Featured Alumni Stories

Influencing CHANGE in Global Gender Equality

When Devan Shea decided to follow her older sisters' footsteps and spend her own year abroad with SYA in Beijing, she didn't anticipate it would ultimately lead her to working with people across the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa.

Shea studied gender and feminist analysis at Barnard College where she graduated summa cum laude, and spent a semester at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London as well as interned with Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought. Combining these experiences, Shea discovered a deep interest in the relationship between gender, sexuality, and race to the state of globalization and development.

After graduating college, Shea moved to Washington, DC, to work for a legal nonprofit and began volunteering with the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, serving as chapter leader for three years. The forum focuses on the impact of local, state and federal reproductive health policies on Asian-American women and girls.

For the past two and a half years, Shea has worked at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and is currently their policy and outreach associate. CHANGE's mission is to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights as a means to achieve gender equality. They also encourage the empowerment of all women and girls by shaping public discourse, elevating women's voices and influencing the U.S. government.

As part of CHANGE's policy team, Shea leads outreach activities that support the development and implementation of the organization's policy advocacy and partnerships, and mobilizes key constituencies to advance its goals. One of the most important aspects of her job, Shea says, is building and managing partnerships with advocates and grassroots organizations based in the Global South — those who work directly with communities that are most affected by U.S. global health policies on HIV, reproductive health, and maternal health.

Of her recent work, Shea is proudest to have organized a meeting of U.S. and sub-Saharan African sexual and reproductive health advocates to develop a prevention agenda to ensure that women and girls, no matter where they live, are able to avoid unintended pregnancies and HIV.

Although SYA is "about immersion — constant learning through daily interaction and exchange," and Shea's current work has her oftentimes building relationships over email and Skype in different time zones, she sees a link between the work that she does now and her time in Beijing. "At SYA China one of the biggest lessons I learned was that you should always carry a little bit of humility with you wherever you go. The idea that your way of seeing the world is just one of many, that the way you've always done something isn't necessarily the only, or the best, way," Shea says. "This is a huge part of how I approach my work now. To act in solidarity with, instead of on behalf of, women and girls around the world whose lives and experiences are different from mine, whose approaches and solutions to the problems of gender inequality in their communities might be different from my own, requires an openness to constant exchange and a willingness to be challenged. We can only get better at what we do if we listen and learn from women and girls who are most affected by these issues on a daily basis."

Learn more about the U.S./sub-Saharan African sexual and reproductive health advocates meeting here.