Saturday, October 5, 2019

Announcing Our New Young Women's Forum!

We're delighted to announce a new series that will be appearing on our UNESCO/UNITWIN blog!

In an effort to amplify grassroots voices in this phase of our UNITWIN, Founding Member Chandana Dey from West Bengal, India proposed having a young women's forum. Chandana states "This initial idea came from my interest in a young all-girls' football team. The co-coach is Mousumi Murmu. I thought that it would be interesting to have dialogues with these young women- and perhaps this might lead to some gender awareness and skill building work. Mousumi has been taking computer programming classes, and she will soon be working with a Santal professor in Jadavpur University who works on discrimination. I thought Mousumi's 'WhatsApp diary' (would be translated by me) would make interesting blog entries. And I also thought that the other UNITWIN partners might have similar stories they could share."

Here is the first entry in this young women's forum series, by Mousumi Murmu!

Mousumi's football team with coach and Chandana Dey
Courtesy: Mousumi Murmu

From the Diary of Mousumi Murmu 

(September 2019)

My name is Mousumi Murmu and I live in the village of Phooldanga. On 15 March, 2018, I joined work on a survey on the socio-economic conditions of Adivasi girls in the villages of West Bengal. There were many other students from different districts of Bengal on the survey and this was a chance to meet them. There were two other girls from Birbhum on this survey- Anjali Soren and Bahamoni Tudu. I met two other girls from Rajnagar Block, and along with them, made the acquaintance of one of their teachers, Mr. Tapan Kumar Ray. He was a retired school-teacher. He told me that he had formed a girls’ football team in a village in the Rajnagar block (Suri district). Besides football, he was trying to make these girls self-reliant, trying to prevent child-marriage, through an organization he founded called Jeevak Herb Welfare Society.
In October 2018, after my survey work got over, Tapan Sir got in touch with me and told me he needed my help in forming a girls’ football team in the Bolpur area. He asked me to think over his offer. I thought it over and said I would try because I was fond of games. He informed me that the project would start in December.

 On 8 December, 2018, Tapan Sir and I went to the village of Ballavpurdanga to ask school-going girls whether they wanted to learn to play football and whether they would be able to come and play on the football field near the village of Bidyadharpur. We got a list of 25 girls who were interested. Among them were some girls who had given up on school. Then we went to the villages of Bidyadharpur, Banshpukur, and Kayetpukur. Here I had the help of my mother. We found many enthusiastic girls. On another day, Sir and I visited the villages of Uttar Sehala and Kutipara. In the meantime, Tapan Sir visited the village committee head and other notable individuals in Bidyadharpur village to get permission to train the girls on the Bidyadharpur football field. 

Tapan Sir then informed the girls that the football training would start in the first week of January. We had got around 80-85 names of girls from seven villages. On the first day, around 50 girls came to the Bidyadharpur field. Gradually the numbers reduced as the training progressed. Tapan Sir told us that a coach, Mr. Tarun Manna, from Kolkata would come to train us twice weekly-he had also coached the girls’ team in the Rajnagar block. Some girls dropped out because they had not played before and did not have the stamina to play on the football field as well as do all the work at home they were expected to do.    

Tapan Sir gave a name to the Bidyadharpur football team- ‘LAHANTI’- this is a Santal word that means ‘Go forward’. Tapan Sir has asked for help in funding our Lahanti team through his organization. The Panrui police station got to know of the girls’ football team and has paid for the uniforms of the team. At the back of each shirt is the name of the football player and a number, and embossed is the name: Panrui P.S. Tapan Sir also got together funds to buy socks and shoes for the team players.   

In addition, the girls get a snack after each game; sometimes, soaked chickpeas; sometimes boiled eggs, and at other times, bread and banana. The girls’ team is now playing with other teams and sometimes winning matches. The girls appreciate greatly the help from their coach. There has been appreciation of our football team from surrounding villages. At present, there are 45 girls on the football team.  

 Football team in Bidyadharpur village with Chandana's friends from abroad
Courtesy: Chandana Dey

Lahanti football team, shouting out their name
Courtesy: Chandana Dey


Sunday, September 15, 2019

New eBook on Women's Leadership!

Exciting news, our Buenos Aires-based Partner, the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender, has published a new eBook on women's leadership! 

Below is the message of Gloria Bonder, who heads up the Global Network, about this volume that contains 16 articles in English as well as 22 articles in Spanish -- her message includes the link to the full eBook. 

This is the latest eBook in this series. For easy reference, the titles and links for the first two eBooks of the Global Network are as follows: Gender perspectives in case studies across continents (Editors: Gloria Bonder & Brenda Gael McSweeney) and Gender Perspectives in Case Studies Across Continents: Volume II (Edited by Brenda Gael McSweeney); a first eBook, of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network, is called Another Side of India: Gender, Culture and Development.


We are pleased to present you the third eBook of the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender, The time for women’s leadership, compilated and edited by Araceli Alonso and Teresa Langle de Paz, both coordinators of the UNESCO Chair in Gender, Wellbeing & Culture of Peace at University of Wisconsin-Madison. This publication addresses a specially relevant subject of the research field within Gender Theory and current cultural practices and politics: women and leaderships. It comprises of essays from numerous countries and regions (Kenya, India, Spain and Latin American). Among them articles prepared by coordinators of UNESCO Chairs on Gender. This production has been possible thanks to the commitment and the significant academic competence of Professors Teresa Langle and Araceli Alonso.   
                                                                                                                              Kind regards,                                                                                        Gloria Bonder

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Faneuil Library Event on Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Neon in New England!

The Faneuil Branch of the Boston Public Library hosted in mid-August 2019 a presentation called New England Neon. The speaker was Susan Mara Bregman, a local community activist and photographer whose book was recently published under the same name. Arcadia publisher stated, "The golden age of neon signs in New England lasted more than 30 years, from the dark days of the Great Depression through the go-go years of the 1960s, but its spectacular legacy remains -- if you know where to look!"

Faneuil Librarian Amy Manson introducing Susan 
Susan with her book

Susan took the audience through the heritage of neon accompanied by a powerpoint presentation of her photographs of iconic neon signs throughout New England over the decades. In her talk she put an accent on cultural preservation, and commercial and artistic history over the years. For Susan, neon signs have "personality" and "evoke memories," reminding her of special times.

Susan with the neon Circle Cinema sign, Cleveland Circle, Brighton 
Charlie Vasiliades, Vice President of the Friends of Faneuil and of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society that earlier hosted Susan for a talk, remarks, "Susan Bregman, a long-time Oak Square resident, was involved in the past in a number of community related causes. One of her unique interests in past years has been in chronicling and advocating for the preservation of New England's old neon advertising signs, including the successful effort to preserve the Cleveland Circle Cinema sign."

Several illustrations from Susan's book:

Above, a short history of the neon sign prepared by Ronni Komarow, Faneuil Library Gallery Coordinator and Secretary of the Friends of the Faneuil Branch, the latest Affiliate of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development. 

L to R: Amy Manson, Ronni Komarow, Former President of FOFL Shelley Bialka, Susan Bregman, and FOFL Board Member Eric West

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Innovative Programs in Niger Focusing on Women and Girls Advancement

Aminata Kiello, a Founding Member of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network based in Niamey, Niger, shared the following story of her recent work on programs supporting women and girls through the Lions Club Niamey Lantana:

Lions Club Niamey Lantana, of which I am a member, has donated a motorized canoe/ambulance to the populations of the Ayorou Islands in Niger, which has saved lives.

Before this well-equipped canoe when the pregnant women of Ayorou, for cases of difficult childbirth, were at work at night and had to be evacuated to the District Headquarters, they took simple canoes. The hippopotamuses attacked the boats, overturned them, and the pregnant woman, the companion (or the companions) in the pirogue, lost their lives!

Since the well-equipped Lions canoe exists, as soon as the canoe starts, the banging engine and its "put-putting" noise make the hippopotamuses "fly away." The ceremony of delivery of this canoe was made under the distinguished patronage of the First Lady of Niger (the wife of the Head of State), Dr. Lalla Malika.

Another contribution of Lions Club Niamey Espoir consisted in offering on March 19, 2019, awareness training to young students of the Adra School on personal hygiene. This is very important in our Sahelian environment where modesty prevents women from informing their daughters about the importance of menstruation (sometimes girls interrupt their schooling due to very painful menstruation), and the need to use sanitary napkins instead of old cut-up cloth pagnes. Kits containing sanitary napkins were provided free of charge to all girls in the school and even to their teachers.

Minds often formerly blocked, were unlocked by our explanations, plus a very good atmosphere allowed the girls to adopt the importance of personal hygiene.

Aminata Kiello, pictured at right, has been instrumental in strengthening initiatives dedicated to promoting women's empowerment through the Lions Club of Niamey.

Additional projects assisting the populations in Niger have been carried out during the Presidency of the Lions Club Niamey Lantana in 2018-19 by Nahadjo Amadou Roufaye. Watch this space for the forthcoming photo story!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Dean R. Sudarshan of O.P. Jindal Global University Announcing Human Rights-based Approach to Cultural Heritage Conference!

On July 10, 2019, Professor R. Sudarshan of the O.P. Jindal Global University based in Sonipat/New Delhi, India met in Boston with Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney, Director and a Founder of the BU-based UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development. R. Sudarshan, recently affiliated with our Network, shared the following concerning an upcoming conference on the right to development and a human rights-based approach to conservation of heritage.

Professor R. Sudarshan
"This entails going away from architects and experts, [rather] contacting local communities and people bringing intangible cultural heritage to life alongside conservation and protection of monuments and important places of historical and cultural significance. 

Our university, the Jindal Global University, the School of Government and Public Policy where I am Dean, and the School of Art and Architecture where we have a Dean called Thomas Mical from the United States, are going to be the knowledge partners for ICOMOS, which is the UNESCO body that's responsible for the conservation of monuments. Gurmeet Rai is the President Designate of ICOMOS India. 

The whole purpose of this [the human rights-based] approach is to correct and make adjustments for discrimination that has been consistent and prevalent over a long time. So the focus would be on discriminated communities; and women as a whole in all walks of life are often discriminated against. You can't have a human rights-based approach without putting women up front and center! 

This [Conference] is going to happen on 19 and 20 July in the premises of the Jindal Global University."

This exciting initiative also opens up the potential for further collaboration between the work of our Network-affiliated Brighton-Allston Historical Society (BAHS) and that of Gurmeet Rai, also a Founder of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network, given the resonances between their cultural heritage preservation and promotion of gender equality initiatives, and their respective track-records. Now the knowledge base of Professor Sudarshan, Founding Dean of the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy, will be enhancing these partnerships.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Photo album for Unbound Visual Arts' Annual Flagship Event: Peace in Her Time!

UNESCO/UNITWIN Affiliate Unbound Visual Arts (UVA) hosted its 3rd annual Women's History Month exhibition at the Honan-Allston Library Art Gallery entitled Peace in Her Time: Visionary Women Against War and Violence. UVA’s Executive Director John Quatrale oversaw the exhibition and program, and WGS’s Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney was exhibit Advisor. Susan Janowsky was Curator. Twenty artists were featured.

At left, President Pro Tem of the Senate Will Brownsberger interacts on Brenda’s photograph - leading the album - titled Village and Global Women Leaders in West Africa portraying two pioneers for female education and community harmony. Senator Brownsberger stated, “This photo transports us into the center of leadership deliberation in a different world.”  The exhibit was co-sponsored by BU’s Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (WGS), also supported by the Gender and International Development Initiatives (GaIDI) of Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC).

Find the full photo album here:

Visit also: 
The exhibition musical video tour:
The exhibition catalogue with artwork information and Artists' statements & bios:

Early alert: next year's UVA exhibition in this series may feature Women's History and Suffrage!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Gender Sensitization Workshops in Shantiniketan by Chandana Dey

Gender Sensitization Workshops 
for Manab Jamin team members
Shantiniketan, West Bengal, India 
March 2019

By Chandana Dey
I recently returned to Shantiniketan and was given a chance to interact with my former team members in Ahimsa. In April 2017, when I retired from full-time NGO activity, six Ahimsa team members joined Srikanta Mondal’s team at Bolpur Manab Jamin. (BMJ) Both Ahimsa and BMJ have focused on livelihood promotion and food security measures in the villages around Shantiniketan, in the district of Birbhum, West Bengal. Currently, the twelve member team- six men and six women have undertaken a program of asset building through livestock development in predominantly Santhal (tribal) and Hindu villages. This program is now entering its third year, and has also reaped rich dividends in terms of women’s assets and empowerment.

One area that still remains out of the aegis of the program is a focus on violence, specifically the issue of violence on women. My thoughts on the need to focus on this aspect of women’s empowerment crystallized further in the course of 2018-2019 when we were bombarded by reports on the burgeoning Me Too movement. Speaking to the younger generation of women activists, including my daughter and her friends and colleagues, has influenced much of my current thinking. Recent path-breaking legislation as well as the Visakha guidelines[1] and the Verma Committee[2] have made me pause and think about how much more dissemination is needed especially with women and men in rural Bengal- the little corner of India I call home.

Chandana Dey speaking to Bolpur Manab Jamin team
(photo taken by Debasish, team member, BMJ)

I wanted to start talking on gender and rights to the BMJ team. This is a young group with the majority of people under the age of 30. Education levels vary, although most are literate and all stay in villages close to Bolpur. Some are Adivasis (known as Scheduled Tribes); some are from Scheduled Caste households, and a few belong to upper caste households. Generally, they come from joint families. Consequently they are all aware of hierarchical structures, both at the family level, as well as the broader social frameworks they all belong to. My ability to return to Shantiniketan more frequently thus gave me a chance to interact with them on an informal footing, and hopefully, on successive visits, I will be able to take along ‘experts’ in the field of ‘gender sensitization’. From my previous experience with grassroots work, I have learnt the pitfalls of preaching; rather, it is when people are able to relate and recognize inequality in one’s own life, that makes the leap possible to understand and then perhaps begin on transformation- first oneself (always the toughest) and then taking this same message to others. 

The first session took place in the Manab Jamin office on 18 March 2019. When I entered, the room (about 10 by 10 feet) had been set up in the usual style of blackboard, and screen and the speaker chair in front (a typical classroom situation), and the audience in two rows. I attempted to change the hierarchy embodied in this seating arrangement, and instead requested that we could all sit in a circle- and I should be part of the circle. I also asked everyone to put away their notebooks, saying that there would be no need for notes- that this was just an informal conversation, a way of our getting to know each other, and for me to get to know each person. 

I started the discussion with the Asset Building though Livestock Development Project that Manab Jamin has been involved in for the past two years, asking them about goals and outcomes. Here, everyone was very vocal. Then I went on and asked each person what they thought Bengal’s biggest social problem was- answers ranged from superstition, and belief in witch doctors, to child marriage and the farmers’ crisis. No one was allowed to repeat a problem once stated. Not surprisingly, violence or domestic violence was not brought up as a pressing issue. 

I then spoke about the origins of the Me Too movement and the attention people are paying to gender relations within workspaces. I mentioned a few cases that have caught the headlines- but soon realized that the case of Tehelka[3] or Justice Ganguly[4] must seem very remote to the people in the room. I touched on the topic of violence, especially that directed towards women, and also mentioned the Domestic Violence Act- though briefly[5]. I gave a personal account of how I had been impacted by the Me Too- and the need to speak up when harassment (in its many forms) happens. Interestingly, some of the young women did comment on harassment and said that people would generally not believe the victim. 

Chandana Dey listening to speakers in
Workshop on Gender Sensitization
(photo taken by Debasish, Team member, BMJ)
My original idea had been to show a short film on violence on women- and then break into groups for discussion. However, with the slow internet- it was just about possible to see the bare bones of the film. While trawling YouTube, I found that a fair number of films have been made in Bengali- much of this comes from immigrant communities in Canada or the US. The films made in India tend to be in English and focus on middle class and upper class women and men This was a useful juncture to point out that domestic violence is prevalent in all societies, and straddles all classes.

Before the session ended, I repeated that this workshop was just one of several sessions- and I would appreciate it if it could stay as an inter-team exercise, rather than being taken out to the wider community. My discussions with gender sensitization facilitators focused on the need to build support networks before one launches on community awareness programs. At present, Bolpur Manab Jamin is in conversation with human rights lawyers on a number of issues- including domestic violence. However, we need to be prepared and able to take action, once domestic violence survivors start speaking out. Till these links can be forged, possibly with women’s groups based in Kolkata, it would be sensible to limit these sensitive discussions to a smaller group, and try and build stronger bridges within this close-knit group of people. The gender sensitization program will need the help of various experts, who can come and explain things simply to people. And it will also be necessary to face up to one’s own inner demons. This will take time, empathy and tolerance. As I had stated in the beginning of the discussion: understanding the issue of violence on women is critically linked to the question of women’s empowerment. A battered, frightened woman cannot reap the fruits of development, however targeted the efforts might be. Nor can organizations flourish unless they build a truly inclusive workplace, where each member of the team feels appreciated and respected.

[1] The Vishakha Guidelines were a set of procedural guidelines for use in India in cases of sexual harassment. They were promulgated by the Indian Supreme Court in 1997 and were superseded in 2013 by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

[2] Justice Verma held that each incident of sexual harassment constitutes a violation of the fundamental rights of 'gender equality', 'right to life and liberty' and the right to practice any profession or to carry out any occupation, trade or business under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution of India which depends on a safe working environment.

[3] Tarun Tejpal (born 15 March 1963) is an Indian journalist, publisher, novelist and former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine. In November 2013, he stepped down as editor for six months after a female colleague accused him of sexual assault. He was arrested on 30 November 2013 and is currently on bail since 1 July 2014.

[4] A woman intern had alleged a recently retired Supreme Court judge had sexually harassed her.[9] The Supreme Court, then appointed a three-member committee to probe the allegations and identified A K Ganguly was the one who harassed her.[10] He repeatedly denied all charges. He was indicted on 6 December 2013 by the committee, which agreed with the intern's allegation that he had subjected her to "unwelcome sexual behaviour" in December 2012.[11] He resigned from the West Bengal Human Rights Commission on 6 January 2014 after the Union Cabinet decided to make a Presidential Reference on 2 January 2014 to the Supreme Court for his removal.[12]

He was acquitted of all charges after the intern refused to record her statement before the police.[13] 

[5] The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to protect women from domestic violence. It was brought into force by the Indian government from 26 October 2006.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Peace in Her Time Exhibition: Mark Your Calendars!

Just in from Unbound Visual Arts (UVA), our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network Affiliate, concerning the exciting Women's History Month Exhibition, and Program & Reception (from

Peace in Her Time
Visionary Women Against War and Violence

Exhibition Program & Reception: 30 March 2019 1:00-4:30 pm

Honan-Allston Library Art Gallery
300 North Harvard St., Allston, MA 02134
Organized by Unbound Visual Arts
March 8 - April 29, 2019

Participating Artists: Jean Askerkoff, Nancer Ballard, Tsun Ming Chmielinski, Linda Clave, Jennifer Jean Costello, Alicia Dwyer, Peg Ehrlinger, Mary Gillis, Tom Jackson, Heidi Lee, Pauline Lim, Elizabeth Geers Loftis, Susan Loomis-Wing, Elisandra Lopes, Nhung Mackey, Brenda Gael McSweeney, Nadia Parsons, Ruth Rieffanaugh, Diane Sheridan, and Ellen Zellner.

Curator: Susan Janowsky Designer: Matthew Gorab
Exhibition assistance - Evelyn Markham, Yifeng (Alice) Liu, Simong (Anson) Luo

Exhibition Statement:

Women’s voices and actions, while often unheard and unseen, have been and will forever be instrumental in conflict resolution. Peace in Her Time stands to facilitate a dialogue around women’s role as nonviolent advocates and leaders. The exhibition takes place during National Women’s History Month for which the 2019 theme is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.”

The 2019 National Women’s History Project Honorees are peace activists, founders, community organizers, humanitarians, media hosts, CEOs, spiritual leaders, and suffragists. They are inspiring women who have championed peace and nonviolence and stand as role models to future generations of strong, powerful women. The work on display channels her spirit, her empowerment, her activism, her representation, and her peacemaking.

Pauline Lim’s paintings reflect on the current geopolitical situation and offer powerful truths with an imaginative twist. The work of Elizabeth Geers Loftis highlights Indigenous women and their underrepresentation in art forums. Peg Ehrlinger’s reflective portraits bring the stories of women from Syria, Russia, and India to life using painted glass and interview material. The 3D art of Alicia Dwyer speaks women’s perpetual battle with sexism. Photographs of peaceful protest illustrate contemporary female activism. 95% of the exhibit’s artists are female-identifying, each sharing herstory.

Image credit: Elizabeth Geers Loftis, The Women's Boat, watercolor and oil pastel, 30 x 24 inches

Updated 10 March 2019