How can women’s struggle for equality in the past help today’s young women become active in breaking the pattern of continuing inequality and harm that too many women endure?
Using the springboard of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, students used their summer break this week to explore these issues.
“What is the point of exploring history except to change the future,” said Nada Odeh, an artist and activist who spoke at the symposium.
Zooming into the exploration of “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” drew the interest and activism of 70 teens from six states and five different countries at the 13th annual Summer Symposium, based out of Buffalo. The six-day online event was sponsored by Erie 1 BOCES and the Academy for Human Rights, which is led by Andrew Beiter, a member of the Springville Faculty Association.
Students engaged with a host of speakers who are living examples of activism, helping to halt sex trafficking and child labor; examine women and war; and empower women to find leadership roles. Students were shown how to use their voice to influence the legislative process.
Whether it be making art or making a documentary, students learned from women of change.
“Women should have a voice,” said Oula Alrifai, a fellow in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics. She came to the United States from Syria as a frightened teenager with her parents, whose lives had been directly threatened for their activism.
She has co-founded the Syrian-American Network for Aid and Development, and produced the documentary Tomorrow’s Children, which explores Syrian refugees forced into child labor in Turkey.
Speaking frankly to the students, she explained how during her first six months in this country she was leveled by depression and trauma. Then she began finding her voice through advocacy, speaking to journalists and lawmakers about the war, genocide, starvation and dictatorship in Syria, asking for help. She earned a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies.
She credited the many teachers who use the I Am Syria curriculum to work with students.
The path to advocacy can begin both in and out of school.
“You can donate to help refugees. You can volunteer to teach them English. You can show them around,” Alrifai told students.
Art is a universal way to communicate, said Odeh, whether it be painting signs for a protest, creating a painting, writing or expressing ideas through dance.
The Women’s March group she is involved with joined with activists from Black Lives Matter to spend a day providing supplies and helping to create colorful and impactful signs for a protest, she said.
“It’s another way to advocate,” said Odeh, a Syracuse resident who is originally from Syria. “You want to go somewhere with this frustration.”
Each student created a painting and Odeh helped them to find and pull out the meaning behind their work through images and color. She asked them to focus on positive action, and students responded with art expressing the need to care for the earth, to stop suicide, to help others globally, and to stop using women as objects.