(BOLOGNA, ITALY) – On Friday, April 8th, the Global Women in Leadership Initiative – Europe Chapter held its campus-wide launch event with speaker Ms. Kawinzi Muiu, Director of the Gender Office at the World Food Programme (WFP). Ms. Muiu spoke to attendees at SAIS Europe about gender mainstreaming in international affairs and development. Originally from Kenya, Ms. Muiu earned her Masters in Business Administration at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and worked with the African Development Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers before joining the WFP in Rome.
During her 30-minute speech, she shared details regarding WFP’s efforts to increase recruitment of female employees and protect staff in conflict zones. Ms. Muiu also elaborated on the WFP’s commitment to empower women through food assistance and the challenges of providing tailor-made aid. She acknowledged that the WFP provides different solutions in different contexts. An attendee, Travis Vincent, an MA student from the United States, who will be working in an off-the-grid community in a developing nation this summer, said he enjoyed Ms. Muiu’s talk. “I appreciated her frankness and practicality when it comes to on-the-ground situations with gender issues,” he told us.
Ms. Muiu then opened the floor to questions from the over forty students who attended the event. Ms. Muiu candidly opened up about growing up in rural Kenya and how education was her and her sisters’ “ticket out” of poverty. Constance Hubert, a French MAIA student, said that she found Ms. Muiu’s background inspiring and her energy contagious. “This conversation especially raised my awareness about how little we talk about gender mainstreaming, even in such an open-minded environment at SAIS,” Ms. Hubert said.
During the question and answer session, Ms. Muiu pointedly asked students how they felt about gender issues and whether we should still be talking about them. One of them was Mr. Vincent, who told Ms. Muiu that he felt like supporters of feminism, who might not understand what it means yet, have to be included in the conversation. “Ideas about gender equality and feminism, like other progressive movements in the past, are becoming more mainstream in Western society, but if those who may share sentiments are not actively included in the movement, they are less likely to get involved politically,” Vincent explained to us. Additionally, Ms. Muiu and Mr. Vincent had an exchange on branding gender issues. The exchange made him think of the big goals for these movements and how to get “outsiders” excited about the cause, he said.
Ms. Muiu also shared details about her professional experience and her mandate to implement the WFP’s new Gender Policy, her present task. “I feel like most of us tend to not talk about these issues because we feel like we cannot change the world. What Ms. Muiu convinced me of is that change starts with your friends, your family, your colleagues,” Hubert added.
Ms. Muiu closed the productive and insightful dialogue with a call to action for attendees. She asked students to consider why discussions on gender were still on the table and whether the conversation needed to be reframed. “We are progressing, but not fast enough,” Ms. Muiu told attendees. “All of us need to do something to push this forward. This is the time to make your generation count,” she added.
Ms. Muiu also encouraged attendees to recruit “champions” of gender issues and to speak to at least one student about the conference and publish about it on GWL Europe Chapter’s Facebook page to spread the word.
The GWL Europe Chapter Europe has been working diligently to organize a significant presence on the SAIS Europe campus since early January. The group continues to hold weekly meetings, increase its profile among students and work on several projects focused on the promotion of women’s social, political and economic leadership.
This article was written by Christina Connelly-Kanmaz and Maria Lopez Conde and photos are by Kady Hammer.