Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Female Genital Mutilation: Seeking Answers

Fadumo Korn, activist and author of the book Born in the Big Rains: a Memoir of Struggle and Survival in Somalia
GaIDI members at Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC), Brandeis University took the opportunity to mark V-Day by calling attention to female genital mutilaion (FGM) and attempt to seek answers that plague humanity. This event titled, Female Genital Mutilation: Seeking Answers was held on February 15, 2007. It was coordinated by Rajashree Ghosh, Visiting Scholar, WSRC and other GaIDI members and supported by Shulamit Reinharz, Director WSRC. The 'V' in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina. As a global movement (marked between Februray 1 and March 8),V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop worldwide violence against women and girls, including rape,battery, incest,female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual slavery. According to World Health Organization estimates, about 132 million girls have been subjected to FGM. Most live in African countries or in several practicing cultures in the Middle East and Asia. The present-day African diaspora has exported the tradition to Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Tobe Levin, President of FORWARD – Germany, an international non-governmental organization that works to advance the sexual and reproductive health and human rights of African girls and women [see http://www.forwarduk.org.uk or, in German, http://www.forward-germany.org] faciliated the event. Tobe brought with her a special guest. Her name is Fadumo Korn, the author of Born in the Big Rains: A Memoir of Somalia and Survival. Having undergone circumcision at the age of seven in Somalia Fadumo has written a book that is a brutally honest, politically sensitive and a bold addition to literature on global women’s health. A half hour television documentary on Fadumo's life titled Ich war ein Nomadenkind (My childhood as a nomad), directed by Juliane Schuhler was screened. Fadumo read excerpts from her book in German and Tobe translated it in English. WSRC Scholars, students and faculty from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management participated in the discussion on FGM that ensued after the book readings. Gladys Maida from a local community organization, REACH (www.reachma.org) was also present. For some pictures please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42433998@N00/sets/72157594575251808/

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Day of Learning on Women

Ruth Halperin-Kaddari addressing the gathering
February 6 marked the launch of the Haddasah Brandeis Institute's new Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law with a Day of Learning on Women, Gender Equality and Jewish Law in Israel. Dr. Lisa Fishbayn, Director of the Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law and Chair, Gender and International Development Initiatives (GaIDI) Committee organized this event. It was co-sponsored by the Brandeis International Centre for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the GaIDI of the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Centre. Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, director of the Rackman Centre for the Advancement of Women's Status at Bar Ilan University and a member of the UN expert Committee of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, began the day with a lecture on Women's Rights and the Politics of Divorce. Dr. Halperin-Kaddari explained that women suffer disadvantage under Jewish law in Israel because they are caught in the middle of a struggle for control between civil and religious authorities. She urged the development of new halakhic remedies to assist women who were being subjected to extortion by their husbands in order to receive a divorce. The lecture was followed by the screening of two films, Cohen's Wife and Mekudeshet, made by orthodox Israeli women about the impact that Jewish family law has on their lives. The day ended with a panel discussion on Women and Jewish law in Israel featuring Dr. Halperin-Kaddari, Rabbi Susan Fendrick of the Mandel Centre at Brandeis University. For some pictures, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42433998@N00/sets/72157594565423033/

Monday, January 29, 2007

Invisible Mexicanas

On November 30, 2006, Brandeis’s second day of recognition of 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women, WSRC Director Shulamit Reinharz and Scholars/GaIDI members Louise Lopman, Maria Carter and Rajashree Ghosh presented INVISIBLE MEXICANAS.

The three-hour and well-attended event at the WSRC included a film, music, poetry reading and discussion about the experiences of thousands of women who work in the assembly-for-export maquiladoras (sweatshops) in the NAFTA-generated industrial free trade zones in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, México.

The new documentary film, ”Maquilapolis,” by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre, portrayed, from the women workers’ perspective (the people with the cameras), their daily struggle to survive and how they move beyond that struggle and organize for change in the maquiladora owned by Panasonic.

During the refreshment break the audience listened to music (in Spanish) by Los Tigres Del Norte, inspired by the “women of Juarez.”

Marjorie Agosín, poet, activist and Wellesley College Professor, read excerpts from her recently published book of poetry, Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez, which brings attention to the hundreds of women of Ciudad Juárez, most of whom are indigenous and who work in the maquiladoras and have been murdered and disappeared, with impunity, in the past decade.

The discussion which followed included the event organizers, the audience, and special guests from Amnesty International and National Latino Independent Producers.This event exemplified the WSRC motto, “Where Research, Art, and Activism Converge,” and it portrayed Mexican women at the other end of the spectrum compared to the Mexican women in the photography exhibit of Daniela Rossell’s “Ricas y Famosas,” that was in the WSRC gallery at that time.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Inauguration of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence hosted by GaIDI Scholars

Inspired by Amnesty International's toolkit, palm impressions were organized at the event, symbolizing solidarity with those working against gender violence

At the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC), GaIDI Scholars hosted a synergy event inaugurating the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence at Brandeis University. The event titled “Gender Violence Knows no Boundaries” was coordinated by Rajashree Ghosh, WSRC Visiting Scholar. GaIDI’s efforts at collaboration with the Gender Working Group (GWG) at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management have reached very exciting proportions and this event is representative of that very effort.

Shulamit Reinharz, Director, WSRC Director addressed the huge gathering of students, faculty and Scholars and welcomed participants to the Center. Dr. Reinharz expressed serious concern about gender violence that it is all-pervasive and is a violation of basic human rights.

Kelley Ready, Associate Director of Academics Sustainable International Development (SID) Program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management reiterated her keen interest in further collaborations with the WSRC. She also launched the Brandeis Gender and Development Forum Newsletter (B-GAD)and the first copies were presented to Shulamit Reinharz and Brenda McSweeney who is a Resident Scholar, WSRC and has had the honor of being part of the Heller faculty during the Fall semester.

Members of GWG presented a Poster Session, and Open Discussion event. Roberta Salper, WSRC, Visiting Scholar moderated the session. The presentations offered glimpses of countries around the world and their dealing with violence against women. Presentations were made by the following SID students:

Angélique K. Rwiyereka (MSc International Health and Policy and Management) focused on Rwanda and the issue to gender and violence in a conflict ridden country;

Diah Irawaty (MA, SID) spoke on domestic workers and their plight in Indonesia. Her slides and poster that traced the definitions of ground level activities with respect to domestic workers;

Nadia Behboodi (MA, SID) presented her slides on the severe acts of violence against women in Afghanistan;

Muqaddisa Mehreen (MA, SID), presented her slides on women from farms to convention halls with haunting music from Pakistan;

Stephen Lee (MA, SID) presented his slides and film clip on Indonesia and touched on aspects of gender, vulnerability and environment in Indonesia;

Shamila Daluwatte presented her slides on labor rights in Sri Lanka and has been involved with women's rights and activism and spoke about her prior work experience with the International labor Organization

Two local community groups viz., Refuge Education, Advocacy and Change or REACH (http://www.reachma.org) and Kol Isha (http://www.jfcsboston.org) who work in the area of domestic violence participated in the event. Gladys Maida (REACH) and Elana Premack Sandler (Kol Isha) represented their respective organizations. Elana spoke on the “Clothes Line Project.” Gladys introduced to the gathering Detective David Mc Gann from the Waltham Police Department to speak on how law enforcement deals with domestic violence. A subsequent session of discussions and questions ensued.

For pictures taken by Rajashree Ghosh and Sanjeeta Negi, MA/ SID, please visit : http://www.flickr.com/photos/42433998@N00/sets/72157594418824926/

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Brenda Gael McSweeney Shares a Glimpse of Action-Research near Shantiniketan

Last month, Brenda gave a brief description of gender research initiated with colleagues in West Bengal, India, on their programs for self-reliant development. She first became involved in 1998 as the United Nations Development Programme representative providing support to Srihaswani, or “Creative manual skills for self-reliant development,” in West Bengal, India. This is the brainchild of development thinkers and activists Krishno and Chandana Dey and Shantum Seth.

This year the research of Brenda and Chandana with the latter’s Project Team focused on non-formal education. Brenda described some of the changes she had observed since she first visited the area.

A spate of progressive legislation has been enacted in India, ranging from 100 days of guaranteed work at the minimum wage in rural areas to mid-day school meal schemes, plus recent pace-setting provisions against domestic violence against women and child labor. It was fascinating for Chandana and Brenda to hear directly from women in the villages where different groups constitute the majority of the population – Hindu, Muslim and Santhal (tribal) – as to the actual impact of such measures at the grassroots level. Receiving “top marks” from the women was the employment guarantee scheme.

According to Chandana Dey, one of the most challenging issues that the villagers have been addressing with the Project Team is finding ways of getting children to attend school and other government-run programs such as the “Anganwadi” where mothers and children under six are given nutrition supplements. The women both forfeit work and face the dangers of travel with youngsters during the monsoon season. Hence the Team initiated pre-school activities right in the least advantaged neighborhoods. This approach tallies with UNESCO’s emphasis on the importance of early childhood education in its 2007 report monitoring global progress towards ‘Education for All.’

And once ‘hidden’ women were both visible and vocal, reflected in the snap above in a village outside of Shantiniketan, articulating their views on a range of development issues while attending an interactive gathering. Some of the women grew up in the same village where they later married. In their view, today, many things have improved including more access to education and work opportunities.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

GaIDI Scholars among Feminists who Changed America

GaIDI Scholars Ruth Nemzoff and Roberta Salper along with Paula Doress-Worters, have been included in the book, Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975, edited by Barbara Love, with a foreword by Nancy F. Cott (Harvard historian). Just published by the University of Illinois Press, it is over 500 pages with 2000 biographies of feminists selected by an Advisory Board because of their significant contributions during this period.
Its publication was celebrated by an event sponsored by The Veteran Feminists of America and hosted by Judith Shapiro, President of Barnard College. Hundreds of women representing the broad political spectrum of the second wave women’s movement came to reflect on what they had done right and how they could continue to improve the world. Featured speakers included Gloria Steinam and Heather Booth and a tribute was paid to Ellen Willis, one of the founders of Redstockings, a radical group in 1970s in New York. Other memorable figures in attendance were Catherine MacKinnon, Kate Millet, Sheila Tobias, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Karen Decrow, and Catherine Stimpson. During the "rap session", it was striking to listen to many women, each working in the separate arenas which create the fabric of life (art, music, religion, health, politics, etc), recall what it took to change America: an abused woman thanked the group for the support she received that helped resolve her problems, a lesbian thanked the group for helping her imagine she could have children which indeed she did. Women talked of changes in the health care system, in religions. Discussions ensued on how no field has been left untouched by the 2nd wave feminists who indeed did change the world.
To say a bit more on each of the above WSRC Scholars, Paula Doress-Worters was a founder of the Boston Women's Health Collective in 1969 which wrote Our Bodies, Ourselves which has not only transformed American medicine, but has been translated in multiple languages. Paula was a contributor to all editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves, including Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century (1998), Ourselves Growing Older (1986, 1994) and Ourselves and Our Children (1978). She continues to serve on the founders committee and to publish in the field of health care and women.
Ruth Nemzoff started the women's movement in southern New Hampshire and a counseling service for women. Later she was the first woman to serve while pregnant in a regular session of the New Hampshire legislature where she sponsored legislation to open adoption records, and to give education to displaced homemakers. She rose to be assistant minority leader. She began the Equal Opportunity Office in The New Hampshire Department of Education and served as the first women deputy Commissioner of Health and welfare in that state and the first women on the New Hampshire Business Development Corporation and on the board of the Bank of New Hampshire. Later she was one of the founders of the National Women's Legislator's lobby.
Roberta Salper was the head of the first Women’s Studies Program in the United States at San Diego State University (then College) in 1970. As such, she was the first full-time faculty member hired in Women's Studies. Author of Female Liberation: History and Current Politics (Vintage, 1971), one of the first anthologies on the women's Movement, she was an early activist in the Women's Caucus of the New University Conference (1969), was a member of the first Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession of the Modern Language Association (1969) and was a principal founder of Women's Liberation in Pittsburgh (1968). As Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, she both lobbied to create and taught the university's first women's studies course.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Louise Lopman's presentation: "Counted and Discounted: Murdered and Disappeared Women Women in Ciudad Juárez México”

Poster : Enough!

A presentation titled "Counted and Discounted: Murdered and Disappeared Women in Ciudad Juárez México” was made by Louise Levesque Lopman, Sociology and WSRC Resident Scholar on a panel (with Brandeis faculty members Silvia Arrom and Roxanne Davila), Portrayals of Mexican Women through Art, October 24, 2006. The panel was in conjunction with the WSRC Exhibit of Daniella Rossell’s provocative photographs, The Richness of Mexico, whose subjects are Mexican women from the one percent of the political, economic and social elite of Mexico City. The talk, which included a powerpoint presentation of photos, posters and paintings, was a drastic contrast to Rossell’s images.

The focus of the talk was on the hundreds of disappearances and the “feminicide/femicide” (femicidio), the brutal torture, rape, and murder with impunity of over 400 young poor Mexican women in the U.S.-Mexico border city of Juárez, Mexico since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993. Described by neo-liberal policy makers and U.S. multi-national investors as a “laboratory of modernization and globalization,” a “city of the future,” women of Juárez live in squalid slums, colonias populares, in “homes” constructed from wooden pallets and cardboard boxes discarded by the maquilas, with roofs of tarpaper and scraps of tin. There is no plumbing, electricity or sanitation and there is no clean drinking water.

One third of the women who were murdered had worked under abominable conditions for below-minimum wages in the maquiladoras - factories, mostly “sweatshops,” in duty-free export-processing zones where 90 percent of the electronic components and auto parts are manufactured and assembled for export to the U.S. An important objective of the talk was to humanize the discourse, to give a human face to the so-called “cheap labour,” and to the cultural, social, economic, and political vioence that maquila workers, and their families experience in their everyday lives. Also, it is a hope that the lives, disappearances and murders of the young women of Juárez will matter, so that they COUNT AND CANNOT BE DISCOUNTED.

For pictures used in the presentation, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42433998@N00/sets/72157594377528516/