McMaster leads conference on raising the status of women


McMaster University and the Trained Nurses Association of India hope to raise the status of women around the world by bringing together those who work on the front lines of women's issues.

A four-day International Women's Conference held in New Delhi, India last week, titled “Women's Status: Vision and Reality — Bridging East and West,” was Basanti Majumdar's vision.

The McMaster professor of nursing brought together some 500 health care professionals, lawyers, educators and leaders from 45 countries. The $60,000 event was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The attendees, mostly from local grass roots organizations, met to discuss women's issues, particularly those in the third world. The conference reflected on women living in the rural districts, oppressed mostly by tradition, who are not allowed to be educated, own property, or earn an income. Topics discussed at the conference, which concluded March 3, included disease, poverty, oppression and empowerment.

University President Peter George gave the keynote speech on Feb. 28 on the “Status of Women: Verging East and West.” The President addressed the need for more conferences dedicated to shining the light on women of the third world so that their fight for empowerment does not fade.

Amidst the intense workshops, however, there was time for socializing. Dinner with the high commissioner of Canada, Peter Walker, a tour of the Taj Mahal, and a friendship dinner were part of the networking events.

Maureen Lennon, a staff writer in public relations who attended the conference, says “One of the most moving experiences I had in New Delhi was at the Friendship Dinner. On every plate was placed a maple leaf pin. A woman came up to me and asked me to pin the maple leaf on her shoulder while her friend took a picture. Even though we did not speak the same language, we still made a connection. I think that as women we are natural communicators.”

But the conference's real success can be seen in its aftermath.

“Some attendees will be partnering for research, others showed interest in attending facilities outside their country for training. As well, representatives from Iran and Australia are eager to partner with McMaster for future conferences. This conference proved that it does not always have to be schools like Harvard or Oxford, that it can be us (McMaster), who can be a leader,” says Lennon.

There is no word when the next conference will be held, but participants would like to see one every two or three years.

“As a person from a developed country I was overwhelmed by the third world,” remarks Lennon. “But that was countered by associating with these brilliant, passionate, and well-educated women and I came away with the feeling that India is in the hands of its women and they are remarkably capable hands.”

Several McMaster faculty attended the conference and gave presentations: Andrea Baumann, professor of nursing and associate dean of health sciences (The Emerging Relationship Between Female Employment Trends and the Provision of Health Care); Jean Chamberlain, assistant professor, department of obstetrics & gynecology (Models and Obstacles in Emergency Obstetrical Care in Rural Sites in Developing Countries); Henry Muggah, professor, department of obstetrics & gynecology (A New Role for International Health Professional Organizations in Reducing Maternal Mortality in Developing Countries); Susan French, professor, School of Nursing, (Empowment: What Higher Education Has to Offer).