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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Samira Harnish speaks during Women of the Mountains conference at Utah Valley University in Orem Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015.

OREM — State, national and international leaders merged ideas on how to develop sustainable and prominent mountainous regions while placing an emphasis on gender equality during the International Women of the Mountains Conference.

The three-day event, which got underway Tuesday at Utah Valley University, is the fourth Women of the Mountains Conference and the third held in Orem.

Participants include representatives to the United Nations, leaders of nonprofit organizations, ambassadors, professors from across the country and others.

Event co-organizer Rusty Butler said Utah is an ideal place for the conference because it has a founding history of people unaccustomed to mountains moving in and creating new cultures and civilizations.

"(Historic Utah settlers) struggled to be able to feed themselves, to house themselves, to do everything that we find that people in other mountainous regions in the world are going through right now," said Butler, associate vice president of UVU's Office of International Affairs. "The people of Utah, because of our history, understand the plight and the problems that exist in other mountainous nations, and I believe that we have something to offer."

Mountain dwellers often suffer from isolation, malnutrition and altitude issues, and struggled with getting clean water and maintaining high education, he said.

Mia Rowan, with the Mountain Partnership, a United Nations alliance of more than 262 governments and civil societies, said creating awareness of such issues is the first step to solving them.

Rowan's organization is currently analyzing food insecurity in mountain societies. From the recent studies, the Mountain Partnership reported that 1 in 3 people in mountain societies is food insecure, while 1 in 8 people is food insecure throughout the globe.

Rowan urged participants at the conference to sign a petition calling for international attention to the poverty-stricken mountain regions. The Mountain Partnership will present the petition at the United Nations summit in December if at least 5,000 signatures are attained.

Mountain sustainability is a huge issue for the women in India, said Sejuti Sarkar De, coordinator for the Society for Natural Resource Management and Community Development. The men in the mountain regions often migrate to lower-elevation cities where they can find more work and leave the women to tend for the children and elderly in the mountains, De said.

The women live off the food and goods they harvest from the land, but they struggle to provide for their families, she said.

This year, De is working to expand a program that would allow women to sell the goods they produce commercially and make a profit from things they are already doing, she said.

"The conference is a great opportunity for me to share what I have done to the rest of the mountain community, and it is also a great opportunity to learn from what the other mountain communities are doing," she said.

Baktybek Abdrisaev, who served as the Kyrgyz Republic’s ambassador to the U.S. and Canada, said Utah is one of the greatest economic models of a mountainous region that other countries can mirror.

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"This is really exciting because it gives Utah a way to connect globally," said Abdrisaev, a UVU professor and co-organizer of the conference. "Instead of looking at people who are from foreign countries as different, you can have a reconciliation with the rest of the world as people who live in the mountains."

The conference continues through Friday, with discussions on transmitting family values, health, education, economic issues, human trafficking and leadership as it relates to women in mountainous regions.

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