Brave Advocacy

By Matt Hawkins
March 24, 2014

Bradley industrial engineering major Sarah Handler ’16 used her voice to advocate on the world’s stage at the recent 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Handler spent two weeks in New York City leading a team of young adults who advocated for women’s access to education and STEM opportunities.

“I hoped to provide a voice for youth in a field and environment typically dominated by middle-aged diplomats,” she said. “Although half of the world's population is under 25, we young people are often neglected and silenced on the international policy making stage.” 

Handler led a team of 20 delegates from youth advocacy nonprofit SustainUS. The team met with a range of youth and government leaders, including Peggy Kerry, the U.S. Mission’s non-government organization liaison and sister of Secretary of State John Kerry. 

Delegates collaborated to draft a document that outlined a range of women’s equality matters. In addition to affirming previous action items on social, political, economic and civil rights issues, this year’s outcomes focused on education and training in STEM fields.

Though largely symbolic on the world’s stage, the document provided a starting point for conversations through a list of best practices.

“Simply because the outcome document calls for an end to gender discrimination doesn’t cause the world to suddenly become equal, but you can form policy that aligns with changing cultural beliefs and provide a small policy push toward equality,” Handler said. “The outcome document will have no true impact in promoting gender equality unless it is supported by government and NGO initiatives that address the pervasive cultural and institutional sources of gender inequality.”

Because many of the sessions were with career diplomats who lacked STEM backgrounds, Handler’s academic interests enabled her to directly address issues.

“My experience was a perfect blend of my disciplines,” she said. “My industrial engineering major gave me the knowledge and background to be able to provide a true perspective on girls in STEM and my political science minor fuels my fascination with the policy that will shape the integration of girls in STEM.” 

She also was a delegate to the 57th UN Commission on the Status of Women last year after a competitive selection process managed by the SustainUS Agents of Change program. The theme of the 57th Commission was the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.