since her election she has helped pass an agreement with neighboring Thailand to transport refugee Cambodian sex workers back to their home country instead of being jailed abroad.

The four guests represented countries from all over the world. Marina Pisklakova-Parker, a Russian researcher-turned-activist, helped invent a support system for battered women in her home country.

Pisklakova-Parker said domestic violence was a silent scourge for decades in Russia and termed a "private matter" with which police had no business interfering.

"How [domestic violence] is so severe, but also so hidden, astonished me," Pisklakova-Parker said, of her first years helping women. "In Russia, it's said that if he beats you, he loves you."

From a single call center, her network has grown to over 160 telephone hot lines for battered Russian women and has helped the Russian government pass laws mandating the police establish domestic violence departments in their offices nationwide.

Former Emerson professor Walt Littlefield was in attendance, and said he felt the crowd and speakers were a sign of Emerson's rich community.

"It's wonderful to see what's going on here," he said. "To see the young people fighting battles as human beings is great. They got off their ass and did something."