Monday, November 30, 2009

Announcing UNESCO's first-ever female Director General, Irina Bokova!


We are pleased to share UNESCO's announcement of the appointment of Irina Bokova, a former Bulgarian politician and ambassador to France and Monaco, as the Director-General of UNESCO. Director-General Bokova is the first woman and the first representative of an Eastern European country to occupy this position since the founding of the Organization in 1945. DG Bokova comes to the post with over three decades of experience in the international arena. Previously, she served as Secretary of State for European Integration, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and was elected a Member of Parliament in Bulgaria. She had been a Permanent Delegate of her country to UNESCO since 2005.

As the "Women's Empowerment" UNITWIN, Irina's appointment is of special excitement to us. Since one of UNESCO's two organizational priorities through until 2013 is Gender Equality, we anticipate a redoubling of the important work the Organization is carrying out in this arena!

A warm welcome and hearty congratulations to DG Bokova, from the Women's Studies Program at Boston University and from our University and NGO partners in India and Burkina Faso!

A Letter from BU Grad Yael Shapira from Southern India

Dear Prof. McSweeney,

I just wanted to send a quick update from India, since I have recently been thinking about you quite often in the context of my work.

Two weeks ago I began an internship with the NGO Aide et Action (it deals with education, especially of people in the rural areas). The specific project I'm working on at this point is evaluating the implementation of inclusive education programs for children with disabilities. I just came back from a week out in the villages, in Andhra Pradesh, where I went to government schools and interviewed students, teachers, mandal leaders, and self-help groups of people with disabilities. The point was to find out if the students are actually being included in the mainstream education and if they are still facing any discrimination. My findings were really fascinating.

With a self-help group for disabled people.

"Inclusive Education" is one of the methods of implementing the "education for all" law here in India. With regards to children with disabilities, it entails getting children out of their houses, work, or special education schools and including them into mainstream classrooms. It is an approach that requires the school to adapt to the child's needs, rather than an integration approach in which the child has to adapt to the rest of the class.

After going out into the villages and conducting many interviews, I found that the children with disabilities have indeed been identified and taken out of their homes to attend the mainstream schools. Awareness has been created by NGOs to rid of superstitions and discrimination. As a first step that is very important. However, these children are merely being integrated and their special needs are not being taken care of in order for them to get a real education and to achieve their rights.

With a classroom that has children with disabilities.

I also got to meet villagers living in a temporary tent community because their village and crops were destroyed in recent floods. It made me realize how important disaster relief work is, and I am pretty sure that I am going to focus on that in my future studies.

I want to let you know that I felt as if everything I learned in the Gender and International Development class came to life right in front of me. It was such an incredible experience to actually be out in the field and talking to people about their experiences instead of just reading about them in a textbook, and I was truly inspired by so many of the people. Your class really prepared me for dealing with so many of the issues I am coming across (such as child labor, girls in school, etc.) and I would really like to thank you for that.

All the best,


Sunday, November 29, 2009

UNESCO's UNITWIN Program Introduces its New Logo!

Owing to the growth of the successful UNESCO Chairs/UNITWIN (University Twinning) program under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Sonia Bahri, the program has now been accorded its own logo!

Pictured below is Sonia with her team on the occasion of a recent meeting in Paris with Brenda Gael McSweeney, to strategize for the future of the UNESCO UNITWIN on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development, anchored at Boston University and with prestigious partners in India and Burkina Faso. The UNITWIN poster featuring the new logo is the backdrop!

From l to r: Ariana Stahmer, Hassmik Tortian, Brenda Gael McSweeney, Sonia Bahri, Inga Nichanian, and Milena Caceres Valderrama.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Momentous News from Visva-Bharati, West Bengal!

 Just in from eastern India:

"Dear Dr. McSweeney,

I received a copy of your mail to Kumkum {Bhattacharya - UNITWIN Coordinator Visva-Bharati} and am happy to know the activities, plans and programs of UNITWIN. I am happy to inform you that UGC {University Grants Commission} has granted us the status of a Women's Studies Centre for which we have been trying for the last ten years as a Cell.

I have joined as Director two months back and we have taken up different plans and projects under the umbrella. We plan to have a national conference on Women and Development around March 2010 and would try to get Martha Nussbaum. Prof. Amartya Sen would also be visiting in Dec. 2009 and I wish to discuss our plans with him. We had a wonderful inauguration function as Kumkum wrote to you with paying our respects to about 30 Women in Santiniketan who have made life long contributions in various capacities to Ashrama life of

For the present we have decided to limit our activities basically within Birbhum District. I already had a meeting last month with 20 NGO's working in Birbhum for empowerment of Women. We plan to work with them beside our own programs and research.

We wish to thank you very much for all the help and look for more and more interactions.

With warm personal regards and best,

Asha Mukherjee
Director, Women's Studies Centre
Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan"

Huge congratulations to Asha and our Visva-Bharti UNITWIN Partners!

Kumkum Bhattacharya's excitement:

"One momentous piece of news - Visva-Bharati has its own Women's Studies Centre inaugurated on October 25, 2009 by Professor Jasodhara Bagchi the founding director of the Women's Studies Centre, Jadavpur University and presently the Chairperson, Women's Commission, West Bengal and Professor Sumita Sen, present Director of the Jadavpur University's Women's Studies Centre." 

Indeed, thrilling news that we hope will be inspirational to other Women's Studies initiatives in India and beyond!  

Monday, November 9, 2009

Newest 'TWIN'!

We're thrilled to announce that West Africa has joined our Network, in the person of Mme Scholastique Kompaoré from Burkina Faso. 'Scho', currently President of the Marche Mondiale des Femmes (World March of Women - Burkina branch), is also on the Board of Directors of CUSO/VSO - Canada (Canadian University Service Overseas/Voluntary Service Overseas). She was a pioneer in the gender equality movement in Burkina, and National Coordinator of the 'UNESCO/UNDP/Government Pilot Project for Equal Access of Women and Girls to Education'. She also ran from Zimbabwe the Africa South of the Sahara UNDP/UN Volunteers Programme for Exchange of Conmmunity Field Workers for a decade.

Welcome, Scholastique!

See also our new "Equality Burkina" blog here!

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BU's Diane Balser at the University of El Salvador

Dr. Diane Balser, who teaches Women's Studies at Boston University, is just back from El Salvador. She has a longstanding relationship with the country, and this month was hosted at the University of El Salvador. Dr. Balser gave a talk on "The Crisis in Capitalism and its Effects on Patriarchy." She interacted with men and women, including students, women from women's organizations, government officials, and feminist scholars from the University in San Salvador.

For more than twenty-five years, Diane Balser has been an international trainer on women's issues and leadership development. She has led workshops for women (and women and men) in the context of this peer empowerment support networking in various locations throughout the world, including North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Japan, Africa, and Australia. She has given talks to conferences/seminars in South Africa, the Netherlands, Israel, and other countries.

Thus her recent work in El Salvador is very much linked to Dr. Balser's lifelong vocation leading training workshops on global issues pertaining to women's lives, and to the themes of our UNESCO/UNITWIN on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kumkum Bhattacharya, our Visva Bharti “Twin,” to attend UNESCO’s World Conference on Higher Education!

Dr. Kumkum Bhattacharya, pictured at the podium above at Visva Bharti University’s UNITWIN International Conference in West Bengal, India, has been invited to attend UNESCO’s forthcoming WCHE in Paris.

For the UNESCO Conference exhibition, Kumkum is planning to share material related to ideas of Rabindranath Tagore, the founder of Visva Bharati, on higher education and his focus on rural reconstruction as being central to the idea of self-sufficiency. The themes of our UNITWIN - gender, culture, and people-centred development - will surely permeate Kumkum’s presentations!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gearing up for UNESCO's World Conference on Higher Education!

UNESCO'S UNITWIN team, that hosts our Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development Network, is gearing up for participation in UNESCO'S World Conference on Higher Education. The gathering in Paris will focus on 'the new dynamics of higher education and research for societal change and development.' (5-8 July, 2009).

The UNESCO/HQ UNITWIN team, directed by Dr. Sonia Bahri, is pictured here in late 2008 on the occasion of meetings with Dr. Brenda McSweeney, initiator of the UNESCO/UNITWIN on Gender, Culture, and Development. From left to right: Carmen Piñán, Ariana Stahmer, Milena Caceres Valderrama, Brenda Gael McSweeney, Sonia Bahri, Inga Nichanian, Natalia Buga and Yoo Lee Miyon.

Since gender equality is one of UNESCO's two organizational priorities, the perspective of equity, access, and quality will be examined during the Conference debates.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Deborah Belle to Serve as Principal Investigator on $750,000 Grant to BU to Strengthen Women’s Professional Networks in Science and Engineering

(Boston) – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year grant to Boston University for a project to help women faculty in the sciences and engineering strengthen their professional networks as a method of improving their career success and satisfaction at the University. BU received the [$750,000] grant as part of the NSF ADVANCE program, which helps universities develop systemic approaches to increasing representation and advancement of women faculty in science and engineering careers. Deborah Belle, the principal investigator of the study, is the Interim Director of the Women’s Studies Program that anchors the UNESCO/UNITWIN on Gender, Culture and People-Centered Development.

Science and engineering departments in U.S. universities continue to lose highly accomplished women to industry and to other non-academic careers, even as women represent an increasing percentage of those who earn doctoral degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. Boston University is no exception. Despite hiring increases at Boston University, the overall percentages of women in natural science and engineering departments at Boston University have remained flat over the past decade.

Research has shown that faculty women in the sciences and engineering often have networks ill-suited to professional development, collaboration, productivity, or high morale. Beyond their own departments, women faculty tend to have fewer ties than do men of comparable rank, resulting in fewer channels through which they might receive information about new scientific discoveries, funding opportunities, or methods of research, or through which they might become known and valued in their fields.

“WIN: Women in Networks, Building Community and Gaining Voice” will adapt programs from other ADVANCE schools and develop new BU programs that will strengthen professional networks to enhance the success and satisfaction of women faculty. In addition, grant allocations will invigorate faculty networks in the science, technology, and engineering disciplines and support new collaborative research ventures. The centerpiece of the project is an analysis of the networks of faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), College of Engineering, and Sargent College, and the potential connection between network changes over time and the retention and promotion of women faculty in science and engineering.

“Analyzing the impact of social networks on improving the career success and satisfaction of women faculty is truly innovative,” explains principal investigator Deborah Belle, also CAS professor of psychology.

Belle notes that the study’s findings may have broader implications for non-academic workplaces and other academic disciplines. The grant will also fund more than 20 collaborative projects in a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math fields, launching new research spearheaded by women Network analysis tools and techniques developed in this study will be made available to other researchers and institutions.

The overarching goal of the study is to create a rich community at BU, adds Belle. “Women in science and engineering tend to feel marginalized and isolated. We hope to build a professional community where people interact, are intellectually engaged, and feel more at home.”

By Amy Biderman and Deborah Belle