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Global Affairs Blog

Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall


“Reshaping the ‘Boy’s Club’ of Foreign Policy: Engaging with Former President of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva,” by Katherine Schroeder

A decade studying Russia taught me that the former Soviet Union is not always a space for women. When I did a Fulbright Grant at a university in inner Russia, I realized that women – including myself – were not expected to participate in any university decisions. In subsequent trips to the country, every research meeting or political event I attended put men on the center stage. The Soviet Union was known for their patriarchal traditions that continue to persevere in everything from grammatical structures to naming conventions. Despite this cultural framework, former President of Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbayeva managed to rise through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to eventually stage a peaceful revolution that helped her rise to head of state from 2010 to 2011.

In her discussion with students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, moderated by Associate Dean Rangita de Silva de Alwis, President Otunbayeva detailed the delicate balance Kyrgyzstan faces in its foreign policy roles with both Russia and China. As a strong advocate for anti-corruption measures herself, she outlined the importance of embracing strong governance while also accepting that progress can take time. When questioned about her experiences as a woman surrounded by men, she found that she faced few stereotypes in her career. Through preparation and strong advocacy, her male peers were able to take her seriously as a political leader. While this experience may not be typical for women around the world, it shows that confidence as a leader can overcome even deep-set traditions.

As a woman interested in a career in foreign service and the former Soviet Union, this kind of engagement with female world leaders is particularly meaningful to me. A dearth of female leadership is a problem in the United States as well, with women making up only 30 percent of State Department officials.1 Yet women who are in leadership positions rarely have the chance to address the challenges they faced to get there. If we want to see more women like Roza Otunbayeva, we need more dialogue on how leaders are made.


“Changing the Narrative in the Law and Legal Institutions: Listening to Plural Perspectives from Around the World,” by Chukwufumnanya Ekhator

As a student at Penn Law, I have been privileged to take advantage of numerous opportunities—both in and out of the law school—that demonstrate how changing the narrative in legal institutions can have a transformative effect on the law. Changing the narrative seems like a broad and overly general call to action, but it is far less abstract in practice than it appears. The first requirement is a shift in perspective, from what is traditional and entrenched to that which is innovative and unfamiliar. This shift in focus will result in a change in dialogue when we center and highlight voices and experiences that are often overlooked by law schools and legal practitioners: such as women’s voices, gender non-conforming voices, international voices, immigrant voices, African voices, voices of color, and more. By consistently promoting those that the law has historically overlooked, underestimated, and even silenced, we move beyond a shift in focus to a change in the narrative. Under the mentorship of Dr. Rangita de Silva de Alwis, I have researched ideas at the intersection of gender, geography and race.

Last fall, I acted as a moderator of the Law and Diplomacy Institute where I led discussion with Minister Moushira Khattab of Egypt, who was Egypt’s ambassador to the African Union and wrote the first anti-FGM law for Africa and the Middle East. I and other students had the privilege to interface with, and at times question, internationally recognized leaders on the world’s most pressing issues. We gained valuable experience in leadership and diplomacy and effective representation of conflicting public interests. During the spring of my second year, I took Women’s International Human Rights with Dr. de Silva de Alwis where we studied the application of the CEDAW and Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. Using what we learned, I completed a research project on FGM within the context of Nigeria’s complex parallel legal system and presented my work at the United Nations. That same semester, I completed an independent study with six other students with the World Bank’s Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative. In my final essay, I argued for the use of itinerant birth registration models to combat the identification crisis in Nigeria. It all came full circle this fall, as I had the honor of acting as a student interlocutor when Sandie Okoro—the General Counsel of the World Bank—sat for a fireside conversation at the law school. I was both shocked and honored when I heard her propose itinerant birth registration models as a solution to anonymity in developing countries, just one semester after I wrote a thesis arguing for the same.

At Penn Law, I have been able to pursue a wide range of experiences that work together to form a cogent study in shaping and foregrounding new and old narratives including our collected interviews and stories of the life and times of women leaders in the law who have shaped and disrupted law, public policy, and business like Ambassador Crystal Nix Hines. I had the privilege of interviewing Penn Law’s Professor Regina Austin, an important critical theorist for our work on Women, Law and Leadership, a new innovative course offered at Penn Law. My colleagues interviewed renowned thought leader Professor Dorothy Roberts of Penn Law.

As globalization proceeds at an alarming pace, we as legal practitioners and scholars must rethink the ways in which the law has been allowed to persist for centuries. Western legal tradition, which its emphasis on precedent and reliance on normative intellectual processes, must expand to include the voices of the historically ignored and disenfranchised. Changing the law will require changing the voices that have traditionally shaped it, and that can only come by reframing the narrative. I have greatly valued the opportunities I have had to pursue a study that centers ideas and global perspectives in order to apply new answers to age-old questions.