Sunday, October 18, 2009

Roundtable on Girls' Education in Niger and Burkina Faso with Amina Mamadou Kaza and Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney

On October 14th, 2009, Dr. Shahla Haeri, Director of the Women's Studies Program (WSP), and Beth Goldsmith, Director of Academic Affairs, International Programs of BU, co-hosted roundtable talks on girl's education in Niger and Burkina Faso. The invited speakers were Amina Mamadou Kaza, faculty member of BU's Niger program, and Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney, Visiting Faculty at BU's WSP. Amina teaches a course on Nigerien culture and society with a focus on women; she had recently been named to the post of Director of Girl's Education in the Ministry of National Education in Niger. Brenda teaches a seminar on Gender and International Development (WS348) at BU, and had run UN development programs for nearly a decade in Burkina, with a special interest in workload-lightening technologies and female education.

Amina Mamadou Kaza speaking with the BU Women's Studies students and faculty

Amina, an activist in the field of girls’ education, who oversees educational reform at the primary level, helps the students to understand the complex position of women in Nigerien Islamic culture. She shared with a filled-to-capacity crowd her insights into the challenges facing Niger, and notably women and girls. She included a devastating indictment of the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. Niger figures last in the UN Development Programme's Human Development and Gender Development Indexes.

Prof. Brenda Gael McSweeney presenting on female education in Burkina.

Brenda spoke on challenges confronting women and girls in the neighboring sub-Saharan Africa country of Burkina Faso. She highlighted workloads, technology and empowerment, and an exchange of lessons with Niger. She put an accent on the enormous workloads of young girls - data revealed an average of seven hours of work a day from the ages of seven to fifteen (twice that of boys). Her work with the UN Development Programme and subsequent research over the decades has thus focused on lightening female workloads and boosting access to income generating and other opportunities. See also: Equality Burkina!

Students minoring in Women's Studies and others from across campus, including from International Relations and the Humphrey Fellows Program, jumped in on a lively exchange with Amina and Brenda, their hosts Shahla and Beth, and other participants.

For more pictures of the event, please visit our Flickr page.

Event poster by Carly Pack-Bailey. 
Photos by Shahla Haeri.  

Friday, October 16, 2009

Forthcoming Conference at JMI

Dr. Arvinder Ansari presenting at the Visva Bharati conference, Shantiniketan, October 2008.

Dr. Arvinder Ansari has informed us that the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India is organizing a National Seminar on "Muslim Alienation: Manifestation and Challenges," sponsored by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) on 17 and 18 November, 2009.

We look forward to sharing more information about the conference in the coming weeks!

Forthcoming Study from Dr. Yaaminey Mubayi

Dr. Malkit Kaur of Punjabi University at Patiala, left, and Dr. Yaaminey Mubayi, right, at Nabha, Punjab, India in October 2008.

Dr. Yaaminey Mubayi's study, "Mapping Cultural Aspirations in Jamia Nagar," was recently completed, and will be presented at a conference in November. Yaaminey is on the Expert Committee of Government of Punjab for Development of Cultural Tourism. Watch this space!

Announcing the 2010 Sikhpoint Calendar, “Conserving Sikh Heritage” from the Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI)

Conservation Architect Gurmeet S. Rai at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, India, October 2008

"Conservation Architect Gurmeet S. Rai is the Founder and Director of the unique Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative that preserves and enhances India’s cultural heritage. CRCI effectively bridges from helping forge international and national cultural heritage policy to grassroots action, notably in Punjab and other states of India. Gurmeet is also the initiator of the Lime Centre, which works to revitalize communities through cultural heritage projects and develops inventories and cost-effective appropriate technologies. She believes strongly that conservation is a vital part of development, not, as often perceived, a peripheral activity. In addition, Gurmeet works with the United Nations World Tourism Organization as the Cultural Heritage Specialist, spearheading the master plan for tourism in Punjab. Gurmeet and the CRCI are the recipients of numerous prestigious global and local awards, and are partners in our UNESCO Chair/University Twinning Network on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development."

- Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney

A preview of the 2010 CRCI Sikhpoint Calendar, "Conserving Sikh Heritage" being launched in Los Angeles in November 2009:

Kumar Rana on "Home Task"

Kumar Rana at the Pratichi Trust Annual Symposium, Shantiniketan, August 2009

'' 'Home Task' is the required period of intensive study time at home for primary school-aged children in India. As far as I know, India is the only nation in the world that mandates that her primary-aged school children must engage in extensive amounts of time devoted to their studies outside of the classroom setting. Here in West Bengal, as in most Indian states, this mandatory requirement is routinely adhered to. 

Sadly, the lack of proper 'Home Task' facilitation for poorer students throughout India is one of serious concern, leading to huge disparities between the social classes. Students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are unable to receive assistance 'memorizing their textbooks' and doing other exercises because their families are unable to afford private tutoring, in stark contrast to their wealthier peers whose parents can afford such expenditures. 

This constrained context for economically disadvantaged children produces a clear case of class division that can only be eradicated through radical and systemic change. This change must include a major overhaul in the curriculum and syllabus of primary school education in India that will close disparities between rich and poor students. We intend to publish a study and recommendations in December, with the formal assistance and release by Professor Sen, to address this most serious disparity facing the economically disadvantaged children of India."

- Kumar Rana

Amartya Sen at the Pratichi Trust Annual Workshop on "Syllabus, Teaching, and Learning and Mid-Day Meal," Shantiniketan, 2-3 August 2009

Prof. Amartya Sen speaking at the Pratichi Trust Workshop

From Kumar Rana, Pratichi Trust:
"The Pratichi Annual Workshop on "Syllabus, Teaching and Learning and Mid-Day Meal" was held at Shantiniketan on 2-3 August, 2009. It's an event that the Pratichi Trust has been organizing since 2002, and Professor Sen has been one of the most consistent participants at this meeting. It's a platform where parents, teachers and others including policy-level people, academics, and activists interact. At the last meeting, 60 participants spoke, and of them 45 were parents and teachers. As a general rule, meetings are addressed by "big people" to be heard by the "small" ones; but our meeting turned the table around. Also, we took another radical decision - all of the four sessions were chaired by teachers and the general public, and the male/female ratio of the chairpersons was exactly 50-50."

Recurring themes:

1. The preparation of the syllabus, training modules and textbooks needs to be decentralized. Teachers have to be incorporated into this process.
2. The syllbus should be so prepared that the conception of 'home task' at the primary level - found no where in the world except the subcontinent - be abolished, without making some immediate systemic changes.
3. The mid-day meal has not yet been univerlized; this must be completed on urgent basis. Also, problems in the programme - supply, allocation, operation - need to be eradicated. The transparency mechanism that was in place in its initial days has to be brought back with added vigour.


The Workshop "focused on the syllabus at the primary level and its connection with teaching and learning; and the implementation of the mid-day meal program, particularly at the upper primary (5 - 8 standard) stage. With 320 participants from villages across West Bengal, it was a remarkable event that opened paths for democratic dialogue in a more meaningful and effective way."

The audience at the Pratichi Trust Workshop