Leopard cover yellow.jpg


WOMEN FORWARD INTERNATIONAL NEWSLETTER                                         FALL 2019

Kent Davis-Packard 
President & Executive Director

Listen, the world is singing a new song - 

a song we’ve never heard before


But change comes         

It comes in the blink of an eye

the way a Leopard emerges

At first unseen, silently before the naysayers perceive it – stealth, suddenly,

she’s there, out in the open,

free – as she always was.

Screen Shot 2019-09-26 at 11.31.33 AM.pn

The Nepalese have a traditional belief that Buddhist monks transform themselves into snow leopards in order to slip across borders unnoticed – to search for medicine in Tibet – the medicine of transformation.


Everyone knows what it is to transform. There’s not a single woman in the world who doesn’t know what it means to rise out of the ashes. And I know there are men who know what it means as well.

It comes from suffering, and everyone – women, men, children – you, reader, has known what it is to burn inside for something real – to burn to give life meaning. Maybe it is that fire – that spark – present at the core of everyone – that brings you to want change – just like me.


So let’s not waste this precious time together, because no one person can bring about the kind of change we’re talking about: systemic change in human relationships, and therefore systemic change in the way we practice diplomacy – in the way we move together as nations – as humanity.

Let us not fumble in pessimism and in the mind’s trickery: that flimsy ego which seeks power over mission, and doubts what is possible.


I have learned from my students that anything is possible – those young graduate students around the world are ready to sing that song that has never been sung before! They are embracing transformation. Why? Because they know that it is the medicinal remedy required to address the root causes of our conflicts and global challenges


This year, it is our honor to launch Women Forward International in partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Together, we are enabling:

  • Stanford University students under the leadership of Dr. Frank Fukuyama to work with NATO to come up with new ways to stop sex trafficking in eastern Europe; 


  • Columbia University students to team up with Pro Mujer to turn around impact investors from a pattern of only investing in male-run businesses in Latin America despite the positive returns resulting from investment in female-run businesses; 


  • Georgetown University students to expose and enable the vital role of Afghan women in the peace process in Afghanistan;


  • The students at Science Po in Paris, France to enable women’s collectives across French-speaking West Africa to join forces to increase their legal rights;


  • The University of California, Berkeley students to carry out an impact assessment for a food redistribution non-profit called the White Pony Express that is of particular benefit to single mothers here in the United States; and

  • Harvard University students – to build a much-needed business accelerator for women entrepreneurs in Mexico. Our client, the Ananda Group, has shared how that project, like our other projects, has impacted their work and contributes directly to fulfilling many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.


  • Women Foward International will also feature National Defense University’s Women Peace and Security essay winner at the Doha Forum in December.


I want to thank our founding donor, the Embassy of the State of Qatar for making all these projects possible. I have been inspired by so many of its women diplomats whose desire to uplift women is clear and demonstrated by their own work as they forge impressive careers with their foreign service.


I also want to thank the Hearts Path Charitable Foundation and Marshall Millsap and others.


I thank my colleagues at the Aspen Institute, especially Wesley Spencer, Women Forward’s intrepid Director of Arts Partnerships and Strategic Development; Sarah Odeh, who has given her passion and devotion to our launch this summer and fall; Lindsay Wozniak, our Creative Director; Ellis Pines, a pioneer in his field, expert sounding board, artist and friend.


Also my deepest thanks to Dr. Allan Cohen for his generous advice and support, his wife Barbara Cohen, for her mentorship to our team, and to Mona and John Oswald, vital to taking the work of Women Forward International to the next level as we forge our partnership with the United Nations.


Taking things to the next level: that is what it is to rise out of the ashes – you lose everything – if you are willing to do everything for your mission – and it is that very mission that pulls you up – it is the spark of an invincible flame that cannot be extinguished – because it comes from the heart.


In that secret confidence – in the power of your mission and the love you put into the hunt for a new world – you can stand up and say:  It is time for real change, and that means educating our next generation of leaders to be conscious of the impact their actions have on everyone, including that half of the world that has lived for too many centuries at a disadvantage. 


A great sage once said: Although the sense of equality is made the basis of many social and political ideals, the real conditions of rich co-operative life are fulfilled only when the bare idea of equality is replaced by the realization of the unity of all life.


I speak Washington and I speak Leopard. Those are two different languages and one doesn’t understand the other and one must become the other.


Because in truth, there is no real separation between political science and poetry, between Nepal and Tibet, between law and culture…between.


We mostly know this. The uncanny part is that we imagine a society in which this separation exists. 


But, just like language and words are never outside of the political and cultural contexts in which they are used, in which their meaning is historically and socially infused, and just as words present a bewitching conundrum in which we cannot arrive at it – that which we want to signify – that which is in and of itself, itself – the practice of law and policymaking is always going to stand outside of the ring of justice, because it is culturally-contextualized. Call it law, call it policy, but something else is at play, at least for now.


One sure-fire way to remove that façade, to acknowledge and come to terms with that discrepancy and to expose its impact on human relationships is through Art. One writer said: a writer’s job is to speak the unspeakable. Art can reveal that which no one wants to talk about or maybe cannot talk about in words. It can make us see the actual power structure at play. It makes us see the play. And gender studies is nothing more than the study of power relationships – perhaps that’s why it’s so controversial. 


The study of sexism opens the door to the understanding of all power relationships. You end one ism, you end all of them, notes leadership expert Dr. Monica Sharma. 


So it is our business as practitioners of international relations to study, understand, and address so-called gender issues – all the way from the basic family unit up – to end violence in the world, we must end patriarchy. And Art helps us do that. 


Art has traditionally been excluded from the study of politics and the social sciences. It’s time to bring it back to its rightful place in international relations education so that we can make progress. It is no accident that the theme of the launch of Women Forward International is the power of Art to advance women to advance humanity. 


“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant,” writes Emily Dickinson – she’s talking about the truth. She knows there must be some cover over it so as to not too brightly shine a light on our state of being because it –

Truth – whether you believe it exists or not – burns – burns away its observers – and burns at the core of our real identity. It – that which we call Truth – is what can dissolve the barriers that make us separate – it does not impose separate identity but rather a core of unity that can threaten the individual’s sense of self. That is Dickinson’s Art. That is what Art does.


Societies protect and maintain these barriers that are, in truth, illusory, because they are based on fleeting contextual history and relationships that can just as easily be altered in the blink of an eye – but, instead of upholding a Truth, or Truth, we have permitted the continuation of a façade imposed or that we impose in order to maintain a particular power dynamic that enables inequality to pose as justice.


We live by unwritten codes. We have Constitutions that we imagine to make us equal. Are we equal? Are we treated equally? 


Writers and artists and those who challenge social norms see the façade and play with and overturn and deconstruct it eternally in the most influential and transformative works of literature from as far back as we know until today. On September 11, we heard one of them, Syrian poet and visual artist, Nada Odeh. 


Plato describes how Socrates submits to an unjust law in order to bring awareness that things must change. If he had not submitted, no one would have questioned that façade of justice. 


Remember also Sophocles’ play, Antigone. Antigone is condemned to death for burying her brother, a traitor to Thebes, against the wishes of their uncle, King Creon. 


But Antigone is obeying a higher law and the King is demanding that she obey his law – which is tied to the kingdom – the law of the land: national identity. Should she be a good citizen, or should she be loyal to love? Sophocles makes us grapple with the weaknesses in our legal system and confront human imperfection translated into our practice of the law in general and our society’s denial of the very fact that we do live in an imagined system in which we think practice of law = justice. 


Take another example: Cassandra, the Greek princess of Troy, seen as a liar and a madwoman by her family because of Apollo’s curse on her to always tell the truth in prophesy but never to be believed. 


This was her punishment for refusing Apollo as a lover. The tragedy is told and retold by the Greeks, who, I would contend, were fascinated by the notion of a society’s inability to accept the truth. Truth, that dazzling, radiant, sun substance Emily Dickinson calls: “too bright for our infirm elight.”


And of course you have Portia’s speech in Shakespeare’s the Merchant of Venice.  Portia points out that although the justice system in place might have the right to condemn a man for not paying his debt, the actual transaction in question, which involved his giving a pound of his own flesh as payment, opens once again the wound of imperfection in man’s law. 


There is something better than the law, says Shakespeare. There is mercy. {I translate that as love.} Bel Hooks writes: “A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving…There can be no love without justice.”


And mercy is that which opens the way to justice – not the practice of law in its current state. In Shakespeare’s famous courtroom speech, Portia explains:


And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.


This seasoning of justice is Women Forward International’s mission.


I invite you to join us, because it brings us closer to one another and to our true identity – which is to have no identity – not national nor gender, but to live through the heart, by Shakespeare’s standards, and his empathetic audience towards Portia and the man condemned. We become receptive to something better than dogma.


And here we see the power of Art to lift up policy, law, and international relations to enable them to meet their original mission.


In launching Women Forward International, we take things one step further – out of the trees –into the open light. We chose a significant day: September 11, because women’s rights have been burned away and women are most affected by extremist ideology. And extremist ideology is in every culture. And we are rising out of the ashes.


My students asked: Did the legal reforms in India bring about greater equality for women, or was it the shift in consciousness, or the culture change that occurred, because of the overwhelming shock of a single incident of a violent act towards one woman on a bus? We all know that story.


But we forget the power of stories and tuck them aside while we reel from them, and then tell ourselves a story that there is separation between story and life, between Art and diplomacy.


Are we ourselves locked inside the system, which is dependent on a certain stability we think is granted by behaving in a certain way – by our not daring to question whether we are equal?


Must those who question whether we truly have equality always be labeled as “rebels” and “radicals?” As leopards? If you unravel the scarf that is meant to keep us warm in the winter, but is, in fact restricting us – you find that we are not rebels – but snow leopards emerging – simply daring to look straight at the dazzling Sun.