Giving Young Women a Voice
What role should a women’s university play in twenty-first century Asia? Mayumi Karasawa, a professor of comparative psychology at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, provides a clear response. “Giving women a voice can be the greatest contribution of a women’s university,” she said in a recent interview. In Japan and other Asian societies, the invisible values of culture – which may implicitly or explicitly favor men and boys or give preference to seniority – can make it hard for women to find their voices and take their place on a path to leadership in their chosen professions. “Progress has been made but is not yet finished,” she contends. “We still need to encourage women’s voices in a university setting.”
Dr. Karasawa’s research in the field of culture and the self has shaped her understanding of the nature of leadership. “Eastern culture values interdependence,” she explained, “so in Japan, the goal of the leader is to make the group more harmonious.” But that doesn’t mean a leader should be silent. “Interdependence means concern for others,” she said, “and if that is your goal, you have to be brave enough to speak up and say what is good or bad, to give your opinion more explicitly, and to make hard decisions. If you are a good leader, you have to use your voice to say the truth.” A women’s university can give undergraduate students four years in which to find their voices and use them with greater confidence.
Dr. Karasawa heard a number of female higher education leaders use their voices and speak their truth at the October 23-24 Women’s Leadership Forum, co-organized as a virtual symposium by Ewha Womans University and the United Board. For example, Ewha President Heisook Kim asked how a collective female consciousness, nurtured at women’s universities, might shape the nature and values of technology-based societies. “Hearing her remarks made it clear that female role models are needed,” Dr. Karasawa said, who wants her students to see how female Asian leaders frame big questions and explore potential responses. “Just a ten-minute talk can impress people and encourage others.”
Looking across borders – of countries and academic disciplines – also can be encouraging. “This Asia-wide program was valuable, as issues related to gender, women’s universities, and women’s leadership need broader discussion,” Dr. Karasawa reflected. Each women’s university has its own unique features, but all can recognize the importance of encouraging effective leadership. “A good leader will make more leaders,” she said, “and if you have good leadership, you have a chance to dream.”