About the Author: Anna Mussman serves in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' Youth Programs Division."Are women encouraged to join defense services?" asked a high school student from Brahmanbaria High School at a web chat hosted by Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale during her visit to Bangladesh on February 8. As students from schools throughout the country logged on to discuss issues with the Under Secretary, their questions ranged from the status of women in the United States, to co-ed versus women's only education, to whether women received equal pay with men, and how American women balanced career and family responsibilities.
"I think it is important for women to pursue a good education and be active in their communities and the political life of their country," Under Secretary McHale told the students. "I have been very impressed by the reports I heard about the December 2008 election and the number of Bangladeshis who actively participated in the elections. I am sure this included many women and their continued participation is the best way to address the issue you raised and advance their positions in this country."
Under Secretary McHale spent the morning at the Uttar Badda Kamil Madrasa in Dhaka, where a State Department public-private partnership with Relief International-Schools Online and Intel established an Internet Learning Center, started an English Language Club, trained teachers to use technology in the classroom through the Intel Teach Program and involved students in dialogue and collaboration online with American peers. At the Madrasa, McHale learned first-hand from students how access to technology and the Internet had changed their lives and how much they appreciated learning about American culture through the program.
In answering the students' questions, the Under Secretary emphasized education as a means of improving the status of women in Bangladesh and as the most significant catalyst for her own career and for American women in general. On a lighter note, when asked whether she liked to cook, the Under Secretary responded: "Hello, Pijush. I do love to cook, but as a working woman I don't have as much time as I would like. I have to say I have very much enjoyed Bengali food and would love to learn some of these recipes so I can make them for my family when I get home."
Participants in the GCE program are Bangladeshi youth and educators from urban and rural areas and from all walks of life. For most of them, computers, Internet access and opportunities for international education would be an unaffordable luxury without the support of the U.S. Department of State. The opportunity for GCE participants to virtually meet U.S. Under Secretary of State McHale underscores the power of information and communication technology to build bridges and connect people.
For more information about the Global Connections and Exchange program in Bangladesh, including a transcript of the web chat with the Under Secretary, please see the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs' website.