Earlier this week, I spent a fascinating morning at the United States Institute of Peace speaking to Afghani undergraduate women who received scholarships to study at US colleges.

I was struck by how passionately and eloquently these young women spoke in front of a large audience. They spoke about the challenges they face in their country, from security to infrastructure to what happens when modernity clashes with tradition.

For me, it showed the power that young adults have when they’re able to speak up and clearly express their hopes and ideas, compelling others to listen and take action.

During the event, someone asked a question that had also crossed my mind:

Here, these women are encouraged to raise their voice and they are given a safe environment in which to do so. What happens when they go back home – will they feel comfortable raising their voice?

The response was “it depends.” The young women mentioned the importance of knowing the local context, whether within their families or within their communities; this would help them understand when and how it was appropriate to speak up.

In my mind, that’s a critical component to teaching communication. We teach people from around the world to find their voice and speak up – in addition, we need to be aware of how to speak up without putting ourselves in danger. I think it’s a combination of knowing our subject back and forth, knowing our target audience and what makes us credible in their eyes, and then knowing the political and cultural environment in which we speak. Easier said than done!