Lessons from Moderating the Heritage Panel, Women of the Mountains Conference 2015

In October 7-9, 2015, students-members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University hosted the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference, under the United Nations Mountain Partnership. It was the first time that students were given charge to organize the event and it was very exciting for us all.

I felt honored to be invited during summer 2015 to join student organizing committee and to moderate for the Heritage and Family Values Panel of the conference. Frankly speaking, as the single parent of ten children, and full-time student at UVU, at the beginning, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be effective and helpful with the activities of the conference due to my lack of the time. My conversation with other members of the committee and advisors allowed me to put aside my concerns and doubts. I am so grateful to them for their understanding support and encouragement, due to which I was able to contribute my energy, thoughts and ideas to the WOMC agenda and activities.

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(L to R ): Second raw – Dr. Cholpon Akmatalieva, Faculty Adviser for the Conference; First Raw: Carolina Allen, founder, Big Ocean Women and Megan Raines during preparations for the conference

According to my responsibilities I focused on gathering attention and possible participation at my panel from scholars, experts, women leaders in the State of Utah and beyond its borders. I spent a lot of time to send a call for papers for the conference to all interested institutions and individuals by means of social media and personal contacts. Thanks to our meetings with other student organizers and with Deann Torsak, Executive Secretary of the Conference during the months ahead of the conference I was able to learn how to work with correspondence, how to process abstracts, final papers of the participants, among other things. It was great experience for me to learn from their organizational skills, hard work, and persistence. Advising professors also dedicated time and energy to get to know the students and offer support, suggestions, and encouragement.

I was thrilled during preparatory stage for the conference to get acquainted with many prominent experts and scholars on women issues, leaders of NGOs from our state and other parts of the North America and overseas. Several NGOs, whom I was able to contact have accomplished many important projects and initiatives with focus on gender equality or other gender issues and even for example attended the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March 2015.

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Wendy Jyang, Chairperson, Utah China Friendship Improvement Sharing Hands Development & Commerce, presents at the panel

During the conference meeting the panelists and becoming familiar with their fascinating life stories, and the unique experiences that they brought to share with our panel was the highlight of my involvement. As moderator of our panel on Heritage and Family Values, I introduced first to the audience Wendy Jyang, who spoke to us about her agenda as the founder of the NGO registered under the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). She shared her passion for strengthening families and honoring the roles of mothers as an inroad to eliminating poverty globally, but particularly in China. Carolina Allen, founder Big Ocean Women an organization which has also brought its agenda before the CSW59 at United Nations headquarters, followed Ms. Jyang with a philosophical explanation of the Big Ocean Women’s goals to preserve and protect motherhood and the underpinnings of maternal-eco-cultural feminist movement. Ms. Allen explained how the ocean became of a symbol to her of the quiet but persistent influence that a woman can have on her environment as she observed a wave gently, but repeatedly, wash up against a rock and begin to change its shape. Both women stressed the importance of the individual.

UVU Professor Laura Hamblin followed with an introduction to her website Iraqi Women Refugees: An Oral History Project, which offers a look into the traumatizing life experiences of Iraqi Women. Dr. Steve Emerman from UVU concluded the panel with a fascinating explanation of his studies pertaining to lichen growth on sacred Mani walls in Nepal. His presentation partly focused on the way that local men and women differed in their interpretation of how and whether or not the walls were cleaned. Professor Emerman also explained how the lichen growth helped date historical events like landslides in Nepal.

All presenters also made some suggestions and recommendations based on their presentations, which I summarized and later submitted to the secretariat in order to include to the official documents of the conference.

As the session concluded I felt excited about what we had experienced in the two hours we had together. The panelists each took us on a unique journey to a new part of the world: from China, to the beach in Hawaii, to streets of Iraq, and the mountains of Nepal.

I felt the entire conference was like that; a chance to explore the globe and an opportunity to meet new women-friends from around the world. It was also a great opportunity for us students to contribute to the noble goal of spreading word about gender and sustainable mountain development agendas of the United Nations among so many people in the state of Utah and Rocky Mountain region.

I am happy that I took the chance to be involved and look forward to the next Women of the Mountains Conference.

Megan Raines, moderator of the Panel on Heritage and Family Values, organizing committee of the WOMC2015