Club partners with organization to empower, motivate young women

Kate Von Mende ’18, Sohni Kaur ’17 and Shauna Altieri speak during a break. 
Alex Goldstein/Chronicle

Kate Von Mende ’18, Sohni Kaur ’17 and Shauna Altieri speak during a break. Alex Goldstein/Chronicle

Alex Goldstein

La Femme aimed to inspire women from schools across the city to find their voice through workshops, discussions and lectures at the first EMPOWER: Empowered Women Empower Others conference Saturday.

The club partnered with Empower HerFuture, an organization that hopes to inspire women to speak up and feel more confident, to host the event.

La Femme Vice-President Becca Frischling ’19 said that the club decided to hold the conference because they felt that the community needed an event centered around the importance of young women.

“I think [the conference] is important because we have to work to make sure that young women know what they are capable of,” Frischling said. “We think that it is important for people to hear inspiring stories from women of all backgrounds and in all fields.”

Rudi Bakhtiar, a producer for Reuters in D.C. and a former CNN News Anchor, told the audience stories from her time reporting in war-torn countries including Iran and Syria. She elaborated on her time in Syria, where Free Syrian Army members escorted her into cities that had been destroyed.

“As a result of going [into Syria], I witnessed some of the greatest horrors and tragedies of our decade, of our lives and probably of my life,” Bakhtiar said. “I had never witnessed destruction like that in my entire life.”
Bakhtiar also left the audience with lessons that she has learned throughout her life.

“Find your passion,” Bakhtiar said. “Really look for it. Don’t be afraid of it, don’t be afraid of anything anymore. Go look, see what makes your heart explode and attack it with all that you got, find your passion, don’t just take pride in your job, you don’t have to, you can do anything you want. The second thing is, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do whatever you want to do. Make sure you laugh at people who tell you you can’t do something. Just look at them and laugh and make sure you prove them wrong, ” Bakhtiar said.

Dr. Bow Barris, who specializes in anesthesiology, is another woman who overcame people’s expectations. She spoke about her experience as an African-American woman in the medical field and how she has learned to balance her family and career.

“You are always trying to prove yourself,” Barris said. “Even in college, people would never expect me to be a good student. No matter what stage you are at in your career, you notice and feel like people’s expectation of you is that you may not be as prepared or smart or as willing to work hard as the person next to you. I had to prove that I deserved to be in the field.”

The New York City’s Commissioner for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena said that surviving domestic violence inspired her to speak for women’s rights.

“I am a powerful person and I stand up for myself and for other women,” Abeywardena said.

Ballerina and quantum physicist Merritt Moore spoke about how she connects her love of dance with her love of science. She said that although she has faced pressure to focus on one passion, she finds value in pursuing multiple fields.

“In the dance world, it’s brutal,” Moore said. “There is a perfect ideal that everyone is supposed to be and they are going to make you feel really bad if you are not that ideal. And so for me, having the physics and the academics, I can be wandering into class, so excited and appreciative to be in class, that any negative thoughts or vibes that I was feeling from directors would wash away.”

Guests said they felt inspired by the day’s agenda.

“I really liked the diversity within the speakers and I am glad that they had speakers from a lot of different backgrounds,” attendee Anita Anand ’19 said. “I thought that was really interesting because I feel like if you are talking about women’s rights and equality you have to talk about it from all angles.