First Lady Felicia Knaul leads community walk, promotes gender equity

Students and community members participate in the International Women’s Day Walk and Talk with Dr. Felicia Knaul, which began at the Rock Wednesday evening. Evelyn Choi // Staff Photographer

More than 60 faculty members, students and administrators walked around Lake Osceola in matching T-shirts March 8 in celebration of International Women’s Day. The event was led by Felicia Knaul, Director of the University of Miami Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas and UM First Lady. Unlike the recent mass marches in major cities, the event was a “Walk and Talk,” because, as Knaul said, you need authorization from UM  in order to have a march.

“We know that the Women’s March was incredibly successful and brought people together and brought people out,” Knaul said. “I think what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is important – to do something that a lot of us weren’t doing, which is actively going outside and standing up for a cause.”

Knaul has had three walk so far this year and several others last year.

Knaul emphasized the importance of changing what is valuable in the working world. She encouraged the idea of paid paternity leave to relieve the pressure on women to be the primary caretakers during the difficult first months. This is just one move in breaking down the traditional ideas women are must face, Knaul said.

“We were told to tell you that you could do it,” Knaul said. “You can have it all and all you have to do is be really tough … show that you’re superhuman. I have come to the dramatic conclusion that that was a really bad bet. If you told any man they had to take that bet, I’m sure they wouldn’t.”

Senior Nikhil DeLaHaye, a public health major and president of the video game club, organized a fundraiser in anticipation of International Women’s Day. The video game club raised more than $1,000 in their Play for Planned Parenthood fundraiser March 5.

“It’s important, especially in these times, to have solidarity and share perspectives from multiple angles because the more ways you can organize support, the more successful you can be,” he said.

Melina Maldonado, a Latin -American studies and communication major, attended Walk and Talk but it wasn’t her first time participating in such an event. She brought a poster: “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” a remnant of her past, off-campus social justice walks. One issue particularly important to Maldonado, a Latina woman, is intersectional feminism.

“I completely support anything that has to do with women and supporting them,” she said. “As a brown woman in this kind of environment at UM [I hope to] definitely unite with other women and be on the same playing field as them.”

Knaul said she has planned a series of monthly talks by female leaders throughout the Americas who have pushed for equality in arts, business and politics.

The first speaker will be Belen Garijo, member of the executive board of pharmaceutical company Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, who will talk about women’s health and equality. Gloria Estefan has also agreed to come speak, and Knaul hopes to schedule that talk for late April.