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2015 Women of the Mountains Conference Experiences: Drafting the Final Document

As students at Utah Valley University (UVU) approaching graduation, we really found ourselves wanting to get more involved professionally and practically, so to speak. We were looking for a cause to get involved with outside the classroom that would give us not only an experience, but would also allow us to distinguish ourselves in today’s competitive markets. Fortunately, we were able to find this opportunity in the 2015 International Women of the Mountains Conference (WOMC) as members of the secretariat of the conference. WOMC was sponsored by number of international institutions including the United Nations Mountain Partnership and it took place at the UVU campus located in Orem, Utah on October 7-9, 2015.

The WOMC was a true model of student engaged learning. As you may or may not know, this year’s conference was facilitated by students; members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU. It was truly awesome to watch the conference unfold, seeing the incredible things that students are capable of, and to be able to be a part of it. Our faculty, and many other prominent scholars and experts throughout mountain communities, served as advisers guiding us students through the complex process; from raising funds to sending invitations and calls for papers, taking care of accommodation for participants, and many other things. While much effort went into the preparation and execution of the conference, it wasn’t until its successful end that the greater part of our work in the conference really began.

Our job as members of the Secretariat was to draft the final document of the 2015 WOMC, compiling thoughts and ideas from the conference participants, including recommendations to the international community on gender issues. In August 2015, Deann Torsak, executive secretary of the conference, distributed the various responsibilities among the members of the Secretariat. Initially four students signed up to work on the final document of the WOMC. However, by the end of the conference only two of us from original group remained committed to do that very important job. We accomplished our task under the guidance of our advisers Dr. Butler, Associate VP for International Affairs and Diplomacy and focal point for the Mountain Partnership at UVU and Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, faculty in the History and Political Science Department at UVU and advisor of UIMF. We were extremely impressed and inspired by every participant’s level of dedication.

Our responsibilities included many activities important for the success of the conference and for our further professional growth, such as: analyzing similar documents, methodologies, and procedures adopted by other international forums. To achieve a high level of professionalism in our task required us to study additional academic literature, and the United Nations official documents, on different topics of gender and sustainable mountain development agendas. It was important for us also to utilize previous experiences accumulated by our predecessors during the adoption of this document. For example, we drew from the Orem Declaration of Mountain Women and the final document of the first International Women of the Mountains Conference in Utah, which was gathered in March 8-9, 2007.

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(L to R): Jesler Molina, outgoing President of UIMF, Rex Linder, and Seth Gordon during the session to discuss the draft of the final document of the WOMC

Drafting the document began by gathering the submitted papers of conference participants and recruiting recommendations and suggestions from them on their expectations of the final document. To ensure maximum accuracy and efficiency, our team divided the different panels between each of our members and studied the information collected before collaborating to prepare the initial draft of the document before the conference had begun. During the conference, each team member was assigned different sessions to attend, in order to make certain that all of the additional thoughts and ideas outlined by presenters would be incorporated into the developing draft of the document. As a result, we distributed and presented the first rough draft of the final document to all conference participants in a plenary session at the end of the conference activities on October 8, 2015.

For the month or so that followed the conference, we worked very diligently compiling notes and developing the various drafts of the document. In all, we sent out variants of the document to every conference participants three times. Each time the participant were given approximately one week to study it and to make suggestions concerning necessary changes to the: language used, to add new ideas, and recommendations, etc. We are so grateful to the many conference participants who actively corresponded with us regarding the document’s content and offered helpful and important suggestions. Mia Rowan, from the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, and Dr. Jed Shilling, from the Mountain Institute, were among our major contributors; and from whom we learned how to work on an official document of this caliber. It took close to a month and a half before the final version of the document was adopted by conference participants. That moment was the day of the approval of the document, which was the December 1, 2015. The final document was submitted to the Mountain Partnership Secretariat for further use and distribution among all interested stakeholders around the world. The Final Document is available at the WOMC 2015 web-site:   http://www.womenofthemountains.org/images/2015/15-12-02-WOMC-FINALIZED.pdf

As students of UVU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences (Seth-Philosophy and Rex-Political Science), we found that our education had definitely provided us with the necessary tools and prepared us for such a task. It was an amazing experience being in correspondence with the various participants in the conference, receiving suggestions and constructive criticism in order to accurately portray all of the presenter’s work and the overarching, critical messages of the conference. Our involvement in this conference provided us with invaluable real world experience and skills which include knowledge of bureaucratic processes, working in a team setting, and drafting a professional document, to name a few. We are glad that we were able to finish the job we started, seeing it through to its successful end. We are very proud of the level of quality we were able to achieve in this document, which was quite a challenging task for us; requiring a lot of time and dedication, while still juggling our regular school assignments and work responsibilities. The skills we gained here will undoubtedly assist us in our future endeavors.

We thank everyone that participated and contributed to the success of the conference.

Seth Gordon and Rex Linder, members of the 2015 WOMC Secretariat

My Engaged Learning Experience during the Women of the Mountains Conference

A lot of amazing and accomplished women representing mountain nations from different parts of the world graced the campus of Utah Valley University (UVU) during the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference (WOMC) under the umbrella of the United Nations Mountain Partnership located in Rome, Italy.  Our university hosted the WOMC on October 7-9, 2015 and I was fortunate to be a part of the students organizing committee and to contribute to the success of the conference. Our team was very happy that for the first time we were able to host this high level international conference entirely through the students’ efforts.  We were also glad to spread a word and raise awareness among so many people in the State of Utah and Rocky Mountain region about important gender issues and challenges for sustainable development for mountain communities.

I am also a member of Utah Valley University Multicultural Student Council (UVU MSC), which is an organization committed to helping historically marginalized groups, and WOMC presented a great opportunity to network and get together with many dignitaries, diplomats, officials, experts and scholars from a variety of local, regional and international institutions. Surely these amazing people from all around the globe had much to teach us.

During the conference I was part of media team and I worked closely with Jenny Starley, PR and Fundraising at the WOMC organizing committee. I was in touch with local newspapers and I contacted, for example, local newspaper Daily Herald with providing editors with media kit and all necessary information.

Picture1(L to R): Yankila Sherpa, President, Snow Leopard Trek, Nepal, Mia Rowan, Communications and Advocacy Officer, Mountain Partnership, F.A.O – U.N. and Deann Torsak, Executive Secretary, WOMC during the conference

Because of my similar responsibilities with UVU MSC, I was also able to photograph the participants who attended many different events during the conference. I am glad that many of my photos were later posted on Instagram, Facebook pages, Flickr pages of the WOMC and then were shared on the similar pages of the Mountain Partnership secretariat in Rome, Italy.

Many women-conference participants brought a perspective to this campus that I felt has been missing. They showed how each and every single individual can make a difference. I especially felt that charm during my interaction with Yankila Sherpa from Nepal. There were many distinguished women with great accomplishments during the conference, but she helped UVU students feel like her fellow colleagues.

Many men also came and spoke at the conference and added to what many of the women shared. The whole conference was a major success in terms of the information and the education that was given about the importance for all of us to help mountain women and mountain communities to sustain themselves and be contributors to the economic success and prosperity of their nations. Students and faculty of our school and all of UVU certainly benefitted from the appearance of all guests and speakers.

Picture2(L to R): Uday Teki, Director of Special Projects, Pioneer Park Coalition, Salt Lake City, and Danny Davis during the Conference

I personally benefited from the conference form of education that I gained through facilitation. I was able to help some of the guests around campus and provide for many of their needs. I was also able to gain so much professionally and get acquainted with so many important people and experts in gender and sustainable development issues, along with the amazing thoughts and ideas that they brought. Personally, this was the highlight of my time at UVU thus far.

Danny Davis, member of the organizing committee, Women of the Mountains Conference 

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

Students engaged learning at Utah Valley University by hosting the International Women of the Mountains Conference

Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, Dr. Rusty Butler, Dr. David Connelly

Utah Valley University (UVU) will hold the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference (2015 WOMC) on October 7-9, 2015. UVU traditionally co-hosts the WOMC with the International University of Kyrgyzstan as a gathering to advocate gender and sustainable mountain development (SMD) agendas under the auspice of the Mountain Partnership (MP) under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN). MP is a United Nations voluntary alliance of partners dedicated to improving the lives of mountain people and protecting mountain environments around the world. (For more information, see: http://www.mountainpartnership.org/)

One main feature of all WOMCs is their focus on raising awareness about the importance of gender and sustainable mountain development agendas of the United Nations throughout local communities in the state of Utah and the Rocky Mountains region as well as their contribution to the efforts of the MP on a global level. Another important goal of the WOMC is to continue traditions of gender advocacy established by international communities during the Celebrating Mountain Women conference in Bhutan in 2002 (part of the commemoration of the United Nations International Year of Mountains.)

WOM 2007 Poster
WOM 2007 Poster

WOM 2007 Display Poster
WOM 2007 Display Poster

The First WOMC hosted in Orem UT in 2007 gathered representatives from almost all the Rocky Mountain States and emphasized the importance of regional cooperation in contributing to gender and SMD advocacy globally. The Second WOMC hosted again in Orem, UT in 2011, continued the tradition of the previous gathering and at the same time helped to expand a network of the Mountain Partnership members in North America. As one of the results of the 2011 conference, the Mountain Partnership secretariat created a North American regional hub in Colorado State under the auspice of Aspen International Mountain Foundation and Telluride Institute.

2011 WOMC Poster
WOM 2011 Poster

WOM 2011 Display Poster
WOM 2011 Display Poster

The Third WOMC held in Puno, Peru in 2012 was the first gathering held outside of the state of Utah, implementing the decisions of the Orem Declaration of Mountain Women (the final document of the 2007 WOMC) to alternate the location of the conference between the State of Utah and mountain nations around the world.

WOM 2012 Poster
WOM 2012 Poster

WOM 2012 Display Poster
WOM 2012 Display Poster

WOMC is a grass-roots initiative which unites officials from different international organizations, led by the United Nations, the World Bank, diplomats, scholars and leaders of NGOs, educators, students and local community representatives. Their goal is to network, socialize and discuss joint initiatives and projects with a focus on engagement in global gender and SMD advocacy mountain communities from North America.What should we expect from the coming Fourth International Women of the Mountains conference on October 7-9, 2015?

Display Posters from previous conferences

This conference will be hosted for the first time by students from the State of Utah. In 2011, Utah Valley University students created the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of several student clubs with a focus on SMD promotion in their state and in the region (www.utahimf.org)They already have several achievements in that area:

  • UVU students contributed research to the Report on SMD in North America, prepared by the Mountain Partnership for the landmark United Nations RIO+20 conference in Brazil in 2012.
  • They were able to raise funds to send representative to the RIO+20 conference and to participate at the Third Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership as a side event there.
  • Two UVU student contributed to the agenda of the Fourth Global Meeting of the MP in 2013 which developed strategies for SMD advocacies by MP members in 2014-2017.
  • They advocated for the inclusion of mountain indicators among Sustainable Development Goals during sessions of several United Nations Open Working Groups in 2013-2014.
  • Since 2010, they made a tradition to commemorate the United Nations International Mountain Day on December 1.
  • Since 2011 they host an annual essay-contest on different SMD aspects among high schools in the state of Utah as a tool to foster new leaders for future SMD programs.

The student led initiative to host 2015 WOMC is based on UVU’s engaged learning approach which is “….in the spirit of the Carnegie Foundation designation, designed to help realize the two engagement categories that UVU has achieved:

  1. Curricular Engagement (Curricular Engagement describes the teaching, learning, and scholarship that engages faculty, students, and community in mutually beneficial and respectful collaboration. Their interactions address community identified needs, deepen students’ civic and academic learning, enhance community well-being, and enrich the scholarship of the 2015 Carnegie Elective Community;
  2. Outreach and Partnerships (Outreach and Partnerships describe two different but related approaches to community engagement. The first focuses on the application and provision of institutional resources for community use with benefits to both campus and community. The latter focuses on collaborative interactions with community and related scholarship for the mutually beneficial exchange, exploration, and application of knowledge, information, and resources (research, capacity building, economic development, etc.) (http://www.uvu.edu/gel/about/index.html)

During preparations for the conference, UVU students were able to expand their coalition by including in their organizing committee community organizers from Salt Lake City, Utah County and their peers from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, among others. Many of them are learning very important skills of managing logistics, protocol, and raising funds for the conference.

The organizing committee represents students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Many of them combine a membership in the organizing committee with their university study, full-time jobs and taking care of their own families.If you are interested in supporting them or wish to contribute to the conference and be a part of supporting student’s engaged learning experience at UVU, see for more details at: http://womenofthemountains.org/index.php/2015-utah-usa.

For additional questions please contact the following members of the organizing committee:

Deann Torsak, Executive Secretary of the Conference by: dktorsak@hotmail.com;

Tony Medina, VP for Logistics and Protocol by: tony.h.medina@gmail.com;

Jennifer Starley, Press-Secretary and Fundraising by: jstarley@hotmail.com;

Yanko Dzhukev, Social Media coordinator by: dzhukev@yahoo.com;

Kamaile Harris, Salt Lake City Liaison by: kamailet@yahoo.com;

Carlos Alarco, Liaison at University of Utah by: carlos.alarco@utah.edu;

Mary Cisneros, Economic Panel Moderator by: marycisneros1womc@gmail.com;

Kiersten Palmer, Business Fair Coordinator by: KPalmer@uvu.edu;

Parker Nielsen, Head of Protocol by: nielsenparker@gmail.com;

If you are interested in receiving the weekly WOMC newsletter, please contact Gabrielle Williamson, media specialist by GabrielleW@uvu.edu;

Dr.Baktybek Abdrisaev, was Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the U.S. and Canada (1997-2005), now Distinguished Visiting Professor of History and Political Science at Utah Valley University and an Advisor to UIMF, Dr. Rusty Butler, Associate Vice-President, International Affairs and Diplomacy and focal point (coordinator) for the Mountain Partnership at UVU, and Dr. David Connelly, Chair, Department of History and Political Science, UVU, and Editor-in-Chief of the “Youth and the Mountains” journal, published by UVU.