The second annual Peace through Women Symposium was held in the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom on Saturday. The event, which drew 150 attendees, featured presentations from Oregon women leaders such as former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts and Jennifer Gallardo, an Oregon midwife who helped found a birthing center in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
The second annual Peace through Women Symposium was held in the Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom on Saturday.
The event, which drew 150 attendees, featured presentations from Oregon women leaders such as former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts and Jennifer Gallardo, an Oregon midwife who helped found a birthing center in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
In addition to powerful speakers, the symposium offered a chance for attendees to mingle and discuss the afternoon’s theme, articulated by Kari Anne McDonald, Portland State graduate student and member of the Women’s Resource Center, which co-sponsored the event.
“Bringing peace to the world should be our most important goal, but bringing peace to women is an essential part of that goal,”
In addition to the Women’s Resource Center, the symposium was sponsored by Portland Rotaract and the Pearl Rotary Club. Both groups are branches of Rotary International that, as McDonald explained, strive to bring peace through the empowerment and enlightenment of women.
McDonald, a past president of Portland Rotaract, organized last year’s symposium, which she said focused on education issues for women across the world. Saturday’s event, however, had a broader focus.
“I’m really passionate about ending violence against women,” she said. “And through that, you can see that there are other issues that can begin to be addressed, even if it doesn’t look like you are directly addressing them.”
Gallardo’s emotional presentation about her efforts in Haiti spearheaded the afternoon, and helped illustrate exactly how women around the world can save lives simply by assisting with childbirth.
“I remember birthing one baby, and placing it next to a box filled with dead babies,” she said. “It shocked me to know this could happen so close to the United States.”
The events Gallardo experienced in Haiti drove her to open MamaBaby Haiti, a birthing center that still operates in Haiti and that employs 14 local Haitians.
But Saturday’s event helped illustrate the work women are doing across the globe, which is not limited to prenatal health issues. Former PSU professor Suzanne Feeney described her efforts in developing microfinance loan programs for women in India.
In India, Dr. Feeney worked with local bankers to lend money to women in the lower castes, whom she said were often preyed upon by corrupt lenders who would “forget” when loans were paid back, driving impoverished
Indians to financial ruin and even suicide.
The women Feeney worked with in India bypassed the traditional lenders and began loaning money themselves directly to women in India’s lower castes, putting their interest payments directly into a separate box. After a few months, the Indian bankers returned the interest payments made by each woman, helping develop savings programs and keeping money within their local communities.
“This kind of thing, done by Indian women for Indian women, has had a remarkable impact on their lives,”
Roberts helped lift spirits in the room after a presentation by Chhunny Sok, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide who now works to restore education in her native Cambodia.
Roberts relayed the history of the women’s suffrage movement in Oregon to an animated crowd and finished by explaining her humble beginnings as a single mother fighting for equal access to education for her autistic son. Her efforts led to the first special education law in the United States and set her path to the highest office in the state of Oregon 30 years later.
“I waited for a leader, a hero, to come save me and my son. But I finally realized I had two crucial advocates—a cause and a mother’s anger,” she said.
Roberts closed her speech with an inspirational cap to the afternoon, building on the efforts of the women in Oregon’s past who worked to grant women the right to vote, the work of those like Gallardo and Feeney, and a look forward to the women of tomorrow—many of whom, it seemed, were in the audience before her.
“Our leadership in every facet of American life may very well rest in the hands of American women,” Roberts said. “In the words of Oregon’s state motto, She Flies With Her Own Wings.”
While Saturday’s event was McDonald’s final symposium as a member of the Women’s Resource Center, she left the door open for others after her to continue the work done over the past two years. And it seemed clear that that project had only just started on Saturday afternoon, which Feeney helped to articulate.
“The women in India would all come up to me and ask, ‘Why do you women in the United States go it alone?’ I didn’t know how to answer her. But it certainly made me aware of how often we don’t take advantage of our relationships with