Women connecting with women

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The League of Women Voters shared an aisle with the Liberian Women’s Initiative, displaying photos and literature on folding tables and portable bulletin boards in Coffman Union on March 15. The booths were as varied as the workshops and speakers at the 13th Annual International Women’s Day Celebration at the University of Minnesota. Women of all ages exchanged business cards and picked up pamphlets about local organizations whose work affects women.

Workshops ranged from specific topics such as, “Engaging Young Latinas in Leadership” to more general topics such as “Economic Empowerment” of women. Speakers varied from nationally renowned writer and activist Robin Morgan to local leaders and writers Teresa Ortiz and Laura Waterman Wittstock.

Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota, said the organizers had to appeal to a diverse group of women. Younger participants viewed feminism differently than the older generation of women at the conference. Frey said Robin Morgan’s keynote address didn’t resonate with her students “like they did with the older generation of staunch feminists.” Instead, she said, “There is a need among younger generation not only to connect to other women, but to connect to with people across race, class and gender.”

Waterman Wittstock, an American Indian leader and panelist at the conference, saw the event as a way to raise awareness within a gender specific context. “When you’re at my level—not a minister of education or high political position—you have to get your views across in a public forum,” she said, “so you come to other forums like this because you want to connect with other women.”

While Waterman Wittstock relied on public speaking, others networked. Frey, who also teaches an internship class at the University of Minnesota, said that the conference is a chance for her students to meet other people and see what’s out there. One of Frey’s students, Tracy Baumgardt, a Masters candidate at the Humphrey Institute, said “You don’t know that there are this many organizations out there!”

Baumgardt and Madeline Thaden, a senior at the U of M, work on the Yar Campaign to end child abduction in southern Sudan and are in the processing of establishing non-profit status. The two came to the conference to see the panel discussion, but were surprised at the networking that grew out of the event. Baumgardt said, “People came up to us to see how we can partner. Actually, this African group I had never even heard of approached us. It’s been a great opportunity.”

Feminism may mean something very different to younger and older generations, but at the very least the 13th annual International Women’s Day Conference provided an opportunity for women to connect with each other.

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