One of the more striking customs here in Australia has been the acknowledgment, delivered by every Aussie speaker on the program before his or her talk, of the aboriginal people to whom the land once belonged (or still belongs, some say). The relationship between the Australians of European descent with the aboriginal people is clearly a fraught and emotionally laden one (I've been reading a terrific David Malouf book on this trip that drives the point home). As an American, one can't help but view the Australians' candid (if painful) recognition of evils perpetrated by settlers, as well as the aborigines' current plight, in contrast with the largely unreconciled--maybe even taboo--historical relationship between European settlers of North America and the native populations.
This poignant ritual is just one of the many glimpses into modern Australia that the 2010 Women's Education Worldwide conference has provided. On the program today, our third and final day, were two terrific Aussie students whose student group reaches out to children of aboriginal descent to encourage college participation. Their work bore strong similarities to much of the outreach work to disadvantaged groups in the States, and Lenore cleverly volunteered to provide information about Posse and Girls, Inc--yet another example of the value of this gathering in the dissemination of good ideas across national and cultural contexts.
Here's another tidbit, and one that might resonate with experiences in other countries: this morning's keynote speaker, Wendy McCarthy, said that out of all the male partners at 200 professional services firms she surveyed in Australia, only 1% of them had wives working outside the home. This illustrated, to her, the price of admission into that professional and social segment of the population: men who wished to work high-powered jobs needed to have wives who would be willing to run their private lives, not just raising the children but performing numerous social functions revolving around her husband's job and career advancement. These were often talented, educated women, who were then not able to participate in the professional sphere. Whether or not her inference is correct, I found the 1% statistic rather stunning.
Action shot of WEW 2010
The conference ended on a promising note, with proposed pilot programs emerging in data collection on women's colleges, shared online course resources, and a WEW alumnae network. Collegio Nuovo in Italy has floated the possibility of hosting the next iteration of MHC's successful Student Leadership Conference, while no fewer than six institutions are vying for the privilege to host the next WEW gathering in 2011 or 2012. I guess we're becoming like the Olympics of education conferences, hopefully with less doping (but if you see plans for a new monorail at your local women's college, you'll know why).
Touching was the group's recognition of Joanne's leadership of WEW since its inception in 2003, and there was much enthusiasm about her plan to write about the project during her sabbatical. Special thanks for this terrific conference go to Jane Williamson at Sydney who pulled it all together, and both the Ford Foundation and Nancy Nordhoff '54, who each underwrote the travel costs for a number of participants from developing countries who otherwise would not have been able to be there. Without the diversity of institutions represented, this meeting certainly wouldn't have been anywhere near as valuable and productive as it was.
It's now midnight in Sydney after Lenore and I checked out a fairly impressive Friday night scene all around the waterfront, and in three hours we'll catch our cab to the airport for our flight to Dubai en route to Jeddah and Effat University. Not sure what internet access will be like at our next stop, so perhaps signing off for a bit.