As International Women’s Day approaches, a UBC course helps students gain awareness of challenges faced by girls and women
UBC psychology instructor Sunaina Assanand discusses an international service learning course that gives students a chance to help empower women in Africa through education, microfinancing and HIV/AIDS prevention.
Why is it important to mark International Women’s Day?
Locally and globally, many females remain underprivileged. Media rhetoric suggests equality, but that is not reflected in the lives of women in many parts of the world, including Canada. Women in positions of influence have the responsibility to support movements that contribute to the empowerment of girls and women worldwide.
What connects you and your students to girls and women in developing countries?
I created a fourth-year course entitled Psychology and Developing Societies. The course examines the application of psychology to international development. As part of their coursework, students complete a 12-week service learning placement in Africa.
Last summer, 19 students participated in the course. Some students completed projects related to educational access for youth. Other students examined successful microfinance programs for women. A third group of students conducted research on HIV/AIDS prevention. In Africa, rates of HIV/AIDS are increasing more rapidly among females than males.
- Related: From Uganda to UBC and back
This summer, a second cohort of students will travel to Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, and Uganda to engage in new service learning placements related to the empowerment of women. These placements will be coordinated by UBC’s Centre for Community Engaged Learning.
Did the students’ work in Africa influence their activities here at home?
Yes, for many students the course developed an awareness of the need to contribute to social change. One student is currently creating a mentorship program for local foster children. Another student presented a TEDx Terry talk on her work in Uganda to an audience of over 400, to inspire others to contribute to social change. A third student is currently applying to law school, with a special interest in law and social justice.
What is your hope for International Women’s Day?
My hope is that every girl could be cherished as much as my own daughter is cherished.
Sunaina Assanand is an Instructor in the Dept. of Psychology.