Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Astrid S. Tuminez, Utah Valley University president, speaks at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.

Global leaders, elected officials and diplomats must ponder more seriously how international society is progressing in protecting and promoting rights, opportunities, empowerment and freedom for women and girls. Significant progress has been made, but the stark reality is that the global community is falling well short, and must be investing concentrated energy and pooling deeper resources into advancing genuine solutions that foster healthier, more equal and safer conditions for women and girls. We can and must do better. One solution to these vexing problems for vulnerable women is to train, develop and harness the power of women to go forward and serve.

On a recent visit to Utah County from Washington, D.C., I stopped at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. These institutions and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are remarkable in relation to women’s empowerment, honoring women, mitigating violence, providing shelter, advancing peace and cultivating the skills of women and girls as leaders and change agents around the world.

Women at BYU are one of the most well-traveled and internationally minded student bodies of any university around the world. It is not hyperbole to say that on this score the university rivals, if not exceeds, the world’s great academic institutions. As you walk around the campus and engage with women students, you will quietly hear their stories about profound service in countries and communities across the globe.

Neighboring UVU, led ably by Astrid Tuminez, is similar to BYU in that large proportions of women students have served or will serve domestically and internationally. The number of women currently enrolled at BYU and UVU who have lived and been peacemakers and ambassadors of goodwill around the world measures in the thousands. If one adds in alumni, it is in the tens of thousands. Think of the impact. These are skilled, capable and emerging women leaders who in their service have faced poverty up close, embedded themselves into modest communities and villages, been role models to younger girls, resolved family conflicts, aided older women who struggle with health, cleaned up after disasters, learned difficult languages and faced their own physical and mental obstacles. They are receiving no academic credit as they put their formal schooling on hold. And they are volunteers; in fact, they are paying their own expenses or have church support. Without taking anything away from so many fabulous universities, what school can say that a significant swath of its student population of women has those attributes, have made those sacrifices, and had those experiences on such a large scale?

Next to BYU and near UVU is a facility called the Missionary Training Center, or MTC, which is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The MTC is full of curious and eager minds ready to serve their fellow humankind with charity and no political agenda. Thousands of university-aged women are in intense language training, personal management and spiritual study for long hours. These women are some of the finest, courageous, most giving and valiant individuals I have ever met. They genuinely learn to care not simply for the places they go, but more importantly the people they serve.

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The status of women and girls around the world must urgently receive greater focus and attention. Humanity and the environment need women of conviction and knowledge leading the way. If you visit BYU and UVU watch, listen and learn from these extraordinary women. If you pass by the MTC, ponder the thousands of women who are sacrificing to serve other women, families and communities in need. Their willingness to serve is an important response to the hardships that women, girls and men face each day. They deserve our support and certainly have earned our admiration. They are lights shining bright in a world so desperately in need.