Fighting for a ‘fair, safe, secure world,’ Winter Park resident inducted into Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
Winter Park resident Susanne E. Jalbert, Ph.D., has traveled from Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Russia, advocating for women’s rights. To recognize her work, Jalbert was inducted to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame at the annual Induction Gala on March 15.
Jalbert, who is 71, has fought for equity justice over the last 30 years. She has supported women in more than 50 countries, including war zone areas and areas in political transition and upheaval.
Jalbert joins 172 other women who have been inducted to the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in recognition of their contributions to society. The Hall highlights those who have advanced the roles of women in society – teachers, scientists, social activists, philanthropists, writers, humanitarians and more.
“I am thankful the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame values my contributions and grateful that my unusual abilities could be useful,” said Jalbert. “I am blessed beyond measure for the sheer honor to be recognized for meaningful global work and to be trusted by women both here in Colorado and internationally to strive for equitable justice.”
Growth of a global activist
Born in Holdrege, Nebraska, Jalbert grew up in a farming community. At age 17, she left her home with a one-way ticket and about 35 cents.
“From our Nebraska Great Plains farm I developed a love of reading. Picture a beat-up turquoise van converted into bookmobile, waddling down a dusty gravel road,” Jalbert said. “That van delivered a global world to me.”
She moved to San Jose, California with her one-way ticket, where she met her husband, Bill. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on March 17 this year. Through the decades, he has supported her, accompanying her on many of her journeys.
In the 70s and 80s, she worked as a tax accountant and went to college at nights to earn her associates and bachelor degrees. For 10 years, she owned her own tax and business consulting practice, as well as a few art enterprises.
“I love entrepreneurship. It’s a vital aspect of building community economies,” she said. “I’ve lived it with a deep respect for this side of business.”
But entrepreneurship didn’t come without headaches in the 1970s. At the time, women couldn’t get a credit card in her name, take out a bank loan or join the chamber of commerce or rotary club.
This type of rejection demonstrated to Jalbert that economic independence was integrally connected to other areas of justice and equality.
“When you own your own business, credit is essential to capitalizing growth,” she said. “No credit, no growth trajectory. It’s really that simple.”
Experiencing gender discrimination firsthand, Jalbert embarked on a mission to help other women. This mission first began in her own backyard.
Contributions in Colorado
Jalbert moved to Colorado with Bill in 1987. Through the 80s, she developed business courses and programs at Red Rocks Community College. There, she was lucky enough to be under the leadership of Dr. Dorothy Horrell, another Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame inductee.
She also worked with the women’s resource center at the college, and Stride, a Jefferson County nonprofit. With Hall inductee Patricia Barela Rivera in the 90s, Jalbert consulted with hundreds of Russians to organize private sector business learning opportunities for them.
In the late 90s, she achieved her master and doctorate degrees in adult education and human resources from Colorado State University. In 2010, she was recognized as CSU’s Distinguished Alumni.
“Colorado State University intensely inculcated a deep desire in me to grow and explore that global world,” she said.
Jalbert provided leadership to other universities throughout Colorado, including being a framer for the University of Denver’s Inclusive Global Leadership Initiative. The initiative supports women activists dedicated to nonviolence and feminist principles of leadership. Professor Marie Berry, Jalbert’s colleague, directs the Initiative.
“These are women at the grassroots who promote peace, justice and human rights around the world,” Jalbert said.
In 2015, Governor Hickenlooper appointed Jalbert to serve as a commissioner on the Colorado Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. To help Colorado voters make informed decisions during the election, Jalbert conducted a concentrated, thorough evaluation process of every judge.
Throughout her travels, Colorado has always been home for Jalbert. Since 1997, she and her husband have lived in Winter Park.
“Colorado grounds me with its exquisite nature, which healed me from each intensive development project,” she said.
Fighting for equity justice around the globe
Gender discrimination can be entrenched in societies, both in the United States and abroad. Jalbert embarked on a mission to address inequality in all corners of the world.
“By accepting challenging international assignments, my passionate commitment to diversity and inclusivity clarified,” she said.
Jalbert concentrates on economic growth to build safe, durable communities. This is where her passion lies. She believes that each person must find their own path and their own voice, no matter where they live.
“I see equity connected to the whole of life and the whole of community,” she said. “My life’s work – whether here in Colorado or across the globe – is a tapestry with each thread strengthening and beautifying the whole of the fabric.”
She currently serves as a business director in the Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan region for Chemonics, an international development consulting firm.
She is based for work in Iraq as the chief of party on behalf of the United States Agency of International Development for the Iraq Durable Communities and Economic Opportunities program. The program reaches across 17 diverse communities.
“Locally we are known as Tahfeez, which means motivation,” she said. “It’s a perfect name for a powerful project of $125 million crafted to ignite economic growth while creating cohesion, resilience and stability for ISIS-affected communities.”
Tahfeez is a great illustration of the power of entrepreneurship. Their efforts concentrate on economic growth that represents women. Currently, the participation of women aged 15-64 in the Iraqi workforce is only 12%, although women are half of the population.
“So, there’s much work to do,” she said. “We know that improving the economy and communities’ social fabric will lead to resilience and stability through the efforts of men and women working shoulder-to-shoulder.”
In Afghanistan, Jalbert advocated for NATO’s Women, Peace and Security agenda. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The U.S. went to war with Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. As the Taliban weakened, Jalbert and other advocates worked to lift up marginalized Afghan women.
“If the peace process provides strategic and political support to women, then in 10 years, women will be among Afghanistan’s main players in all national affairs,” Jalbert wrote at the time, in an article for NATO.
It didn’t happen. The Afghan peace process failed as U.S. forces withdrew in 2021. She watched heartbroken as she worked in Afghanistan, at that time helping young women build civil service careers.
On August 15 of that year, the Taliban rolled back all women’s rights to work, education, health care, transportation and to an equitable life.
Alongside her current position in Iraq, Jalbert uses her evening hours to work for Afghan women struggling for a better life. She is in close touch with activists from the Afghan diaspora, her former staff and interns, the Provincial Women’s Network, the Women’s Regional Network founded by Patricia Cooper, and a like-minded cohort of strong Colorado activists.
Jalbert stated that she is often asked, ‘why do you do what you do?’ Her answer – “Because I can. I have the skills, ability and fortitude to persistently work towards equity. It’s the right thing.”
Whether as a woman in business or a woman working in a war zone, many challenges have been presented and resolutely faced, yet Jalbert found strength in the stories and lived experience of other women. One of these women, Rita Thapa, is a close friend and fellow activist.
“Exquisite textiles” sold at Tewa Teas
A large piece of Jalbert’s heart dwells in Nepal, thanks to Thapa’s activism. Through her, Jalbert became involved in the Nepalese non-governmental organization Tewa. The story of Tewa represents a tangible local-global connection through literal woven threads. Tewa is a Nepali word that means “support.”
“Rita Thapa and I have been friends since 1987, my first trek in Nepal. Her deep commitment to Nepal’s development and to women is boundless,” said Jalbert.
Thapa established Tewa in 1996 to support Nepal’s democratic, social and economic development. In 1995, in the confusion, excitement and enchantment of China’s 4th U.N. Conference on Women, Thapa and Jalbert miraculously found each other amid 30,000 women. Together, they flew from Beijing to Kathmandu, Nepal, where Thapa shared her visionary feminist philanthropic Tewa concept.
Thapa, Jalbert and others collaborated on Tewa Tea fundraisers. Tewa Teas offer handcrafted textiles for sale, made by Nepalese women through the Dhaka Weaves program. Dhaka Weaves is a nonprofit social business, with 100% of the proceeds going back to the weavers.
This allows the women to build an income, develop self-esteem and learn the ancient craft. Weavers are from nearby villages – some are handicapped, some have been abused. All are marginalized by poverty and illiteracy. All are talented, fervently producing exquisite, brilliantly-colored textiles with a detailed eye to exceed the highest quality international standards.
In 1996, boutique owner Carolyn Fineran inaugurated the first stateside “Tewa Tea” in Denver. The same year, Trudy Fowler, a TV icon on Rocky Mountain PBS, offered an opportunity for a second Denver venue. Trudy continued her annual Tewa Tea for over 20 years. Jalbert, Fineran and Fowler inspired friends across Grand County, Denver, and the nation to open their homes and hearts for the Nepali finely woven cotton textiles.
Tewa Teas continue to this day. Currently, the textiles are in Oregon for their debut.
A Closing Word for Young People
Reflecting on her induction into the Hall of Fame, Jalbert hopes her work will encourage the next generation to fight for gender justice. They have the power to enter the international arena and produce even better results for a fair, safe, secure world. Jalbert concludes with these words:
“We have the intellectual power in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, in our great state, and in this country to turn the equity tide. Will the generations that follow carry the torch toward economic, social and political equity? That is the challenge, isn’t it? As your lanterns, did we work hard enough and burn bright enough to inspire sharp-witted young people? With our world in growing peril, with women and girls at greater risk, with poverty, climate change, food and water shortages increasing, will this generation light the way now? I lived my life to alleviate, or at least reduce, disparity. Will youth?”
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