This Week’s #HCWC #WCW: Elizabeth Melampy ’16

Elizabeth WCW
Photo courtesy of Meredith Clark

Each week HCWC will spotlight a woman within the Harvard community or beyond whose work and actions we deem to be “crush worthy.” We encourage you to participate in our #WCW  via your various social media platforms by sharing the women we honor each week to bring light to their important work.

Who she is: Elizabeth Melampy ’16

Why she’s our #WCW: Elizabeth’s nominator and sorority sister, Meredith Clark, said the following:

“Liz stands for everything that I define as a strong woman and a great sister. She is always there and willing to help with whatever you need, is always available when you need someone to talk to. She is so incredibly kind, warm, and eloquent. She stands up for what she believes in, and does so respectfully. She ran the Boston Marathon two years in a row, despite having tried the year of the bombing (read about her story here). She embodies everything that I thought of when I thought of sisterhood when I joined a sorority, and she continues to inspire me to be the best student, leader, and sister. We’ll greatly miss her next year!”

To nominate another #WCW, please use our form! Happy #WCW from #HCWC!


This week’s #HCWC #WCW: Owen Ojo ’19

Photo courtesy of #WCW nominator Allison Tsay
Photo courtesy of #WCW nominator Allison Tsay

Each week HCWC will spotlight a woman within the Harvard community or beyond whose work and actions we deem to be “crush worthy.” We encourage you to participate in our #WCW  via your various social media platforms by sharing the women we honor each week to bring light to their important work.

Who she is: Owen Ojo ’19

Why she’s our #WCW: Owen’s nominator, Allison Tsay, wrote the following:

“Ever since becoming friends through the First-Year Urban Program (FUP), Owen has challenged me to think critically about social justice, feminism, race relations, and more. Her ability to spark engaging dialogue through her writing never ceases to amaze, and every conversation with her is a gift. She recently authored an excellent article about the taboo surrounding menstruation. No matter the situation, she remains grounded and composed–constantly striving towards inclusivity and a better Harvard. Look out, Harvard, because Owen is a force to be reckoned with.”

To nominate another #WCW, please use our form! Happy #WCW from #HCWC!

Looking Beyond the Yard: Child Marriage Around the World Part 1

By: Sally Yi

When I showed someone my plan of study for the next three years, he noted that an overwhelming number of my classes deal with American history and issues. “There’s a whole world out there, you know,” he told me. And I concede that it’s true- it’s easy to forget that there’s a “whole world out there,” especially when we live on a campus fraught with its own array of gender issues. In the past semester, there’s been much dialogue around sexual empowerment,  about consent (or the lack thereof) and survivors of sexual assault, and about opening up once exclusively male spaces to women (1, 2). It is therefore quite apparent that there is never a dearth of issues that affect us on a personal basis in our daily lives in Harvard Square. However, one issue that is almost constantly on my mind is child marriage.

Child marriage became such a pressing topic for me after reading Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns in ninth grade. I had picked up the book as light reading, but quickly found out that it was not beach-read material. The main character, fifteen year old Mariam, is married to a man 30 years older than her, who abuses her physically and emotionally. Since I had just turned fifteen, it was easy for me to put myself into Mariam’s shoes and imagine my whole life cut short by being married against my will. At the same time, I could not believe that there were places in the world where this was such a common action and lived experience, and could not fathom the systems of oppression against women in these communities. And it broke my heart to learn, as I became interested in the topic, that girls in India married before the age of 18 were twice as likely to report that they were physically (beaten or slapped) or verbally threatened by their husbands than women who married later in life. Furthermore, child brides are often left emotionally traumatized, not only having to deal with sexual abuse but also reporting feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and severe depression.

There are six interns at the Harvard College Women’s Center. If we were living in a developing country, statistically, two of us would be married by now. According to the International Center for Research on Women, one out of three girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and one in nine are married before the age of fifteen.” That means that if present trends continue, 150 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday in the next decade. 150,000,000. That’s about the current population of Russia, or the populations of Germany and Thailand combined. Can you imagine- a whole country of girls who were forced into marriage as children, most against their will?

Ending child marriage by 2030 is among the targets set out in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by world leaders., but it is still far from reality. Though India made child marriage illegal in 2006, it is still practiced quite frequently, and 47% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 18% by the age of 15. It is largely because of gender norms, as girls are expected to get married and take care of her in-laws (and if she is not married, she’s considered a burden), whereas their brothers are valued and given the best education possible. In addition, poverty plays a role in child marriage in the country; Indian customs state that the girl’s parents must hold a large dinner, which is not financially feasible for many families, so they may have a marriage ceremony for an older daughter and have simultaneous weddings for her younger sisters who may even be toddlers.

Yet there are several more countries where child marriage is more prevalent than in India. In Niger, 75% of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday, and in Chad and the Central African Republic, 68% of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday. Child marriage in this region is particularly worrisome, as these girls face a higher risk of contracting HIV, as their husbands are often much older and have more sexual experience; as a result, girls ages 15-19 are 2-6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys their age in sub-Saharan Africa.

Though all of these statistics are startling, what moves me most is hearing about the stories of girls who escaped child marriage. One woman, Cameroonian-born Mairamou, states that she “dreamed of being a woman mayor, and having lots of diplomas… [and] going to university” but when she finished fifth grade, her father said “that was the age to get married” and she was married off to her father’s friend who was three times her age. Once married, she had to move far from her family, and lived in constant fear because her husband was violent and sexually assaulted her. Or take the case of Nujood, who was married at the age of nine and ran away from her husband seeking a divorce at the age of ten. These are sadly the daily lives of so many young women who are child brides, most of whom are not as lucky as Mairamou or Nujood in escaping their situations.

I applaud Guatemala for raising the minimum age for girls to marry from 14 to 18, but there is still so much work to be done. Laws don’t seem to be enough to eradicate child marriage throughout the world and to protect girls; we need to change systematic oppression and devaluation of girls, and to change gender roles in societies that do not value women’s education.

This Week’s #HCWC #WCW: Dr. Mae Jemison

Dr. Mae Jemison, courtesy of NASA
Dr. Mae Jemison, courtesy of NASA

Each week HCWC will spotlight a woman within the Harvard community or beyond whose work and actions we deem to be “crush worthy.” We encourage you to participate in our #WCW  via your various social media platforms by sharing the women we honor each week to bring light to their important work.

Who she is: Mae Jemison

Why she’s our #WCW: Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to travel in space. She holds nine honorary doctorates in engineering, letters and the humanities. After some time working as a physician, she served in the Peace Corps before NASA selected her as a member of their astronaut corps. After her time as an astronaut, she left NASA to form a company researching ways to apply technology to everyday life. Jemison, who is also a dancer, took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater along with her on the shuttle flight. “Many people do not see a connection between science and dance, but I consider them both to be expressions of the boundless creativity that people have to share with one another,” she says.

Jemison is an example of a woman in STEM who challenges, motivates, and inspires.

To nominate another #WCW, please use our form! Happy #WCW from #HCWC!

This Week’s #HCWC #WCW: Meera Seshadri!

Photo courtesy of Meera Seshadri
Photo courtesy of Meera Seshadri

Each week HCWC will spotlight a woman within the Harvard community or beyond whose work and actions we deem to be “crush worthy.” We encourage you to participate in our #WCW  via your various social media platforms by sharing the women we honor each week to bring light to their important work.

Who she is: Meera Seshadri

Why she’s our #WCW: Meera is a tireless and selfless activist who is the Associate Director of Harvard’s Office for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. She is exceptionally giving, generous, and kind, and is wholly devoted to creating safe environments within the Harvard community, to supporting all students, and to helping change our culture. She is so giving of her time, her energy, and her resources, and she is deeply committed to caring for her students and is an endlessly loving and compassionate friend and mentor to all who know her. Meera designs and implements behavior-change communication programs that advance gender equity, promote consent, and confront rape culture. Meera also oversees the training and supervision of the Consent Advocates and Relationship Educators (CARE). She has an extensive background in sexual health, education, and gender-equity-promotion, and she uses her wealth of experience to be a passionate advocate for survivors, for allies, and for all marginalized peoples (particularly students and young people.) Meera is such an important member of our Harvard community–her love for life and her passion for changing the world and plotting the revolution are contagious. Please visit Meera in her OSAPR office! She’s changing the world for the better in so many crucial ways.

To nominate another #WCW, please use our form! Happy #WCW from #HCWC!

Women in STEM: Studying the Gap

“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.”

— President Barack Obama, February 2013

In a September article in the New York Times, Eileen Pollack writes, “Computer scientists and engineers are going to be designing the future that everyone inhabits. We need women and minorities to enjoy an ambient sense of belonging in those professions if the future they create is going to be one in which all of us feel at home.” It has become trendy to complain about the gender gap in representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but what can we do to close it?

The Obama Administration recognizes these gaps, as do a number of females in STEM fields. Neehar Banerjee, a high school senior, describes the feeling of being the only woman on her robotics team: “Even beyond my classes, when I joined my robotics team in 2012, there were a mere five female members on a 30-person team (and no female mentor to speak of).” Through learning by doing, elimination of casual sexism in the workplace, and Women in STEM mentorship opportunities, however, the gap can be closed.

innovation_logo_wistemThe Harvard College Women’s Center demonstrates its commitment to promoting women who challenge, motivate, and inspire in STEM through our Women in STEM (WiSTEM) mentorship program. This year, WiSTEM will be running a series of talks with women in the STEM fields, called Women in Innovation. The first talk in the series will be with Dr. Jacqueline Ashmore, a renewable energy engineer. Join us!

Thursday, November 12, 2015
12:00pm – 1:30pm
Canaday Hall, B Entry

RSVP here.