Annual Women’s Leadership Coalition conference highlights how women can use skills, voices, and careers to advance social change

April 9, 2019

by Cecille de Laurentis MPP/MCRP ’20

The Women’s Leadership Coalition held its annual Women’s Leadership Conference at the Bloustein School on March 29. The event, whose theme this year was “Taking Charge of Change,” featured a discussion with Naomi Klein, recently named the university’s first Gloria Steinem Chair in the Women’s Studies department, as well as two workshops and an alumni panel.

Klein, an award-winning journalist and author of the book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, spoke about the relationship between climate change and other struggles for human rights and social equity. She calls taking action on climate issues “the responsibility of our historical moment.”

“It’s not about dropping everything to figure out climate, it’s about figuring out how climate impacts the things we’re already doing”—including housing rights struggles, gender and racial inequality, worker protections, and more.

When asked about the effects of climate change on women, Klein emphasized intersectionality. She gave examples such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where poor women of color living in public housing faced disproportionate impacts from the storm. “It’s a broader rights issue, but because we live under patriarchy women and children are more impacted.”

Klein also noted that women are already leading in climate activism, mentioning sixteen-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has been leading climate strikes and other protests. She concluded by calling for more cross-sector work in addition to broad, sweeping policy like the Green New Deal that both takes strong climate action and centers justice issues.

Following Klein’s discussion, the conference gave way to breakout sessions on grassroots activism and on running for elected office. In the grassroots activism workshop, two education advocates described some of the tactics they used to organize and demand action from lawmakers. The elected office workshop “provided concrete skills to work on and experiences to pursue to prepare women to run,” as Rebecca Glinn, a first-year MPP student, described it. “While I might not run for office personally, as someone interested in campaigns it was a valuable experience.”

Student attendees said the themes discussed by Naomi Klein resonated with them, and that the workshops were useful.  “Each year WLC changes to fit the interests of the organizers and Bloustein students,” said Caitlyn Leiter-Mason, a second-year MPP student and conference organizer. “I was so glad to see how much interest there was in the community for conversations like these.” Morgan Hunlen, a first-year MCRP student, called the event, “a reminder to myself that no matter the barrier I come across because who I am, I can cross it with courage because of the people who came before me.”

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