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Dean Nwankwor’s Remarks at the Dean’s Speaker Series event featuring Florie Liser

The following is a slightly abbreviated text of the remarks delivered by Chiedo Nwankwor, Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs at SAIS, during a Dean’s Speaker Series event in celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day 2023.
Good afternoon, and Happy International Women’s Day to you all! My name is Chiedo Nwankwor, the Vice Dean for Education and Academic Affairs.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, let’s acknowledge that we are walking a jagged line that fuses history, or more appropriately in this case, herstory with the present.

A mere century and a half ago around the world—of course, with variations across regions and countries—women lived under terrible and dehumanizing constraints created by practices and laws shaped by androcentrism and patriarchy. Women were not allowed to have a voice in public spaces, to own property. Women could not vote, nor participate in formal government institutions, had little access to formal education, could not earn wages for work done or earned a tiny fraction of their worth, had no bodily integrity and no legal recourse for gender-based violence, were forced to dress and speak in certain ways, or not speak at all – the list goes on.

It’s the year 2023, and, thankfully, we have made remarkable progress from where we were a century and a half ago. Witness women’s increasing political participation and representation in governments, significant educational accomplishments, and great strides in all walks of life, from business and science to sports and entertainment.

Today, we salute millions of brave and strong women, past and present, who have fought for dignity and equality, for themselves and others. Women who have spoken truth to power, stared down the barrels of the gun and in most cases, given their lives for others. Women who have lived through unspeakable hate and brutality in the pursuit of justice, equity, and equality. Ordinary women all over the world, who toil day and night, within the most austere of conditions, bearing hunger, abuse and pain to take care of their families and children. We salute these women all over the world, all Sheroes, even though their capes remain invisible, and their exploits remain thankless. 

That said, we still have a long way to go on the journey to the promised land of gender equality and parity. Last summer, the World Economic Forum released its latest Global Gender Gap Report. The report found that, at the current pace, “it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap.” That report also stated that, as crises are compounding, women’s workforce outcomes are suffering, and the risk of a backsliding in global gender parity is intensifying. Across the majority world or what one might easily recognize as the Global South, the pandemic has resulted in interlocking challenges.

Simply put, women and girls continue to face many obstacles around the world as they strive to fulfill their dreams. But we don’t have to accept the status quo. In fact, we cannot afford to. Through our words and actions, all of us can say to the women and girls in our lives: “We stand with you. When you feel as if you don’t fit in, when your mind conjures the basest of emotions to convince you that your place is not at the table, look around and you will find an army of people inviting you in and making a seat for you at the table, a sea of voices echoing your humanity and worthiness. Rise to the occasion, take the opportunity and then hold up the ladder for the women coming behind you!”

Discussing with our guest today is our own Dean Steinberg, a true ally in this struggle for gender equality, diversity and inclusion—whose strong belief in the humanity and equality of all people, male and female, shines forth through his leadership, the inclusivity he shepherds, and his openness to reason, debate, and a willingness to see the best in others first and foremost. We salute you.

Our guest today is one of such women who have held and continue to hold the ladder for other women and men, especially across Africa. A woman of great accomplishments who exemplifies the spirit in the purpose of International Women’s Day. Florie Liser is the President and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa, the leading U.S. business association focused solely on promoting business and investment between the United States and the nations of Africa. Florie is a proud SAIS alumna, and all of us at SAIS are equally proud of her…

It is my great pleasure to introduce Florie Liser and Dean Steinberg as they begin their conversation…