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Q&A: Jordanian advocate for gender equity prepares for Global Women's Leadership Convening

St. Catherine University will expand its mission to lead and influence women through a global initiative when the Global Women’s Leadership Convening: Women in Public Life opens July 13.

Hosted by the School of Business and Leadership, the event willl run through July 20 in St. Paul. The purpose of the event is two-fold: to model a process of collaboratively creating knowledge resources and to produce new models that support and grow more women leaders.

Two key partners have contributed to the global reach of this event: Rina Bar-Tal, chair of the Israel Women’s Network, and Dr. Rula Quawas, professor of American literature and feminism at the University of Jordan. 

Dr. Quawas founded the Women’s Studies Center at the University of Jordan. In June, she hosted Paula J. King, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business and Leadership, and Martha Hardesty, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL) program from St. Catherine University. During this trip to Jordan, Dean King and Dr. Hardesty witnessed the struggles and achievements of women in Jordan aspiring to gain a greater voice in their society by taking leadership.

In preparation for the Global Women’s Leadership Convening, Dr. Quawas answered some questions regarding her perspective on women’s leadership and her expectations for the event at St. Catherine University in July.

Q. Can you offer a definition of leadership?

A. I do not believe in strict definitions of leadership for they tend to compartmentalize and to pigeonhole… For me, leadership is all about a woman's fortitude, her autonomy, her empowerment, her self-introspection, her agency, her authenticity, and also her resilience and determination to grow wings and be whoever she wants to be in spite of the crushing odds against her.

Q. How would you describe the state of women’s leadership in Jordan right now?

A. In Jordan, we have women leaders in all fields, but… [we] can do much better as an evolving nation and we need to work harder to help women find their own spaces and become leaders in their own right.

The greatest challenge is the mindset of the people, women as well as men… The ready-made text that is handed over to Jordanian women has to be written off or rewritten so that a woman can discover who she is and can choose the life that she wants to lead. This is an arduous task, but it has to be done. Women should be courageous enough to face the challenges and to contest their images that are perpetuated by the society and culture they live in.

A Jordanian woman needs to design her life and be its architect. That is part of her leadership role. Her leadership is to see the silences in her life and to speak truth to power. In this case, every Jordanian woman who is contesting the stifling traditions that render her silent and helpless is embarking on the journey of leadership.

Q. What is your perception of women’s leadership in the United States?

A. I know that there are many women leaders in America, but I have to say that America can do better. My perception of women's leadership is positive. I am inspired by many American women in all walks of life who have defied all the odds against them and who have left their trails all over the sands of time.

Q. What do you hope to gain from the Global Women’s Leadership Convening that will contribute to your work toward improving women’s leadership in Jordan and around the globe?

A. The convening is a (un)weaving of tales and a (un)learning of tutorial lessons of life. It is also the gleaning of different kinds of knowledge and the building of a strong bridge between nations and cultures.

By listening to other women's stories and by sharing my own story with the rest of the group, I can engage in the storying and the re-storying of my life, and this will definitely help me look at matters through a different lens and engage in a revisionary act that will demystify the ideology of true womanhood and what it stands for.

More about the event

Global Women’s Leadership Convening: Women in Public Life is the result of a collaborative effort featuring the vision of State Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-Minn.) and Paula J. King, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business and Leadership at St. Catherine University.

Rina Bar-Tal, who will represent the Israel Women’s Network at the event, is currently traveling in the United States, and she could not be reached for this article. Her thoughts will be featured in a future article.

For more information about the invitation-only Global Women’s Leadership Convening, please e-mail or call Sue Kuncio at 651-690-6711.

July 7, 2011 by Elizabeth Otto

See also: Business, Leadership, Social Justice