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For four Northeastern students, volunteering at a United Nations commission is more than just a course assignment; it’s a chance to represent their countries on the world stage.

Barbara Alcena, Movlan Aliyev, Aislinn Mangan, and Juan Ning, graduate students in Dr. Tatjana Kobb’s public diplomacy class, are volunteering at the 63rd annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in New York City through March 22.

The U.N. Commission, founded in 1946, is the principal global diplomatic body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Representatives from U.N. member states and certain nonprofit organizations gather each year to assess global issues that affect gender equality in order to come up with specific plans to address those issues, country by country.

Mangan, a current registered nurse who has worked in the Middle East and a former wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, sees empowering women as a form of sustainable development, she says.

It’s only when people have their basic needs met—food, shelter, safety—that they can focus on something as abstract as empowerment, says Mangan.

“People need the opportunity to become the people they’re meant to be,” she says. “Without access to basic needs, this possibility is limited.”