Magazine article Newsweek International

Educating Women

Magazine article Newsweek International

Educating Women

Article excerpt

Byline: Lucy Birmingham

A new university in Asia promotes cross-cultural learning.

As the founder of the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Kamal Ahmad is forging a new path for women's education in Asia, overcoming war, ethnic conflict, poverty, and severe discrimination. Opened in March 2008, AUW now has 428 economically disadvantaged students enrolled in its pre-collegiate and undergraduate programs. Most receive full scholarships and are recruited from 13 Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Iran, Burma, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Ahmad, 45, who grew up in Bangladesh and attended Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School, serves as acting vice chancellor of the university and president and CEO of AUW's support Foundation, He spoke by phone with NEWSWEEK's Lucy Birmingham. Excerpts:

You were only 14 when you first started a school in Bangladesh, teaching children who worked as household servants. What did that teach you about education?

My parents and grandparents were all educators, so from very early on I was familiar with the notion of education as a powerful instrument for change. Setting up the school when I was 14 showed me that even with limited resources, you could, in fact, get things done. That's what helped start this process. In some ways we are very unusual. Usually universities get set up by the state or somebody like a [George] Soros or an Aga Khan. We have no Soros, no Aga Khan, no state propelling this. It's very much a grassroots effort.

Is AUW's philosophy in line with the old saying "To educate a man is to educate an individual, and to educate a woman is to educate a family"?

Quite often you hear that we should invest in women's education because there will be other benefits--they will keep their family sizes small, immunize their children, and so forth. …

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