Monday, December 8, 2008

My Name is Kaamaylaa: Presentation at Visva Bharati

My name is Kaamaylaa.
The name of my project is Sreehasani [sic]. Sreehasani means "Creative manual skills for self-reliance".

I have been working for 10 years in 9 villages (3 Muslim, 3 Hindu and 3 Santhal Villages) in 3 communities. The villages are Saatt tore, Khiruli, Kendradangal with Muslim community; Taltore, Darposhila, Baadh baubo with Hindu community; Baansh pukur, Kauaayte pukur, Bidya dharpur with Santhal community.

Our objective has been to create awareness, mainly about:
Nutrition related organic farming in household garden patch,
through several group-oriented activities.

Our main activities for Nutrition related organic gardening, has been:

a) To support 15 families in each village, to start nutrition related vegetable garden, through organic farming.
b) To become aware nutritional value in vegetables.
c) To cook nutritional vegetables and gain knowledge about several recipes of nutritional values of such vegetables.

My main responsibility is to look into the nutritional factor. When I first met the mothers in the community, they were not even aware of the word "Nutrition." I showed them pictures of vegetables with their nutritional values and discussed about nutrition. They learned about the components of Sugar, Proteins, Vitamins, Fat, Iron, Salt and Water in vegetables. For example, they came to know about 6 divisions of Vitamins... A, B, C, D, E, and K.

The groups learned to cook 35 varieties of nutritional vegetable recipes. They also learned to cook 2 or 3 oil free recipes.

The groups learned the names of the vegetables that were grown in their organic vegetable garden and trained to plant herbal trees for medicine purposes on the bamboo fences of their houses.

Most of the families had Papaya trees in their garden, but the papayas on the tree were mostly wasted. The groups were trained to make food like Haaluwa and Morobba with papaya. Now these trained groups come to the center and train other new groups.

So far, awareness of vegetable organic gardening and nutrition has spread among 200 households in the nine villages.
There are now about 200 organic vegetable gardens in the nine villages.
The groups now have the knowledge about nutrition and can discuss with others about the good qualities and nutritional values of organic vegetables in the garden.

Photo by Brenda Gael McSweeney

Gender, Peace, and Conflict by Dr. Arvinder Ansari

Presented November 15, 2008 at the Visva-Bharati International Conference on Women

"Women bear multiple identities and these identities are defined and re-defined in context of nation, race, gender, community and ethnicity. it is a well-recognized fact that women suffer in social-conflict on account of their gender and on account of their religion. Women may serve as the symbolic figuration of a nation. They are also seen as embodiments of male honour and as such become a site of contestation for this honour. Hence, the defense of women and children becomes and rallying slogan of men going to war, as women from opposing factions fall victim to rape and other sexual atrocities when represented as guardians of the 'race' and nation.

Women not only signify and demarcate juridical, political, cultural and psychic boundaries of a national collectivity, but they inscribe these boundaries in and through a myriad of cultural practices, their assumption of particular feminized subject positions, their relationship to the upbringing of children and involvement in religious and other ritualistic practices that construct and reproduce particular nations of tradition.

Women are considered a property and their sexuality is the most prized possession of the patriarch she suffers during the collective violence due to her sexuality and in the aftermath on account of her gender. During the times of collective-violence, ethnic-conflict and civil war, women become target of attack not as women but as the property of the Patriarch or as the icon of community honour. Women's sexuality is here attacked so as to teach men of the community a lesson that, as the natural guardians of women, they are not able to protect their women and must suffer the loss of their social property.

Women are very important for the reconstruction of the community. It is true that they witness the killing of their male members: their kith and kin are wiped out and the entire fabric of their socio-cultural existence is torn asunder. Women are left companionless and shelter-less and thrown into an alien environment. Under riot-torn conditions, when women's emotional and material world is destroyed, they are left with additional burdens. Thus, violence and social conflict not only affect women physically but also increases their responsibilities. As the scale of ethnic and social-conflict causalities has risen, both women's suffering and their responsibilities have increased.

Making visible women's experiences in situations of violent conflict, their agency in managing survival and reconstruction and women's notions of security and peace, is necessary to get due recognition for women's experiences as a resource and a space in formal politics for mainstreaming gender in the peace building process."

Dr. Arvinder A. Ansari
Associate Professor
Department of Sociology
Jamia Millia Islamia

Agenda from the 2008 International Conference on Women after Independence, Visva-Bharati, November 2008

2008 International Conference On:
Women after Independence: Politics, Development, Law and Media.

Jointly sponsored by UNESCO and Women's Cell Visva-Bharati

15th- 16th November 2008

Day 1, 15th November 2008

Inauguration: Vice Chancellor, Prof. Rajat Kanta Ray

Welcome Address: Prof. Asha Mukherjee

Address by the Chief Guest: Prof. Brenda Gael McSweeney

Conference note: Sm. Swati Ganguly

Vote of Thanks: Prof. Kumkum Bhattacharya

Session I: Women and Politics

Chairperson: Prof. Maitreyi Chaudhury


Prof. Bonita Eleaz

Dr. Sarika Tyagi

Sri Achyut Chetan

Sm. Krishna Bandopadhyay

Session II: Women and Development with special focus on Work

Chairperson: Prof. Aparajita Mukherjee

Speakers: Prof. Mukul Mukherjee

Prof. Samita Sen

Dr. Nirmala de Abreu

Sm. Nilanjana Sengupta

Session III: Women and Development with special focus on Reproductive Health

Chairperson: Rajashri Dasgupta


Dr. Azra Abidi

Sm. Jharna Panda

Day 2, 16th November 2008

Session IV: Women and Development with special focus on Education

Chairperson: Professor Mukul Mukherjee


Dr. Paromita Chakravarti

Sm. Joyeeta Bagchi

Session V: Women and Media

Chairperson: Ms. Swati Ganguly


Sm. Rajashri Dasgupta

Sm. Ananya Chatterjee

Sri. Abhijit Roy

Dr, Somdatta Mondal

Prof. Sutapa Bhattacharya

Session VI: Women, Law and Violence

Chairperson: Prof. Asha Mukherjee


Dr. Ruchira Goswami

Dr. Rukmini Sen

Prof. Shamita Dasdasgupta

Sm. Anchita Ghatak

Session VII: Women and Development

Chairperson: Prof. Kumkum Bhattacharya


Prof Brenda Gael Mc Sweeney

Presentation by members of Srihaswani Project

Sri Krishno Dey
Prof Asha Mukherjee


Sm Swati Ganguly

Sunday, November 23, 2008

UNITWIN Staff and Message from Sonia Bahri, UNITWIN Director - UNESCO, Paris

From left to right: Inga Nichanian, Hassmik Tortian, Sonia Bahri, Milena Caceres Valderrama, and Carmen Piñán.

From Dr. Sonia Bahri, Director of UNITWIN
: There will be no sustainable development without women's empowerment. Higher education Institutions and universities have a key role to play as think-tanks and as bridge-builders between academia and local communities, and between research outcomes and decision making, in the field of gender equality.

Today, UNITWIN has 617 UNESCO Chairs and 60 UNITWIN Networks in 125 Member States. There are 11 Chairs plus one UNITWIN Network established in Gender issues.

Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney Awarded Order of Merit First Class from Federal Republic of Germany

Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney pictured here with the Lady Mayor of Bonn, Baerbel Dieckmann, on the occasion of the Award Ceremony in Bonn.

Brenda was awarded the Order of Merit First Class, decided by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, for her work in development with the United Nations and support of the creation of the 'UN City, Bonn.'

She was invited to give a lecture entitled "Making UN History in Bonn" to the development community in Bonn on the occasion of the award ceremony. The lecture focused on work accomplished by the UN Volunteers in the arena of gender and the environment globally, with specific reference to programs in Burkina Faso and India, and an accent on steps the development community in Bonn might take next.

UN Volunteers Article on Brenda's Award

Photo by Dr. B. Murali

University of Bonn Students preparing for the Model UN, New York

Model United Nations participants from the University of Bonn, Germany pictured with Brenda Gael McSweeney

Brenda met up on October 22nd at the Old Town Hall in the UN City of Bonn with a team of University of Bonn students who will be participating in the 2009 National Model UN delegation. This was on the occasion of the event, "Making UN History in Bonn", co-sponsored by the City of Bonn and the Foundation for International Dialogue of Sparkasse Bonn.

The UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture and Development is currently exploring affiliations with the University of Bonn and Sparkassenstiftung, Bonn.

Photograph by Hee-Sun Helene Won

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Just published by UNESCO: "Another Side of India: Gender, Culture and Development"!

Cover painting credit: © Anuradha Dey (Shantiniketan, West Bengal, India)

A Volume of Essays by participants in the UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture and People-Centered Development. Editor - Brenda Gael McSweeney; Foreword by Gita Sen; Introduction by Krishno Dey; and a final note called 'Points of View, from the Other Side...' by social activist Aruna Roy.

Essays and Authors:

Engendering Panchayats - Niraja Gopal Jayal

She's in Charge Now: An Examination of Women's Leadership in the Panchayati Raj Institutions in Karnataka - Shiwali Patel

Public Space and Women's Rights: Fine Tuning Democracy - Kumkum Bhattacharya

Srihaswani: a gender case study - Krishno Dey, Chandana Dey and Brenda Gael McSweeney
with Rajashree Ghosh

Hold the pen-plough and till the paper-land: Success story of a movement for education and related issues - Kumar Rana, Liby T. Johnson and Subhrangsu Santra

Poverty of Choice: Gender and Livelihoods in Punjab - Yaaminey Mubayi

A Uniform Civil Code towards Gender Justice - Leila Seth

Missing Daughters: Socio-Economic and Cultural Dynamics of Adverse Sex Ratio in Punjab - Malkit Kaur

Contested Terrains: Gender Justice and Citizenship in South Asia - Shahla Haeri

Story Link
Book Link

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Her Village is Named Daggo"

Left: Former BU Student Ashley Hughes with Oumima in Niger, Africa. Ashley participated in the Boston University Niamey Development Program from September to December 2007. In August 2008 she returned to Niger for a two-week trip to continue learning about nutrition activities in the country. While at BU, Ashley was a key actor in the creation of a new student club at Boston University called Students Against Human Trafficking, and served as its president.

"Her village is named Daggo. It sits 4 K (about 2 miles) away from the main road. When we turned off the main road we found ourselves without a road, just in a space between stalks of millet. The village is surrounded by the villagers' millet fields, their main crop and dietary staple. When we reached the village center we got out and found our way through the maze of mud walls to Natasha's house. She has only been here for 2 weeks, and she still has a hard time finding her house.

Her house is surrounded by a short mud wall that marks off her yard, or her concession. People spend most of their lives outside--even the cool mud houses get too hot, and there's no reason to stay inside for too long. The heat drives people to sleep outside, cook outside, rest outside, everything. The house is almost a prop, just a sign of wealth. Natasha's wealth is shown in other ways. She is the only village member to have a latrine (which is a hole in the ground). The villagers go in the sand and bury it. She has furniture (a table, some chairs, a cot). She also has a large house for just herself, compared to other families in the village.

I tried putting myself in her shoes. Here she is, in complete isolation from home and from a certain standard of living that we are used to. No one in the village speaks English or even French, forcing her to learn Hausa faster out of sheer necessity. For the first month of her service she is required to stay in the village without returning to the hostel in order to solidify her place in the village.

This one woman, Oumima, was Natasha's neighbor and "mother". She is about 60 or 70 years old, and she lives in the same courtyard with her co-wife. Their husband is dead, but the two live together with the youngest of their 18 children. They are both old enough that some of their kids are grown, but as per Nigerien tradition they take care of a lot of their grandchildren. Oumima wakes up at 4 am, draws water, goes to the fields all morning, comes back to make food for her family, pounds millet, works in the field more, comes back to draw water, pounds millet...the life is so repetitive and endless.

So it was hard to understand her smile, her warm hospitality, her insistence on feeding me, her encouraging words about learning Hausa. He eyes were bright and shining every time I saw her, in spite of the baby strapped on her back or the wood balanced on her head, whether she was bending over to sweep the courtyard or to tend to the fire. She had a patience about her that you never see back home. She's not anxious for things to change, she is accepting of life as it is. It hasn't changed for her and probably never will. But it does not break her spirit."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Shahla Haeri: "Sacred Canopy: Love & Sex under the Veil"

Following the screening of Shahla Haeri's video documentary, "Mrs.
President: Women and Political Leadership in Iran,"
Shahla interacts with a fellow professor and the audience at St. Andrews University, Scotland in June 2008.
For information on the video, please visit

Friday, April 18, 2008

Aruna Roy sharing notes

Aruna Roy, co-founder of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS- a non-party people's process, working towards a just and equal society), called on the Women's Studies Program at Boston University to share notes on issues of women’s participation in governance and development. Aruna reflected on the International Women’s Day Celebration on 8 March ‘08 in her home state of Rajasthan, India. She participated alongside 7,000 other Indian women. She spoke of the remarkable change, “As we looked at seven thousand women with faces uncovered in front of the men of the village, we knew that a small revolution had occurred. The people of Khandach, including the men, saw value in celebrating women’s day. It was an acknowledgement of the political power of women, as much as of the new found power in electoral representation.” (From the forthcoming UNESCO Web Book, Another Side of India: Gender, Culture and Development.)

Aruna was also invited to participate in the Conference, Frontiers of Innovation Celebrating 20 years of Innovation in Government, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. The Conference was hosted by The Ash Institute, Harvard Kennedy School, from March 30 – April 2, 2008. Aruna was a speaker in Panel 1, entitled Innovations in Governance, Ethics and Accountability in the Public Sector. Aruna spoke of the role of MKSS in gaining the Right to Information (RTI) in India. The panel overall was exploring three successful initiatives at the local, regional and national level. The aim was to share strategies increasing transparency and enhancing competence of leaders in the public sector.

Photo by Shahla Haeri

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

George Mathew's Briefing on Women's Empowerment Day!

Dr. George Mathew, Director of the Institute for Social Studies, New Delhi called on BU's Women Studies Program. Here he is, at left, briefing Dr. Shahla Haeri, Director of WSP, on forthcoming activities hosted at his institute. These include a symposium to be convened on 24 April 2008, Women's Political Empowerment Day, on the topic of women, Panchayats (local governance bodies) and child rights. The Institute hosts a symposium annually on 24 April, to mark this date. On this day in 1993, the Government of India amended the Constitution, giving one-third of all seats in local bodies in the country to women. Dr. Mathew explained to Shahla and Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney (pictured below), that since 1994 the Institute celebrates that day as Women's Empowerment Day with a focus on various crucial topics. Nearly 1,000 women attend each year to express solidarity and discuss common problems. The theme last year was HIV/AIDS, women and the role of Panchayats, while in 2006 the celebrations focused on Panchayats, water and sanitation. The Institute for Social Studies carries out research projects on local governance, women's studies, the environment and contemporary economic and political challenges, which mirror the issues most important to the UNESCO/UNITWIN on Gender, Culture and People-Centered Development.

Photo Credits: Brenda Gael McSweeney and Carla Pack-Bailey

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sonia Bahri at the “60 Minutes to Defend” UNITWIN/UNESCO Session!

As of mid March 2008, there were 14 UNESCO Chairs plus this UNITWIN Network established in the field of Gender. Here we see Dr. Sonia Bahri, UNESCO’s UNITWIN programme Chief, interacting with Representatives of Permanent Delegations to UNESCO and National Commissions, and various other partners. We are all proud that the UNITWIN programme is moving from strength to strength, with activities taking place in a range of gender disciplines and countries including: Argentina, Spain, India and Poland.

Students Respond to International aspects of "Women and Electoral Politics: A New Era?"

Maria Claudia Echavarria - “It is astonishing to see that countries like Mozambique, Chile, India and Liberia all had female leaders before the United States. The United States, although a country which strongly promotes gender equality, is also one that holds the strongest barriers for women in politics… As Dr. Norris believes, in order to empower women in politics we must do more than just believe in one candidate, we must strive to break the barriers and reform the game of politics and gender around the world.”

Kimberly Fillion – “The first speaker and professor at Harvard University, Pippa Norris discussed barriers facing women leaders, primarily in developing countries. Culture and politics, both local and regional, have huge roles in prohibiting women from having equal footage on the frontline in regards to obtaining leadership. While progress is made, there is still evidence of a glass ceiling that all women face, whether in developing or developed countries.”

Anna Miller - “I gained a number of insights during the discussion of whether we are in a new era, of how women are involved in electoral politics. Professor Pippa Norris presented very interesting research that proved that when structural constraints were changed to favor women, as in Rwanda and Ireland, there is drastic increase of women in state and national legislature.”

Melinda Heavey – “I liked how Professor Norris drew examples from global trends, not just America. She relayed that women leaders are present in only 12 countries, and not just affluent countries. Some of the poorest countries including Chile, Argentina and Jamaica were among the 12 countries that did have female leaders.”

Women and Electoral Politics: A New Era?

On March 18, in the Trustees Ballroom of Boston University (BU) the Women Studies Program hosted a lecture and discussion entitled, “Women and Electoral Politics: A New Era?” as the opening event to Genderfest ’08 - a student initiated week of events attempting to answer the questions of Gender on Boston University’s campus. The Director of the WSP, Dr. Shahla Haeri began the event with welcoming remarks and set the stage for the discussion. “We are in the midst of an intriguing Presidential election in the United States, for the first time a woman political leader is a major candidate,” she exclaimed. “Women leaders have a large historical and global presence.”

Pippa Norris, Professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, presented on “Shattering the Marble Ceiling: Barriers Facing Women Leaders.” She put the current US Presidential race in a broader international context by looking at global trends, theoretical frameworks (cultural, structural and institutional) and evidence and survey data. Dr. Norris’ intriguing lecture touched on the future direction of American politics in the “post-feminism generation.” Through the framework she has developed, Dr. Norris concludes that culture remains a barrier, but these barriers can be overcome with institutional reforms.

Dean Virginia Sapiro, Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences Dean, launched the event saying, “It has been a new era for a long time, but I want this new era to end, women in politics should be normal.” Her discussion focused on the world of scholarship and began by looking at women in the legislature. She explained the base line in American politics: that until the 1950s only 2% of Members of Congress were women and in 2008, only 16%. “All discussions must take place in relation to the base line and if you look at the numbers it is clear that women are not equal to men in American politics.” Dean Sapiro said that she does not want to give us answers; she will wait for the data, and that she is developing a framework for discussion. “We do not know who will win the Presidential election, but gender is making a big difference this year- the gender discussion is being brought to the floor.”

The full house event and lively question and answer session was moderated by Professor Douglas Kriner, Department of Political Science at BU.

Story prepared by Margaret Hartley.

Friday, March 7, 2008

International Women's Day Message from UNESCO's Gülser Corat!

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day presents an opportunity to reflect on the level of equality between women and men throughout the world. It is unfortunate that in the twenty-first century, the outcome of such an exercise continues to point to the significant gender gaps that persist in terms of literacy, political participation, employment, and access to property and productive assets worldwide, to name only a few. These formidable challenges demand renewed attention and resources on behalf of public and private entities, as well as civil society, political and traditional opinion leaders, and individuals at the local, national, and international levels.

At UNESCO, the year 2008 represents a promising turning point for gender equality, as the Organization has recently designated gender equality as one of two global priorities in its “Medium-Term Strategy” for 2008-2013. In line with this new priority, the Section for Women and Gender Equality of the Bureau of Strategic Planning – UNESCO’s central coordinating and monitoring entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment – was reclassified by the Director-General as the Division for Gender Equality, and is now fully represented at the Directorate, the decision making body. In light of these propitious occurrences, International Women’s Day takes on a special meaning for us at UNESCO this year.

It is timely that, at a moment when women’s global needs have been growing and the sources of funding for gender equality have been dwindling, the United Nations has set “Financing for Gender Equality” as the theme for International Women’s Day 2008. This decision stems from the recognition that, beyond being a necessary condition for improving the lot of half of the world’s population, mobilizing resources to finance gender equality is a question of smart and just economics, and of social justice.

Research has demonstrated, and experience has shown us, that economic decisions impact women and men differently. For instance, cutbacks on social expenditures hit women, especially poor women, harder than men. Further, women worldwide perform a vast quantity of unremunerated work – work whose invaluable contribution to the national and international economy cannot be gauged, because it goes unaccounted for by national governments. In light of these examples, it becomes clear that channeling resources towards women in the pursuit of gender equality is not an “extra” handout; it is simply just economics. Just because it represents a redistribution of resources towards those who have contributed generations of unpaid work to the world economy. Just because it is aimed towards those who have been disproportionately affected by past and current economic policies. Just because it aims to redress some of the deep-rooted structures that continue to subjugate women worldwide. Also because around the world women earn less than their male counterparts for the same work.

Despite the scarcity of funds invested in pursuit of gender equality, a number of prominent philanthropists and fundraisers have mobilized great resources to promote women’s rights, women’s empowerment, and equality between women and men. This year, UNESCO has the honor to bring some of these distinguished individuals together at an International Round Table entitled “Gender Equality – Make it Your Business.” Specifically, the Round Table emphasizes the important role played by these philanthropists and fundraisers in promoting gender equality, which, for UNESCO, is a fundamental human right, a commonly shared value, and a necessary condition for the achievement of the internationally agreed development objectives including all the Millennium Development Goals.

In tandem with the Round Table, UNESCO is pleased to present a number of colorful and innovative exhibitions and events that pay tribute to women’s participation in fields as varied as peace building, filmmaking, literature, fine arts and music. This year’s events further draw attention to key, gendered, contemporary themes. The breadth and diversity of these endeavors demonstrate that the issue of gender equality pervades all facets of society, that women contribute to all spheres of life, and that there are innumerable ways to celebrate the richness of these contributions. Finally, as the title of the Round Table “Gender Equality: Make it Your Business” suggests, this year’s celebrations urge us to consider the role each of us must play in the collective effort to make gender equality a global reality.

Gülser Corat

Director, Division for Gender Equality, Bureau of Strategic Planning, UNESCO, Paris

Sculpture: © Annette Jalilova



Gender: The multidimensional aspect of working in India



DATES: WEEKEND OF 15-16 November, 2008

REGISTRATION FEE: Rs. 1000/- ; $ 50

1. Interested participants and contributors may send their draft synopsis of not more than 250 words on any of the areas listed in the concept note or in related areas to the coordinators by June 30, 2008.

2. Interested participants and contributors are requested to bear in mind that Visva-Bharati will be able to provide local hospitality that includes accommodation and meals. UNESCO has contributed $1000 towards the organization of the conference.

Concept Note

Gender has emerged as a key term in political, economic, social, cultural and pedagogical discourses and praxis in India over the last three decades since the Committee on the Status of Women in India submitted its landmark document Towards Equality (1975). To provide a cursory overview: Gender figures prominently in programs/ projects/ policies of both government and funded non governmental agencies at the macro and micro levels. Thus questions of women’s empowerment and agency recur in government policies regarding reservation, political participation, governance, development, health and education. The pro-woman state policies are mirrored by the judiciary in its amendments with regard to laws for women, and sometimes in its sensitivity in judgments in cases of domestic and public violence against women, in property disputes and divorce maintenance. Non governmental organizations specializing in issues relating to women--trafficking, legalization of sex work, sexual and other forms of violence especially during community conflict situations, reproductive health, HIV/ AIDS projects, micro-financing for self-employment, and assessment of gender sensitization in the pedagogical processes-- have proliferated over the past 15 years.

The setting up of women’s studies centres in several universities in India has facilitated researches and projects relating to ‘gender issues’ not merely in the social sciences, literature, performing and visual arts, but also in mainstream science and technology. There is also an attempt to bridge the gap between academia and activism through the close networking and in building up what is understood as action research.

However, as is evident, in its current deployment gender almost always signifies ‘woman’. Perhaps it is time to question this conflation between gender and woman and reiterate that notions of ‘masculinity and ‘femininity’ are both social constructs created through the discourse of ‘naturalization’ that forms the lynchpin of patriarchal ideology and affects the identity formation of men and women. Rooted in the collective psyche and reinforced through various institutional practices, traditional gender identities play a key role in oppression of both sexes. Thus, it is crucial to underscore that like all historically contingent categories ‘gender’ is not a constant or given and subject to revision and change. Indeed, in a hierarchized gendered Indian society it is impossible to dismantle traditional notions of the ‘feminine’ and challenge female gender stereotypes without a reassessment of the notions of ‘masculine’ and the role and function of men both within the family and outside.

Moreover, gender issues are invariably inflected with questions of sexuality; thus gender stereotypes and roles in patriarchy are deeply invested in issues of compulsory heterosexuality, leading to women’s sexual exploitation, whether within the home or in the work place. Indeed the normative power of heterosexuality still continues to dominate discussion of gender often occluding the significant presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) movement in

Having stated this it is important to acknowledge that delving into all or several of these aspects is a mammoth task and impossible to undertake given the constraints of time and resources. Thus we think it prudent to focus on a limited number of issues that have been indicated above hoping that deliberations and discussions will contribute to affirmative action.

With this end, we have decided that the conference will have two components: a set of formal academic sessions with valuable inputs from invited researchers/ scholars engaged in the fields and an informal interactive session with activists/ social workers/ members of NGOs, women in local governance as well as students from the various departments in Visva-Bharati.

A tentative list of issues that may be taken up for deliberation is given below. Some of these may be clubbed together as sub themes depending upon the response from the participants. It would be worthwhile to take up specific instances instead of general overviews. The two broad categories which may be addressed are those relating to ‘women’ and those concerning ‘gender identities’:

I. The ‘woman question’ in policy, program and polemics

(a) Women in the political process: representation and agency
(b) Women and development: government policies and roles of NGOs
(c) Women and Law: legal reforms, and problems of implementation
(d) Women and violence with reference to both domestic & public spheres
(e) Women and labour focusing on the invisibility of women’s work

II. Exploring Gender Identities: representations and reformulations

This category will inquire into the discursive formation of gender identities, both masculine and feminine, through various social institutions and its representation in cultural productions, interrogate the ideology of such identity formation and explore possibilities of alternative models. We have deliberately indicated only broad categories at this stage to keep options open for diverse nature of interventions.

(a) Gender and pedagogy

(b) Gender and literature

(c) Gender and the media

(d) Gender and the performing and visual arts

(e) Gender and films

We wish to reiterate that this is only the initial stage of our attempt to conceptualize the conference. We hope to be able to make more specific formulations as responses come in.


Kumkum Bhattacharya

Swati Ganguly

Asha Mukherjee

Friday, February 22, 2008

Message from the Vice Chancellor, Visva-Bharati!

From Vice-Chancellor Rajat Kanta Ray, Visva-Bharati, Shantineketan, West Bengal

"We on our part in Visva-Bharati are delighted at the international cooperation that has been achieved between our institution and yours."

Photo Credit:

Professor Malkit Kaur responds to the alarming sex ratio situation in Punjab

Malkit Kaur, Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Punjabi University at Patiala, is preparing a study to investigate the missing women of Punjab. This empirical study will be a follow up to her earlier work related to the declining sex ratio in Punjab. Sex Ratio compares the number of males to females in a population. This new study will take place in the Fatehgarh Sahib District of Punjab State. This district has experienced a dramatic decline in the child sex ratio in the last decade.

In this week’s news, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) identified Punjab as the worst state in India in terms of the Child Sex Ratio, specifically, in “the age group of 0-6 years old due to the rampant practice of female foeticide there.”[1]

The empirical study is necessary in order to understand the dramatic effects of this process. It has been predicted that if the trend continues, the number of females in Punjab after 20 years would be one third of the number of males.

Malkit believes, “The study in the Fatehgarh Sahib District of Punjab becomes all the more important, as the district had experienced maximum and drastic declining of 120 points in the child sex ratio of 754.”

Villages will be selected after conducting a preliminary survey. Field level data will be collected by village people and others such as academia, administrators and social workers, will be consulted to explain real issues.

The UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme, Paris is supporting Professor Kaur’s cutting-edge research.

[1] Punjab Worst in child sex ratio” <>

Photo credit:

Friday, February 15, 2008

London Calling! by Margaret Hartley, BU Senior & Research Assistant, Women's Studies Program

It feels so strange to be back in the United States, hearing American accents, not carrying an umbrella around EVERYWHERE, and taking the T instead of the Tube…. I just returned from spending four months in London. I was studying abroad on a Boston University Internship Program. My experience was not quite as exotic as Kassia’s described below, yet I did get to have a wonderful opportunity to use my communication skills to help non-profits throughout the world.

The first half of my semester was spent taking classes, getting to know the city and travelling throughout Europe. I had quite the whirlwind tour of Western Europe. In mid October, I began working at MySpace UK. Yes THE MySpace, Tom the founder and all. On my first day, I was told that I would be spending my time helping find content for MySpace UK’s new non-profit initiative. I was psyched! In November, Impact would launch, it is designed to enable non-profits, civic organisations and politicians to connect with the online community, in turn enabling the community to learn about the issues and organizations relevant to their lives. The goal is to empower MySpace users to make a difference in the world. I helped create a database of all UK-based charities on MySpace and reached out to organizations not on MySpace to encourage them to create a profile. The plan is to change the theme of the non-profits on a weekly basis. Themes include: Sexual Responsibility, HIV/AIDS awareness, environment, racism, drinking responsibly, homelessness, cancer, hunger issues, and women’s rights.

MySpace is the number one social networking website worldwide Social networking websites have changed the way the internet works. They have the power to change the world, and finally one is doing just that. One of Impact’s first feature partners was UNICEF. Using MySpace helped UNICEF spread the message about HIV/AIDS transmission. Over 12,000 people have joined the Impact profile. It’s amazing to see how many people social networking websites can reach. It is really inspiring to see a multi-billion dollar company, like MySpace, reaching out to make a difference. It felt great to be part of such a worthwhile initiative!

Now that I am back I have had some time to reflect on what a great experience it was being abroad. I think it is imperative that people take the opportunity to learn about what is going on in other countries. For some people it’s having the opportunity to live there, for others it might be reading about places on the internet. We are lucky to have multiple ways to see the world and everyone should!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This Just In -- News from New Delhi!

Gurmeet S. Rai at the Red Fort (New Delhi); photo by Outlook courtesy of Gurmeet Rai

Gurmeet S. Rai, is pictured here during the preparation of the Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan for the Red Fort. Gurmeet, coordinator on behalf of Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI)/ Lime Centre for UNITWIN, will now be working with the United Nations World Tourism Organization as the cultural heritage specialist on the UNWTO international team to prepare the master plan of tourism development for the state of Punjab. This is to include livelihood opportunities and gender aspects. Gurmeet, a conservation architect, has led CRCI to take on numerous cultural heritage projects, ranging from the Integrated Tourism Development Plan for Amritsar as a major tourism destination site, to conservation of select cultural sites in Punjab through community participation with support from UNESCO and the United Nations Volunteers/UN Development Programme.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A letter from Southern India

Kassia Karr is an independent studies major in the University Professors Program at Boston University, concentrating in South Asian languages and literatures, Women's Studies and Sociology. She is currently in India for two academic semesters with the University of Wisconsin - College Year in India Programme, Madurai.

"Greetings from the southern tip of India, where the monsoon rains have
started and 75 degree temperatures at night feel cold! I have had an
incredible time thus far, and wanted to write to you and update you on
my journey and my research here.To start, I have been thoroughly initiated into the womens' world here.
I'm living with another female student in a flat above a family filled
with daughters, and we're frequently invited to pujas, temples, and
other religious events, where we're stuffed with food and leave with
flowers in our hair. The countryside is beautiful and the people are
incredibly gracious and friendly. There are some cultural issues we
have to adjust to - particularly, getting used to having little to no
interaction with men, but at the same time receiving a lot of male
attention - but there have been no conflicts of any kind thus far.

For my tutorial portion of the program, I'm working at a womens' Non Governmental Organization (NGO) called Sudar that provides educational courses at little to no charge
for first-generation female college students. Most of the students are
from poor families and go to government schools, which subsidize their
costs. I'm specifically working in the basic computer class, where I
help assist and correct the girls as they practice learning MS Word,
Excel, etc., in my simplistic Tamil. I'm also writing a guidebook for
them to use in the course in the future, and at the end of the year I
will complete a research paper on the role of technology and education
in women's development.

For another, 'extra' tutorial, I'm taking cooking classes from a
Nattukottai Chettiar woman, and learning about the role of cooking and
keeping house in South Indian women's lives as a part of it. In
contrast with the NGO, it takes me out of the position of instructor
and puts me more into a cultural immersion into women's lives here.

Finally, for my field work project I decided to research 'Women and
Information Technology (IT) in South India.' This research is partially
based on development studies, and partially based on modern
sociological studies. I'm looking at the impact of the booming
IT/outsourcing industry in South India on a variety of women's lives -
particularly middle class women, and first-generation college students
becoming the first females in their family to work - and learning about
their struggles as working women, the duality of their identities in
the traditional society, their improved social status via their
salaries, and so on. The Indian IT industry has been pushing to recruit
more women than men, for a variety of reasons, so it's really an
interesting and rather timely social phenomenon to be researching and
discussing with people.

So that's India, thus far!

I happened to be looking at the Boston University (BU) College of Arts and Sciences website today, and noticed a link talking about the new UNITWIN program at BU - how fantastically
exciting! I'd be very interested to hear about the collaborations that
are taking place between the Women Studies Program and the Indian universities."