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Women’s Center hosts International Women’s Month, creates connections for students here and abroad

The interns and staff of the Women, Girls and Global Justice program at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center sponsored a series of events on the Grounds of the University of Virginia throughout the month of March in honor of International Women’s Month (IWM).

The month of events was inspired by International Women’s Day on March 8. The Center intends for this month of themed events to be an annual tradition. The following are recaps of each event.

Herstory and I Am A Girl: Film series recognizes the diversity of women

In coordination with International Women’s Month, Molly Dawson, a Women, Girls, and Global Justice program intern at the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, organized a two-part film series with multiple showings, featuring I Am A Girl by Rebecca Barry and Herstory by Sally Nuamah. Both films portrayed the experiences of different girls and women from a variety of countries, pointing to a multinational, multicultural understanding of what it means to be female in the 21st century.

Herstory is a short documentary by Sally Nuamah that focuses on a group of girls living in Ghana, who must overcome a variety of obstacles to receive an education and make plans for their futures.

Not only do these girls struggle to obtain positive support from their families toward their educational goals, but some of their schools don't even have chairs for the students. These struggles to obtain an education are ones unfamiliar to me and (what I’d imagine to be a great majority) of U.Va.’s student body.

I Am A Girl presented the lives of six different girls from across the globe, including stories from Papua New Guinea, the ghetto of New York City, Cambodia, Australia, Afghanistan, and Cameroon.

This documentary evoked such sadness as each girl recounted her experiences as a girl in her city and the unique ways she is oppressed as a female.

For instance, 14-year-old Kimsey from Cambodia explained how her poverty forced her to sell her virginity, become a prostitute, and how it inhibits her from leaving her violent, abusive husband. Aziza from Afghanistan described how she was trying to receive her education, while grieving over her her father’s homicide committed by the Taliban. Each girl was given the opportunity to tell her own story, allowing the viewer to both make connections and recognize the differences between these different forms of oppression across many areas of the globe.

These two films offer important lessons and give necessary insight into the lives of women across the world, making them appropriate films for International Women’s Month. Both Herstory and I Am A Girl allowed these girls to define what being a woman means in different parts of the globe. These films demonstrate that any monolithic understanding of “female” is reductive.

I hope that as International Women’s Month comes to its conclusion, we can all reflect on these different systems of oppression that affect women everywhere, and work to use this multicultural understanding as a foundation for furthering gender equality across the globe.

Story by Carly Gorelick, Iris free-lancer

‘Hidden in Plain Sight’: A panel discussion on domestic human trafficking

As part of International Women’s Month, Women’s Center intern Paige St. Clair organized the panel discussion, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” in order to raise awareness on the taboo subject of domestic human trafficking.

The panel consisted of four extremely passionate and dedicated people, intent on making a difference: Lazaro “Larry” J. Cosme, a Senior Special Agent with the Department of Homeland Security, Rosalie “Rosie” Quintanilla, also a Senior Special Agent with the Department of Homeland Security, Joanna Jennings, the Executive Director and Co-founder of The Arbor Charlottesville, and Cristy Spencer, a history teacher at William Byrd High School who works with Globalize 13, a secondary education program that raises awareness about human trafficking.

Before the panel began, the audience had the opportunity to watch a slide show that gave statistical data on modern-day slavery in the form of human trafficking. The facts are astonishing and heart-wrenching. More than 27 million people are enslaved today. Approximately 80 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation. The average age of a trafficked person in the United States is 14 years old.

How does this industry continue to exist in the year 2015?

Jennings explained, “This whole industry is designed to stay hidden. A brothel in the United States could be simply a nondescript apartment complex.”

Jennings continued to explain the financial strategy behind this horrendous $32 billion industry. “It’s an extremely lucrative business. Unlike drugs, people have more than one point of sale. People can be used over and over again.”

Senior Special Agents Cosme and Quintanilla described how the perpetrators exploit the vulnerability of victims in order to manipulate them into being trafficked.

Cosme explained, “When you’re vulnerable and someone promises you a home and that they’ll take care of you and love you, you don’t assume that they’ll abuse you or get you hooked on drugs. This is how traffickers often lure in victims and give them no opportunity to leave.

Jennings added that, for this reason, human trafficking is also “the business of selling dreams.”

Spencer urged the audience to think about how we can make a change in this issue on a day-to-day basis.

“The clothes you’re wearing, the coffee you drink, the chocolate you eat: They have all been touched by slaves. By buying these products, we’re all complicit in this system. Get educated on what you purchase. Research Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance. Be conscious consumers.”

Story by Alaina Segura, Iris intern

‘To Cameroon and Back: Empowering Girls in the Hills of Kumbo’: A presentation on 'Global Connections' between YWLP in the U.S. and in Cameroon

As a Foreign Affairs and Women, Gender and Sexuality fourth year student at U.Va., Carrie Daniel has directly applied what she has learned in the classroom to real-world situations in her time with the Young Women Leaders Program. During International Women’s Month (IWM), Daniel described her dual experiences of learning how to lead and teaching others how to be leaders.

She started as a Big Sister to a “sassy seventh-grader” in her second year, eventually becoming an intern with the program at the Women’s Center and a facilitator for YWLP groups by the time she reached her fourth year. In January, she became the first YWLP intern to work in Cameroon with the sister site’s founder, Caroline Berinyuy. This internship was made possible by a generous donation from a long-time supporter of YWLP.

Daniel's goals for this internship were to collect resources to enhance the “Global Connections” curriculum of YWLP in the U.S. and to facilitate cultural exchange by representing the U.S. In this role, she helped to “build relationships across race and class and nationality.” The majority of her presentation for IWM was based on this time period.

Through the presentation, she addressed the similarities and the differences between the Cameroon site of Kumbo and the U.S. site of Charlottesville. Similarities were supporting girls' challenges with relational aggression, body image and self-esteem, as well as topics such as leadership, communication and problem-solving skills. A difference that stood out in the curriculum was an emphasis on physical development and menstruation that leaders have found to be needed in Cameroon (these developmental changes are not addressed in schools and are considered taboo for girls and mothers to discuss at home). In addition, YWLP Cameroon’s curriculum highlights education and human rights, and what it means to have a lack of voice.

Daniel said that “not only were they learning what these issues are, but also how to address these issues and create change in their own lives and wider community.”

In her presentation, Daniel also noted differences in YWLP's structure in Cameroon compared to Charlottesville, with mentees or Little Sisters starting at an elementary-school age and going all the way through high school, while YWLP in Charlottesville focuses on mentoring middle school girls. Big Sisters or mentors in Cameroon often have more than one Little at a time, which helps the Bigs to “develop emotional maturity and deep understanding of the topics teaching younger girls,” according to Daniel.

However, the most significant difference that Daniel noted through formal interviews with school administrators and YWLP participants, as well as observations of YWLP group meetings between Littles and Bigs, is the main purpose for YWLP Cameroon: “operating to keep adolescent girls in school.” In an area of the world in which girls will leave school to start working or marry young, one of the ways YWLP Cameroon measures success is if girls are marrying at an older age than their mothers.

Daniel is passionate about the topic of girls’ education: “When you do educate girls, the effects on the community are exponential.”

Story by: Agnes Filipowski, Iris Editor

Learn more about Daniel’s internship through her digital story:

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For any questions or concerns about International Women’s Month, please email Jaronda Miller, Program Director of Global and Engaged Scholarship at the Women’s Center, at

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