Friday, December 1, 2017

BU Today Publication News!

How exciting that two of the WGS BU professors have been featured in BU Today!

Photos: WGS/BU
The Opinion Page published a feature of WGS's Director Cati Connell, titled POV: What Does it Mean When We Say #MeToo?: Race, class, gender intersect to make some people more vulnerable to sexual assault. Dr. Connell's piece begins with the barrage of posts we all receive on our social media feeds these days on "the magnitude of sexual violence"; she sketches the origins of The Me Too Movement and the vast nuances of related campaigns up to the present watershed moment. Cati concludes with this thought:

"My hope is that despite its limitations, the Me too campaign inspires us to unite and fight the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault on our campus and beyond."

See her full BU Today Point of View at: https://www.bu.edu/today/2017/me-too/

The Campus Life Page published a feature by Rich Barlow on WGS's Dr. Diane Balser, entitled: Sexism in the Harvey Weinstein Era: BU course studies an old oppression that’s alive and well. According to Barlow, Diane's class also evokes the "dam burst of revelations about prominent sexual predators in the Harvey Weinstein era, and the MeToo backlash against sexual misconduct." She describes the changes that have occurred with regard to sexism and violence against women, and emphasizes that now sexual violence towards women is "more visible and accepted in a very different way." The article concludes with the reflections of the lone male student in her class.


These two articles will inform the forthcoming Women's History Month exhibition of Unbound Visual Arts, an Affiliate of the WGS/BU-based UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Article on Suppression of Women in West Bengal, India, just published!

News just in from West Bengal, UNITWIN Affiliate Jharna Panda has published an article in a leading Bengali newspaper examining the social ramifications of domestic violence through an ethnographic approach. See her article below. The English synopsis by Founding Member of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network, Chandana Dey also former Editor for Social Science Press, New Delhi, follows.


Jharna Panda- On Domestic Violence in rural Bengal: No change visible in two decades

Jharna talks about the continuing state of the violence inflicted on women and gives some case studies (the names are changed) of the lives of women who are faced with both physical and mental torture every single day. She cites the results of a survey that covered 180 villages- from 2008 to 2018 that show that the level of violence is the same even after the passing of legislation that protects women’s rights. This is a ‘distant’ justice that women cannot avail of due to ignorance of the law, and mostly because they lack the economic means to report cases of violence to either the police or the courts. Frequently, cases where there is some level of negotiation- women have to return to abusive husbands, since they fear being burdens on either their own parents or their siblings. Here they return to a situation where there is no guarantee of their safety nor any sense of self-respect. 

She starts by narrating a case of a man who killed his wife and his five - year old daughter (cracked open their skulls) while they were sleeping; their ‘crime’ was that his meal had not been served to him on time.

While Jharna worked on cases of domestic violence and attended sessions of counselling of married couples, the list of grievances was long and varied. Married women might indulge in one or other of the following activities that would incite the husband to violence:

- Renege on dowry provisions and promises (cycle/TV)
- While sweeping, they would raise dust in the courtyard
- Not clean the grinding stone sufficiently well after grinding turmeric    - Etc. 

Dowry is not the sole reason for domestic violence. Khalida, a mother of five children tried to hide her contraceptive pills in the spice box. Her husband found them and threw her and the children out of the house. Khalida did not have the wherewithal to go to the police; her chief worry was how to find shelter for herself and the children.

Then there is the case of Salma. Her husband tried to kill her and left her for dead in the fields. Neighbours found her and a case of domestic violence was lodged against the husband. Her crime- she was childless even after some years of being married. When Jharna met her last, she had returned to her husband. ‘Don’t be angry, Didi,’ said Salma. ‘My husband told me he would take me back if I withdrew the case. What else could I do? I can’t be a burden on my parents or my brothers’ families. Finally, this is the only home I have’.

The Survey showed that the main reason for husbands to get angry was that their food might not be ready on time. Around 2000 husbands interviewed replied in almost the same way. They were asked: ‘If you come back from the fields and your food is not ready, do you lose your temper?’ All the husbands replied in the affirmative- ‘Yes, I do get angry. Surely that’s natural?’ Some also said that they tended to throw whatever they could find that was close at hand. Then, after they have eaten, their mood improves and they make up the quarrel.

When women were asked whether they would seek legal redress to domestic violence, many said they did not know about the laws. Perhaps the most that women might do is to go to the panchayat with their complaint. ‘Will my husband pay my bus fare to go to the police station to report his crime’ asked one victim, ‘and who will come with me’?

Many women simply consider taking their own lives. Marital rape is common in many homes. One woman stated that even though her children were educated and had gone to college, she had to submit to her husband whenever he desired her. The house is small and the young children see and hear everything. Yet the State has decided that it cannot be involved in the question of marital rape.

The Survey clearly shows that the status of rural women in Bengal is unchanged over the last two decades.
~ Synopsis in English by Chandana Dey

Jharna also elaborated with the following reflections:

"The question of domestic violence suffered by women, especially by rural women, is a much talked about 'topic' in mass media as well as in academia. While this reflects a certain recognition of the endemic nature of this violence, the perfunctory manner in which the issue is generally dealt with betrays a callous understanding of the social and humane context of this domination.

Almost any such discussion invariably ends up with a hoarse call for "exemplary punishment". One needs only to walk down winding mud tracks and sit for a while on the verandah of any thatched hut listening to stories of the 'victims' to understand the vacuousness and insensitivity of such 'discourse'. Those women live in a world far beyond the reach of long arm of law. Local police agencies are almost inaccessible for any of those women. They consider quite understandably – the khaki clad police an alien entity more threatening than their drunken husbands.The cost of judicial redress is simply not affordable. 

But more crucially, violence on women is an issue which does not fit in its entirety within the pages of a statute book. Most of those rural women live a life organically linked with their husbands, the insufferable torture notwithstanding. Who is going to look after her if her husband lands up in jail? Neither is she as insensitive as a hardened media commentator not to see the human behind her bullying husband. That very man is breaking his bones from dawn to dusk and is taking many a blow silently to take care of his family. Is throwing him behind the bar the only 'solution' we can think about?"

Jharna poses some provocative questions that help readers think critically about the issue of the suppression of women in Bengal through a nuanced lens drawing from her own field research in remote areas. The publication is incredibly timely, as the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women approaches on November 25. 

About the author (left): Jharna Panda is working as a Research Associate in the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. Jharna is affiliated with the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development



English Synopsis by Chandana Dey (right), Founding Member of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network and former Editor for Social Science Press, New Delhi



~ Compiled by Nicole Rizzo

Report Back: Unbound Visual Arts 5th Anniversary Event!

We're happy to share that the Unbound Visual Arts (UVA) 5th Anniversary event was a success! The reception hall was filled with playwrights, poets and writers, civic advocates and social activists, gender equality and women's rights specialists, and childhood friends from the Poet Laureate's Mattapan days. Boston University's Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program and GaIDI/WSRC (Gender and International Development Initiatives/Women's Studies Research Center) at Brandeis were promotional sponsors.

The City of Boston's second Poet Laureate and first female, Danielle Legros Georges, gave more of a 'performance' than a 'reading' – – photos below give the flavor.

      Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges captivating the 5th Anniversary audience –         Photo: Brenda Gael McSweeney
Danielle shared poems from Letters from Congo (where her family had fled from Haiti's Duvalier regime when she was four years old), and from The Dear Remote Nearness of You. The latter included a work called "Intersection" dedicated to Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake, beginning "The earth shook. A portal opened. / I walked through it. The earth shook..." (24) that literally brought the room to pin-drop silence. One of her earlier publications is Maroon: a selection of poems in which she "explores her heritage as a Haitian and as an American immigrant…" (back cover). We commend to you Danielle's work and events: inspiring and powerful!

Poet Laureate coaching UVA Volunteer Tracy, an aspiring writer – Photo: Brenda
The UVA Board of Directors and Council of Advisors are grateful for the encouragement and support of Unbound Visual Arts initiatives over these inaugural five years! Early alert for a UVA Women's History Month opening on Saturday, March 10, 2018: please save the date!

UVA's Founders, and Board and Council Members with Boston's Poet Laureate (center) – Photo: UVA collection

Monday, November 6, 2017

My Grand-Father’s Russian Family by Chandana Dey

While the biography cum memoir I’m researching is about my Russian grand-mother, née Kotya Jonas, a lot has now come to light about my grand-father, Nitai Gopal de Sarkar. This year- that is also the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917- that was to have such a momentous impact on the life of my Russian grand-mother and her family- is the year I decided to ‘retire’ from pressing engagements and devote myself ‘entirely’ to research on family history and archives. I planned to write mostly from my rural idyll in Santiniketan (Bengal, India) where my grand-parents acquired a plot of land from the Visva-Bharati University and built themselves a small house.
Irene and Mamlu
Photo Credit: Laurent (husband of Irene)
Two meetings in 2017 have proved fortuitous in shaping the direction of the book: I discovered an ‘aunt’ who is a photo-archivist and anthropologist and who lives in Paris. Irène Jonas is the daughter of my grand-uncle, my grand-mother’s youngest brother, Serge. Irène and I not only exchanged letters and photographs but we also met this summer in London and found so many things in common, while trying to unearth our joint family history. The photograph of the Jonas family taken in the summer of 1934 (my mother looks about three years old) is from her family collection.

My Grand-father's Russian Family
Standing: Kotya, Zyga (Kotya's older brother), Maya (my mother), Tina (Kotya's older sister),
Serge (Kotya's younger brother and father of Irene), Nitai
Sitting: Varvara (Kotya's mother), lady in white hair (unidentified), David Jonas (Kotya's father)
Photo Credit: Irene Jonas Family Collection
Later this summer, I met a charming young Swiss couple- Sophie and Diego who had come to Santiniketan for a few weeks on a community-health survey of Santal villagers and their food habits. Sophie is a Doctor of Opthalmology and Diego makes specialized microscopes for surgery.

I found them both to be extremely willing to help further my research into unraveling my grand-parents’ past life, part of which was spent in Switzerland in the 1920s and 1930s. Diego recommended I look into the digital holdings of the Swiss newspaper, Le Temps that has recently digitalized its 200 years of archival materials. Sophie wrote off to the Archives of the University of Geneva asking whether they had any information regarding a student who would have graduated from the University of Geneva around 1930.  

Archives, as other things, are most punctiliously kept in Switzerland. Sitting in my cottage in Santiniketan, I was able to delve into my grand-parents’ past, recover documents I had thought lost forever, and piece together some part of their life’s journey. My grand-mother, Kotya Jonas, would have come to Switzerland in 1922, along with her family from Russia. My grand-father did his first degree in medicine from Kolkata and then went to Paris for three trimesters. He then asked to be transferred to the University of Geneva where his final degree was conferred on him. He also wrote his thesis in French. He even applied to Edinburgh to do an FRCP (Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians)- but since I only have an application letter dated in 1929, I assume that he did not manage to follow up with this decision. I think my grandparents met in 1930 and married soon after, and my mother was born on 19 June 1931.

The documents, diligently collected by the Archivist at the University of Geneva were sent to Sophie who sent them onto me. I think I was so stunned that I could not even thank her properly- so moved at seeing these letters written almost nine decades ago.

Nitai and Ketaki Sarkar (Dadu and Dida)
Photo Credit: Anil and
Rani Chanda Family Collection
My grand-father not only acquired a Russian wife; he also gained an entire family. The photograph only speaks of good times- but there must have been heartbreak when Kotya decided to leave for India with her five- year old daughter and make India her home. This family photograph might have been one of the last occasions when Kotya wore a dress. At this time, my grand-father was practicing as a rural doctor in the Canton de Vaud with my grand-mother doubling up as his nurse. It seemed to be a satisfying life. What then made my grand-father decide to come back to India?

My grand-father returned to his home country after a decade outside India. He brought his Russian wife, a Mem’ (Memsahib), and his five year old daughter, Maya. Unfortunately, his doctorate from the University of Geneva was never recognized in an India that valued only degree holders from the UK. My grand-father had chosen not to study in England, because this was a colonial power and India was governed, not free. Ironically, he returned after a decade abroad, to find this colonial mentality unchanged. This did not embitter him. He retained his ‘joie de vie’ and family photographs invariably show my grand-parents, side by side in quiet contentment. My grand-father was such a good man, a brilliant doctor who had mastered a foreign language sufficiently to write his thesis in it. In India, where academic qualifications matter so much, I just wish that family lore would have included his achievements en par with other illustrious family members.                                                                                                                ~ Chandana Dey

Chandana Dey is a Founding Member of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development; and Former Editor, Social Science Press, New Delhi       
      

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

25th Anniversary of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Programme!

Happy to share that UNESCO marked the 25th Anniversary of its UNESCO/UNITWIN (University Twinning and Networking) Programme on October 31st  2017 with a high level event in Paris.

Our Network was invited to participate. Key activities of the UNESCO Chairs and Network Programmes around the globe were presented in a video display at the gathering. Here is a slide that depicts main current activities and future plans of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development aimed at helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.



The 25th Anniversary event took stock of decades of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Program achievements and celebrated the commitment of academics, students, civil society organizations and other partners around the globe.

The glimpse at the road ahead envisioned contributions of higher education to achieving the goals of the Education 2030 Agenda. Our Network anchored at Boston University's Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program focused on Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Unbound Visual Arts: Fifth Anniversary!

You are invited to join Unbound Visual Arts (UVA) to mark its 5th Anniversary! The festive occasion will feature Danielle Legros Georges, the Poet Laureate of Boston. The celebrations will take place on November 9th, 2017 starting at 6:00 pm in the Josephine A. Fiorentino Community Center at the Charlesview Residences, Brighton. It promises to be a memorable evening filled with music, fine art and refreshments!

The Josephine A. Fiorentino Community Center is at the Charlesview Residences, 123 Antwerp St, Brighton, MA 02135. The event is free and open to the public.

Danielle Legros Georges - Photo credit: Priscilla Harmel
More on Danielle Legros Georges, Poet Laureate of Boston, on UVA's website – drawn from the Lesley University website:

"What does it mean to be Poet Laureate of the City of Boston? For Lesley University professor Danielle Legros Georges, the role comes with great responsibility. As a citywide advocate for language and the arts, she’s been charged with "raising the status of poetry" in the minds of Bostonians.

Through public readings and events, she’s pushing the community to connect with poetry in new ways, and to view it as a tool for empowerment. “Poetry is important because it allows us access to other minds, other experiences,” says the Poet Laureate. “It allows for empathy. It carries knowledge, and it’s a space in which one can make the self.”

Danielle's recent publications include City of Notions (2017), an anthology of Boston poems featuring several poets, Letters From Congo, and The Dear Remote Nearness of You.

Letters from Congo (2017) is a powerful collection by Haitian-American poet Danielle Legros Georges, invites readers to journey every air mile traveled by a family trying to survive the perpetual uncertainty of life in exile. In these 13 intimate poems, written as letters, an address, a physical location where someone can be reached, swiftly morphs into a statement about the delicate nature of voicing one’s political opinions under the Duvalier regime. (At UVA, drawn from amazon.com)

The Dear Remote Nearness of You (2016) "speaks [of] poetry's origin in new and startling ways. This is the precise intelligence that knows it must step carefully across the light on the surface of the water... These poems form the contiguous dance of language choosing its own body at will, traveling across light and the dimensions of unarticulated history. This is the word rubbed onto the palimpsest of our being, the careful solo soprano in the space where music ends and poetry moves in to name what is eternal and what is only in the abbreviation of now. What a delightful book from Boston's Poet Laureate."—Afaa Michael Weaver (At UVA)

UVA also shared that performing at the event will be April Marion, a twenty-two year-old artist and musician based in Boston. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music in 2015. Her love for both art and music have since transpired into her passions and profession. She is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, drummer and performer. She has also won multiple awards for her art and her work.

April Marion - Photo credit: aprilmarion.com
Promotional sponsors: 
-UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development based at Boston University
-Brandeis University's Gender and International Development Initiatives of the Women's Studies Research Center

Visit the Unbound Visual Arts (UVA) website at www.unboundvisualarts.org/fifth-anniversary/ 
for updates!

Flyer design: Susan Loomis-Wing

"Saraswati’s Cow" by Chandana Dey

Saraswati Das lives in the village of Darpashila in the district of Birbhum, in Bengal, India. There are two women named ‘Saraswati’ (the Hindu goddess of learning and culture)- so we’ve always called her ‘Choto Saraswati’ (younger) to distinguish her from the ‘Boro Saraswati’ (elder).

Saraswati lives in a tiny thatched house, which hardly even has a courtyard, let alone any place to dry the hay/straw from the fields. She owns no land of her own, but she works on other’s fields as a manual laborer and takes up any other work that is available. She even leased a small patch of land from a neighbor so she could grow a few vegetables- and this patch was carefully covered with an old mosquito net to prevent marauding chickens and goats!

Saraswati, like most of the other women in this village, never managed to go to school. She married young- had children and acquired a husband who never really did any work at all, although he was quite happy beating Saraswati whenever he felt like it.

Yet, in my two decades in working in Bengali villages, I have rarely come across a more cheerful person. She always has the widest smile and the warmest countenance and on meeting her, one’s own petty problems seem to vanish. When we worked on herbal health, Choto Saraswati became the group head- and she could make, demonstrate, explain the herbal remedies with a clarity that was truly remarkable. I once asked her how she could remember the recipes- and she said, that she had developed a habit of going over the pictures of the herbs and their uses before she went to sleep. Since we worked largely with illiterate women, much of our ‘awareness-raising’ materials were in pictorial form.
 
Photo Credit: Ankita Sharma, Editor, Social Science Press
I recently ‘retired’ from my village development work, but was lucky enough to find a colleague who was willing to continue the work I had started as well as employ certain members of my village-based team. Srikanta Mondal is an agricultural scientist with decades of grassroots experience. He has embarked on an asset building programme where livestock will be provided to women- cows, goats, hens and ducks- and he is confident that in four years time- if the funding can be consistent- the asset worth of the entire village will come up to a consistent and steady level, allowing the women livestock owners sufficient cash for expenses such as their children’s education and other expenditures such as health.

I was very impressed at how scientifically Srikanta Mondal and his organization, Manab Jamin went about their work. In the first three months, village-development Block Officers of the Livestock Department, visited the villages and vaccinated all the cows, goats, hens and chickens in the villages under the Manab Jamin programme. For some villagers, it was the very first time they came into contact with these government officials who are paid (fairly high salaries) to work at the grassroots level.
 
Saraswati & her cow
Photo Credit: Chandana Dey
It was only AFTER this step was taken, that Manab Jamin distributed the livestock. Once again, this was very democratically done. The entire village sat and chose the most deserving recipients. The first animals to be given in each village- were one cow and two goats. An essential part of the livestock development programme is that once the cow has calves the first calf will be given to another person in the village, and the same applies to the baby goats. Each time, the baby calves and kids will be given away, and the decision will be conducted in the same democratic manner.

You can only imagine how delighted I was to learn that the recipient of the first cow given in Darpashila was Choto Saraswati. There could not be a more deserving recipient. I think this decision was unanimous. Saraswati will also learn about how to look after her cow, whom she has named ‘Sonamoni’ (heart’s delight) including growing fodder- perhaps on leased land- and some classes are being conducted on financial literacy so that once the savings begin, these will be deposited in government-aided savings schemes rather than dubious privately run  chit funds that have been so detrimental in destroying poor people’s hard-earned, hard-saved money.
                                                                
                           ~ Chandana “Mamlu” Dey

Chandana relaxing in London - Photo Credit: Tonusree Basu

Chandana Dey is a Founding Member of the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development; and Former Editor, Social Science Press, New Delhi

Friday, October 13, 2017

Brighton-Allston Historical Society sponsoring Women & Domestic Service in 19th Century Boston & New England!

We are pleased to announce that our UNESCO/UNITWIN Affiliate the Brighton-Allston Historical Society will be sponsoring an event entitled: "Slaving for Others' Wants: Women & Domestic Service in Nineteenth-Century Boston & New England." The speaker will be Professor Carolyn R. Maibor who has a PhD from Brandeis University and specializes in Early through 19th-century American Literature & Philosophy, and Literary Theory & Gender Studies. She has published numerous books and articles, including on the history and literature of servitude.

Carolyn's talk will take place on Thursday, October 26th, 2017 at 7pm at the Brighton Allston Congregational Church, 404 Washington Street, Brighton Center, Massachusetts 02135. Do spread the word!

See the event flyer with further details below.



Friday, October 6, 2017

Friends of Faneuil Library Newest Affiliate of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network!

Exciting news: we have a new Affiliate, the Friends of Faneuil Library (FOFL)/Boston Public Library! We're thrilled to have another vibrant educational entity in our midst, one with enormous community outreach and interaction. More at:


A message from the FOFL President, Maria Rodrigues:

As President of the Friends of the Faneuil Branch Library and in the name of the FOFL Executive Board I want to express our excitement about initiating our partnership with the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network. Similar to the members of the Network, the FOFL are committed to promoting cultural and educational opportunities with the goals of fostering community and the value of diversity. We look forward to a long and enriching cooperation.

From the FOFL bylaws:

The Faneuil Library Branch in action:

On the occasion of the annual Funky Auction to support the Faneuil Library's activities:
at left, Maria Rodrigues, President of the Friends of Faneuil Library;
at right, State Senator (and Auctioneer!) Will Brownsberger

At the Funky Auction June 3rd 2017:
at right, Faneuil Branch Librarian, Dorothy Keller;
at left, Ronni Komarow, Faneuil Gallery Coordinator;
at far left, Representative Kevin Honan with Mike O'Hara of the 57 Readers & Writers

For more information on the Friends of the Faneuil Library see:

and for activities of the Faneuil Branch of the Boston Public Library visit:

Congratulations to Raffi Freedman-Gurspan on her latest award!


On September 28th, 2017 BAGLY honored "the legendary Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the first trans woman to ever work for the White House and alumna of the The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth."



Left to right: Mason Dunn, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition; Marion Freedman-Gurspan; Raffi Freedman-Gurspan; Carl Sciortino, currently Executive Director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts; Stan Freedman-Gurspan (photo credit BAGLY, Inc.)

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan of our Boston University WGS community earlier made history as the first openly transgender official at the White House. Raffi served as Senior Associate Director for Public Engagement and Outreach and as Recruitment Director for Presidential Personnel at the White House, with President Barack Obama.

Raffi worked early in her career until mid-2011 as Course and Research Assistant with Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney at BU/WGS (Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program) in the arena of Gender and International Development. Raffi's primary interests over the years have included public policy making, minority and indigenous peoples' rights, and gender equality matters.

More on the BAGLY (Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth) ceremony honoring Raffi at: