ST. BONAVENTURE, NY —  “I’m more headstrong now than I was in my twenties,” said Eva Hassett following a Women’s Advocacy Panel held at St. Bonaventure University on March 16.

Hassett, the executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, said, “I used to look at jobs that I thought, as a woman, I was supposed to do. Now I focus on what I’m here to do— what I’m meant to do—not what I’m supposed to do.”

Diana Cihak and Hillary Clarke, two women who joined Hassett in holding the panel in Bonaventure’s Murphy Auditorium, nodded their heads in agreement.

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Cihak is the founder and board president of the Women’s Elect political action committee and the WomenElect program, a Buffalo-based educational program that encourages and helps women to run for political office. Cihak considers herself her own mentor.

“People ask me all the time who inspired me to become an advocate for women. No one really did. I guess I inspired myself,” Cihak said, laughing afterward.

Hillary Clarke, associate director of Grassroots and Program Integration for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, found inspiration differently. She knew she wanted to promote change in women’s lives following her time working for a law firm that assigned her to do research while her male coworkers handled fieldwork, Clarke said.

Making a difference in women’s lives and impacting the people they surround themselves with is among Clarke’s advocacy to-do list, which she mentioned during the Women’s Advocacy panel.

Approximately 20 people attended the panel moderated by Dean Pauline Hoffmann of  St. Bonaventure’s Jandoli School of Communication, and interaction ensued between the panelists and the audience.

“This is a conversation…” Clarke said to the attendees.

“…If we can start to learn how to have conversations about women’s rights leaders can step up,” Cihak said, adding to Clarke’s statement.

Kimberly DeSimone, a lecturer at the university, sparked a discussion when she asked, “How do we help women advocate?”

Panelists suggested coming together as a community of women and using tools such as the internet and social media to take a stand, to initiate engagement and to change perspectives.

According to Hassett, social media can be a platform to change a woman’s individual perspective.

Ultimately, “it’s about the women herself,” Hassett said.

Clarke, Cihak and Hassett conversed with the audience for a good portion of  the hour about proactive steps to supporting women of color, making strides against human trafficking and accepting refugee resettlement.

When the panel came to a close, the panelists said they hope the conversation on women’s advocacy continues.

“We can do this. We can change this,” Hassett said of making a difference in women’s lives, and ultimately, the lives of all.