Former UK First Lady Leads Dialogue on Women’s Education

HOUSTON, April 11, 2017 – On March 29, Asia Society Texas Center hosted Women’s Education and Empowerment, another successful program in the Women’s Leadership Series. Cherie Blair, CBE, QC, former First Lady of the United Kingdom, Chancellor of the Asian University for Women, and Founder for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, gave the keynote address. Panelists included Dr. Dina Alsowayel, Associate Director of Women’s Studies at the University of Houston, and Dr. Zahra Jamal, Associate Director at Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance. Writer and community leader Andrea White served as moderator.

Mrs. Blair began her keynote highlighting the importance of education and that she was the first member of her family to attend university, “My journey from Liverpool to be married to the Prime Minister was incredible, and it was for my mother and grandmother’s passion to educate me, for which I will always be grateful.” She maintained that although improvements have been made in the last generation, “There are still too many girls who do not receive education…31 million girls of school age do not get into the classroom and 400 million are illiterate worldwide.” One of the projects which Mrs. Blair is passionate about is the Asian University for Women, located in Chittagong, Bangladesh. She serves as the school’s Chancellor, and points to the positive change education has made in alumni’s lives. Mrs. Blair also invited a recent student, Saren Keang, who is originally from Cambodia and now attends university in the United States. Ms. Keang shared her story and personal endeavor to challenge society’s view of women, “Culture can change and should change. It is not good to hold on to age old rituals and values that are designed to discriminate and create inequality.”

Panelists Dr. Dina Alsowayel and Dr. Zahra Jamal presented their thoughts on women's education by way of their experiences abroad and in the United States. Alsowayel discussed the portrayal of women around the world and noted that, "Barriers in the mind are sometimes greater than actual barriers (to female achievement)." Jamal focused on female education in the Islamic world, "The stereotype is that women in Islam are left behind, (however) in reality there are many stories of female Muslim leaders, such as female imams in China." The panel was consistent in support of positive change in global women's education, Blair sharing, “The world economy is changing rapidly and so is technology, therefore it is time for us to think outside the box."

Join Asia Society Texas Center for the next Women’s Leadership Series program, which will take place on September 28 and highlight Women in Medicine and Science. Please check the website in the summer for event details.

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