The role of women and the challenges they face in leadership positions was the theme of this year’s “Women and Leadership: A Global Perspective” forum held at the University of Central Florida this week.

Three distinguished speakers offered insights on cross-cultural barriers to an audience of nearly 125 at the event, which was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office in partnership with Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jay Garner. Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas, director of UCF’s Diplomacy Program, moderated the forum.

Zhala Sabir, director of Congressional and Academic Affairs for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Washington, D.C., office, discussed the issues women face in Kurdistan. Female genital mutilation, a tradition with deep historic and cultural roots, is still being practiced in remote regions of the nation. A strong women’s rights movement is under way to eliminate the practice and improve the roles women play in the government and other sectors, but “behavioral change is a process, not an event,” Sabir noted.

“When we can distinguish the customs, traditions and practices that are so linked to Kurdish identity from those that have negative, social, physical and psychological consequences, we can build the trust needed to weed out these bad practices,” she said.

Jacqueline H. Wilson, a senior program officer at the United States Institute of Peace’s Education and Training Center in Washington, D.C., spoke about the impact the economy can have on women and the political aspects of women in leadership.

Having met women from around the world in various cultures, Wilson stated that one of the main concerns is that people who possess talent and ability fear the “nasty business” of politics. However, Wilson noted, it is an important path to equality and the ability to influence decision making. As the leaders of family units, “women have a natural role as peace-builders,” she said. When women are exposed to the challenge of being part of the conflict-resolution process, said Wilson, they get excited about the possibilities.

The forum’s closing speaker was actress Sarah Culberson, president of the Kposowa Foundation and author of “A Princess Found: An American Family, an African Chiefdom, and the Daughter Who Connected Them All.” Culberson, who is of West African background, was adopted by an all-white family in West Virginia in her infancy and struggled with acceptance and fear of rejection while growing up.

She founded the Kposowa Foundation after discovering later in life that she belonged to a royal family in Sierra Leone. After that revelation, Culberson learned of the atrocities that a civil war inflicted in the chiefdom of Bumpe, where her biological father heads Bumpe High School, a nationally renowned boarding school. The Kposowa Foundation aims to rebuild Bumpe High School because education is key, she said.

In addition to the Global Perspectives Office and Gen. Garner, sponsors of this forum included Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, the UCF Diplomacy Program, the Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship program, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, UCF LIFE, the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF Women’s Research Center, the UCF Women’s Studies Program and the Global Connections Foundation.