Power, Policy & Progress

2023 Conference on Gender & International Affairs Leadership Committee with
Closing Plenary Speaker and Former Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Yulin Cruz

Last month, a team of students at The Fletcher School hosted the 2023 Conference on Gender and International Affairs (CGIA), an entirely student-run program that promotes integrating gender and intersectional analysis in global affairs. For Emma Bixler F24 and Ina Thigith F24, the conference co-chair and marketing chair, planning CGIA provided them with an opportunity to extend their coursework in gender and intersectional analysis and open discussion with a broader community. 

Conservation Efforts Have Intersectional Benefits 

Upon graduating college in 2017, Emma Bixler joined the Peace Corps to work as an education volunteer in Benin. Her time immersed in a small community clarified her dual interests in international affairs and Sub-Saharan Africa, and she found the opportunity to study both at Fletcher. 

Her first year as a MALD student led her back to Sub-Saharan Africa through a summer fellowship with Women’s Earth Alliance, a global organization that works with local nonprofits to develop climate adaptation responses. With Professor Dyan Mazurana’s guidance, Bixler found an opportunity to write something that would be of value to local partners in Kenya and Tanzania. During her time in the field, she researched program efficacy as well as the experiences of women who participate in these programs. Currently, she’s drafting a report, which will build to her capstone, and her findings support the initial impressions that had attracted her to study gender and intersectional analysis in the first place. 

“Women are not only influential in environmental justice movements—they are truly leading the charge,” said Bixler. 

“In Kenya, Dr. Wangari Maathai was one of the first women to emerge as an environmental justice leader and totally transformed the region through her promotion of planting trees, both as a form of resistance but also as a way to rehabilitate this environment that had been decimated by natural resource extraction at the expense of grassroots communities,” she said. “That really solidified for me just how gendered a concept environmental justice is and how influential women have been.”

“The women that I talked to were excited about conservation, but it’s much more complex than that,” she added. “Getting involved with these initiatives is intersectional in every way. If you’re involved in a conservation program, it’s going to have positive economic and social benefits in the community. Women talked about how the promotion of women in conservation often leads to women leadership within the community on a broader scale.”

Gender, International Business, and Development 

For Ina Thigith, intersectionality in global affairs also strikes a chord. A second-year MALD student, she studies gender and intersectional analysis, international business, and human security, and she sees the potential for gender to be considered in greater depth across fields. 

“I’m really interested in having a gender lens applied across disciplines: climate change, business, and so on,” said Thigith.

“That’s something I’m interested in normalizing: helping people recognize that gender is applicable to everyone, and that it involves and affects everyone.” 

Given her focus on international business, Thigith is using her capstone to analyze gender and social urbanism in Medellin, Colombia. While working on a final project on the healthcare ecosystem in Tijuana in a class with Professor Alnoor Ebrahim, her research led her to Los Parques Bibliotecas.

“A lot of people credit that project as being part of the city’s major transformation after the 1980s,” said Thigith. “When the city was going through political turmoil, this project was integrated into the community as a way to mitigate violence, increase literacy rates, and help to resolve some inequities in the community. A lot of people cite that as a remarkable project for the city itself with the potential for application in other countries as well.”

Decoding Influence in International Affairs

For both Bixler and Thigith, CGIA presented an opportunity to engage a broader community in the issues that they have been studying throughout their time at Fletcher. 

“We really wanted to make sure that the entire Fletcher student body, regardless of whether or not they study gender, felt like they had a place at the conference and that their field of study was being recognized,” said Bixler. 

The theme of this year’s conference was Power, Policy, and Progress, which emerged among the conference leadership through careful deliberation. 

“Power is always relevant in international affairs, but especially with current events in terms of LGBTQ+ communities, bodily autonomy, and within climate activism,” said Bixler. “Who has influence in these spaces? Who’s getting recognized for their influence in these spaces? We wanted to provide a space where voices that either have a lot of influence but aren’t recognized for it or are historically marginalized would be able to speak to their causes and share more about their thoughts on the different issues.” 

Both Thigith and Bixler were drawn to Fletcher for its collaborative student body, and their experience planning the conference reaffirmed this belief. 

“We’re working really hard to involve students from the broader Tufts community as well,” said Thigith. 

One unique way in which they’re doing so is through a collage workshop hosted by an MFA student from the Tufts Fine Arts School. “I think it’s interesting to see the connection between everyone’s lived experiences and how that’s reflected in international affairs, what’s going on in the world, what’s going on at home, and how that is represented visually,” said Thigith. “Art has always had a place in international affairs as a way for people to tell stories and to share personal experiences.”

Read more about Fletcher’s gender and intersectional analysis field of study