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