AlumnaeOct 25, 2017
Wenny Kusuma ’80: Women’s Voices, Choices, and Safety
Wenny Kusuma ’80, Country Representative for UN Women Nepal, returned to MHS to speak at the Board of Visitors
In an inspiring and enlightening Board of Visitors program presentation, Wenny Kusuma ’80, Country Representative for UN Women Nepal, invited attendees to think about their accountability and their voices as they consider the rights and roles of women in the 21st century.
Ms. Kusuma, returning to the Miss Hall’s School campus for the first time in thirty-seven years, delivered the keynote address in a special Board of Visitors program held on October 20, 2017. In her remarks, “Women’s Leadership on Human Rights: Our Voice, Choice, and Safety,” Ms. Kusuma spoke about her work, the work of the United Nations on behalf of women worldwide, and the importance of women’s access to and participation in governance, and she presented some startling statistics on the status of women.
“I often talk about democracy as the most important delivery system for human rights,” Ms. Kusuma said. “Gender equality and good governance are linked and mutually reinforcing. You have to ask, what is government doing, and how does it relate to gender equity and human rights? You cannot achieve one without the other. You must have the participation of everyone. It is so basic, yet it is so missing.”
Ms. Kusuma delivered her remarks to MHS students, faculty, staff, and guests gathered in the Thatcher Family Gymnasium of the Anne Meyer Cross ’37 Athletic Center. School President Jayme McGuigan ’18 and Vice President Andrea Zhang ’18 opened the program and introduced MHS Theme Committee members Ashley Daley ’18, Shanti Nelson ’18, and Julie Xu ’19, who shared insight into this year’s schoolwide theme of Advocacy.
Head of School Julia Heaton followed by noting Ms. Kusuma’s commitment to global human rights, particularly freedom of expression, association, and choice. “At a time when women worldwide are stepping increasingly into roles of power and influence, we are also seeing women’s rights constrained and debated at the local, national, and global levels,” Ms. Heaton said. “From sexual assault on college campuses, to innumerable instances of sexual harassment across industries, we are still witnessing and experiencing major threats to women’s safety, strength, and voice. Here at Miss Hall’s, we are committed to developing voice in our students, so that they can choose to be active participants in society, so they can advocate for human rights for all, so that ‘#metoo’ can mean ‘Yes. I also have voice and power in the world.’”
Ms. Heaton also introduced Ms. Kusuma, who has more than thirty years of experience in the field of women's human rights and gender equality, with a focus on women, peace, and security in conflict and post-conflict settings. Since 2016, she has served as the Country Representative in Nepal for UN Women, United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Prior to her current position, Ms. Kusuma served from 2010 to 2016 as the UN Women Country Representative in Cambodia, and from 2008 to 2010 as the Country Director in Afghanistan for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, commonly known as UNIFEM.
In her remarks, Ms. Kusuma referenced the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Ms. Kusuma pointed to statistics showing that of 152 heads of state worldwide, 11 are women, of 193 heads of government worldwide, 11 are women, and, in looking at branches of government, women make up about 23 percent of parliamentary representatives in lower houses of government worldwide. The numbers, Ms. Kusuma noted, point to a difference between the right of and the access to political participation—or voice.
Women’s choices, Ms. Kusuma added, are often confined by lack of access, the economic realities of earning less than men, job segregation that largely affects women, and by rules or customs that prevent women from inheriting or from accessing banking. Choices are further impacted by issues of safety. “Violence against women is one of the most prevalent forms of human rights abuses,” she said. “So, I ask, are women a viable constituency? To be a viable constituency, can you, as women, make viable demands? Are those demands met with serious responses, and, if not, is there an ability to enact consequences? Unfortunately, in a lot of places, women are not a viable constituency.”
Ms. Kusuma closed by reflecting on her years at MHS, and she pointed out to students that their place at Miss Hall’s represents a promise for the future. “I spent my first fifty years focusing on acquisition—acquiring my skills, my experience, my knowledge—because I knew I had to do something with all I had acquired,” she told the students. “I said, ‘My gain is your gain, because what I get, I will share with you, and the benefits will be ours.’ I have a new motto now: it’s about your acquisition, because your acquisition is my gain. Your success is our success. That is a source of optimism, because you are our future.”