This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Wednesday, June 29, issue of The Chautauquan Daily
Emma Morehart | Staff Writer
At an early age, Dr. Afaf Meleis learned from her mother and grandmother that there are different kinds of power and different types of leadership. Now, she teaches others to rethink their attitudes toward power and gender inequalities around the world.
“It’s important to be able to detect some of the challenges and risks that women are suffering from and to fix the quality of life and health, and if it does that, it also affects families and communities and societies,” Meleis said. “Empowering women is a cause that could lead to, and does lead to, peace in the world.”
At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Meleis will continue the Interfaith Lecture Series with “Empowered, Healthy Women: Overcoming Universal Challenges.” Meleis uses her background as the Dean of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania, a traveler and an Egyptian to teach that women face similar gender inequalities worldwide.
“Women from developing and developed nations face similar issues,” Meleis said. “The challenges women face are not limited to any cultural, sociocultural or ethnic group. These are the same issues that tend to be a result of marginalization wherever women are.”
These challenges include violence, human trafficking, forced marriages, child marriages, lack of sanitation, lack of access to health care, educational hurdles, nutrition and more, Meleis said.
Meleis also served on the Global Health Council board, where she mentored Joan Brown Campbell, the director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua.
“She has a gift, a passion, for what she believes in and significant knowledge, particularly of nursing as a career, but also of the special gifts that women bring to the issues of public health,” Campbell said. “She’s going to talk about the whole concept that if we take care of the lives of women, we will result in having healthier children.”
Ultimately, people’s opinions about power and gender equality are a culmination of their experiences, Meleis said. When she was 13 years old, her closest friendship ended when her friend was forced to get married. As she heard the stories from colleagues, students and other women entering the nursing field, she realized that the women had different experiences but faced similar obstacles.
Meleis’ experience with religion and her Muslim faith also guided her opinions about women and health, but in a neutral way.
“I look at religion the same way I look at civil society: to see in what way are women being treated in the religion and in what way are their rights respected and preserved,” Meleis said. “It’s not the religion itself; it’s the way religions are interpreted.”
Religion is not the only factor that influences gender equality, though. The biggest problem facing women, Meleis said, is that there are barriers in religion, culture and community that prevent women from contributing to society to their full capacity.
“The point I want to make is that women comprise half of our human race, and all have the potential of making major contributions to the human race, and when we compromise them, then we compromise economic, political and social advancement,” she said.
Many of the things that people think are advancements, like globalization, might not be fully equal. However, the goal, and even the first step to improving gender inequality, is clear.
“When we put our gender glasses on, we’ll see that they might be compromising women’s ability to function up to their full capacity and to be healthy,” Meleis said.