by Jane Bukovec, Sarah Cooney, Courtney Hulbert, Valerie Jenkins, Karen Medina and Marissa Tremoglie
McNulty Scholars Program Class of 2017
Last week, the film Suffragette, depicting the women’s suffrage movement in Britain, was released. The powerful film highlights the importance of the vote and the changes it allowed women to make in their lives, as well as the very real consequences suffered by those who chose to join the movement. Besides being imprisoned, many were ostracized by their communities, lost their jobs, or lost their families. Some even lost their lives. However, without the enormous sacrifices of these women, our lives would look nothing like what they do today, and our opportunities would be incredibly limited.
One of the most wonderful aspects of the McNulty Program is the caring and supportive community of peers and mentors. As a group, we are committed to building one another up and cheering each other’s success. In this environment, we are able to thrive as women and scientists. The number of opportunities we are given make the possibilities seem infinite.
Unfortunately, the real world hasn’t quite caught up. The STEM fields are just a few of many parts of the world that are not always friendly to women. According to data from the Half the Sky Movement, “Women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest people and own only 1 percent of the titled land…They suffer not only from unequal access to education and training, but also from discrimination by their employers. The majority of women earn on average about three-fourths of the pay that men receive for doing the same work, outside of the agricultural sector, in both developed and developing countries. Gender-based violence is both persistent and widespread, and ranks as the top public health crisis for women in the world today…women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.”
As future leaders, we need to be prepared not just for our individual careers, but to become agents of change for all women. The suffragists won us the vote, but their battle isn’t really over. It is up to us to use what they won and to continue the crusade for women’s rights. The task may be daunting, but the results are worth it. To inspire us to dream big and beyond ourselves, we asked ourselves if we could bring about a change for women today, what would it be?
I would give all women access to education and health care. I think these are extremely important prerequisites to economic and political involvement. We might take these for granted in the US, but women without these in other parts of the world don’t stand a chance. At SJU, we are lucky to be able to aid in these efforts, particularly in programs like PAGES (Philadelphia Area Girls Enjoying Science) and The Philadelphia Science Festival. Exposing young girls, particularly those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, to the possibility of further education is incredibly important.
I would change the way that women interact with one another by increasing support among women for each other’s accomplishments. I would want women to eliminate the competitive nature that separates us and instead practice supportive relationships that build us up.
I think that there’s this prevailing misperception in our generation that to make significant change we have to rebel and buck the system. Put simply, we sometimes forget that we have this incredible power in our society that so many others globally do not possess; we get to vote. We get to have a voice. If everyone in our generation felt empowered, felt as if their voices mattered, as though they were heard, imagine the change we could effect. Imagine the fair representation of women’s issues and women’s voices on all levels. Important and relevant issues like paid family leave, the monetization of women’s work globally and the right to health care could become a reality if we all went to the voting booth, even in local elections. We have an incredible gift in democracy and it’s up to us to use it, to make our voices and the voices of the disenfranchised heard. SJU does incredible social advocacy work, with programs like the Ignatian Family Teach-In, Service Immersion Abroad and Study Tours. The ability to expose students, many of whom come from privileged backgrounds, to the reality of life for so many people globally builds the kind of empathy that motivates lasting social action.
I would change the sense of doubt placed on women when they are following their dreams. (That little voice that says “Are you sure you have thought that all the way through?”) Often times, women are faced with questions instead of support. The beautiful part of it is that we can begin the change–by encouraging and supporting one another, we allow for the change to begin.
If I could change something I would change how women are viewed, as in not being stereotyped or not being harshly judged for how we dress or what we decide to do when it comes to personal decisions. I get that there’s a time and place for everything and certain expectations for decorum, but the expectations for women are often too high and not the same for men. And while we’ve made progress here in the states, not everywhere in the world sees women the same way. Not every culture appreciates our contributions to society. Not every culture attempts equality. The McNulty Scholars Program has taught me that women have so much potential and there’s so much for us to do. We make a difference by learning how our Jesuit values apply to our lives. By living greater as women, we learn how to work alongside men as equals and to encourage other women to achieve their dreams, particularly through mentorship.
I would give girls worldwide access to education, specifically targeting literacy and access to books. I’ve learned more than I can articulate just by reading. Books are windows into the world and experiences that you many never access any other way. I believe women are naturally capable, and access to knowledge is all they need to start dreaming of and realizing new ways of changing the world.