Friday, December 30, 2011

Inaugural Newsletter of the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender

We are pleased to announce the publication of the very first newsletter of the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender, produced by our partners in Cyprus and Buenos Aires and now posted at
Feel free to disseminate it among your colleagues.

Boston University's Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (WGS) hosts the UNESCO/UNITWIN (University Twinning) Network on Gender, Culture, and Development, and is a founding member of the Global Network. The Co-Coordinators of the BU-based UNESCO/UNITWIN, Professor Deborah Belle and Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney, are delighted that this inaugural issue features a lot of the work that they and their collaborators in India, West Africa, and the Boston area have been engaged in. To read more about our Network's activities in 2011 and beyond, please see the newsletter at the link listed above.

More information on our UNITWIN Network is at and

Monday, December 19, 2011

UN Women designates BU's Brenda Gael McSweeney as its Focal Point for Women and Gender Studies

UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women has invited Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney of the Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program to be its Women's and Gender Focal Point at Boston University.

UN Women "acts on the fundamental premise that women and girls worldwide have a right to live a life free of discrimination, violence, and poverty and that gender equality is central to achieving development." UN Women just launched its first report on the Progress of the World's Women, focusing on gender justice.

A key priority of UN Women is combating gender-based violence. The campaign titled "Say No-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women" gives everyone a chance to join this global initiative. Do visit to add your voice.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

News from Dr. Asha Mukherjee: Announcing First International Conference of 2012

We wish to share with you news of an upcoming International Conference being organized and hosted by one of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network partners,  the Women's Studies Center at Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan. Dr. Asha Mukherjee, Director of the Center, has informed us that Professor Amartya Sen is expected to inaugurate the Conference and Professor Martha Nussbaum has agreed to deliver the keynote address. Entitled "Women's Creativity and Social Concern" this gathering will be held on January 5-7, 2012. For more information, please see the Conference's theme note below:

      Photo Credit:

" International Conference: Women Creativity and Social Concern
Ashramkanya Amita Sen: 100th birth anniversary Celebration) 
 5-7 Jan. 2012 (Tentative)
Women’s Studies Centre, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan
In a life span of eighty years, Rabindranath Tagore wrote two thousand five hundred poems, seven novels, composed eighteen hundred songs and a number of plays, wrote, directed and produced at least four well-known dance dramas (nritya natya/geeti natya). Over the years these dance dramas and songs have become an inalienable part of Bengali culture. As if that was not enough, in his late years, he took to painting and produced almost two thousand paintings, which are believed to be a new initiative in the world of art. A mere enumeration of these creative aspects can hardly do justice to his incredible achievements and the great contributions he made to the civilization. He took to interpretation of Religion, History and Society proposing a new concept of “India”, preaching internationalism when nations like Japan, Germany and Britain were preparing for World war. He not only proposed but also implemented significant programmes in rural reconstruction in pre-independent India. Needless to say, contribution of this magnitude is not possible without a novel foundational attitude arising out of a basic philosophical position. Over time his attitude towards Man and the World changed and so did his philosophy. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lives without Rights by Jharna Panda

We are pleased to announce that Jharna Panda, one of our UNITWIN-affiliated researchers in India, has written an article calling attention to the livelihoods of women in the Sundarban region in West Bengal. Below is the abstract of Jharna's powerful paper.

"Lives without Rights" by Jharna Panda: Abstract

'Any sympathetic discussion with the women of the Sundarban region (the famous archipelago in the southern fringe of the Gangetic delta in eastern India known for its mangrove forest and Royal Bengal tigers) will reveal the stark realities about their abysmal health standards and the widely prevalent reproductive health problems in spite of a plethora of public health programmes. For example, a large number of women suffer from genital prolapse while they are still in the third decade of their lives.

Most of them are working women from landless or marginal peasant families and because of their very social position, they have to simultaneously bear the burden of a failing agrarian economy and the weight of an oppressively discriminatory social tradition. Hence, these women can be regarded as living testimonies of the process whereby social and livelihood practices frustrate the dream of empowerment to the extent that village women are not in a position to decide upon matters related to their individual selves, let alone to social affairs.

Though to a significant extent their appalling health standards can be traced back to the poor material - including economic - condition of their living, this is clearly also a function of their position as women in a social milieu which is a heady mix of patriarchal domination, archaic traditions and entrenched taboos. The average woman has to follow the extant rituals and practices regarding child birth, birth control, and child health. Even the health workers, when they are present, fail to make much headway with their repertoire of scientific health awareness programmes because the women whose health is at stake are not supposed to make a choice.

The story is complex, yet revealing. It reveals the interrelated nature of the issues of empowerment and economy, health and social practice, reproductive health and productive activities.'

 To see the full text of Jharna's work called "Lives without Rights" please visit

Researcher Jharna Panda shared her firsthand experience living and working in the Sundarban Region in West Bengal, at Visva-Bharati's International Conference on Women after Independence.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Just Published!

Visiting Scholar Smitha Radhakrishnan of Boston University's Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program, the hub of our UNITWIN Network, has just had her book Appropriately Indian published.

‘Appropriately Indian is an ethnographic analysis of the class of information technology professionals at the symbolic helm of globalizing India. Comprising a small but prestigious segment of India’s labor force, these transnational knowledge workers dominate the country’s economic and cultural scene, as do their notions of what it means to be Indian. Drawing on the stories of Indian professionals in Mumbai, Bangalore, Silicon Valley, and South Africa, Smitha Radhakrishnan explains how these high-tech workers create a “global Indianness” by transforming the diversity of Indian cultural practices into a generic, mobile set of “Indian” norms. Female information technology professionals are particularly influential. By reconfiguring notions of respectable femininity and the “good” Indian family, they are reshaping ideas about what it means to be Indian.’

You can find Smitha's Boston Univeristy bio at

Niraja Gopal Jayal, Professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and an affiliate of our UNITWIN Network, has recently had her article "The Transformation of Citizenship in India in the 1990s and Beyond" published in a peer-reviewed collection on the political economy of 21st century India.

'This paper discusses how the three central transformations of the 1990s – Hindu nationalism, backward caste mobilization and economic reform – have shaped practices of citizenship in India in recent times. Women enter this story in three ways: lower middle class women experience a new feeling of freedom by being able to enter the market; women experience social empowerment through their participation in and leadership of panchayats; but, as victims of sex-selective abortion, they are also disadvantaged in practices of biological citizenship. The article is published in the volume titled "Understanding India's New Political Economy: A Great Transformation?”, Sanjay Ruparelia, et al. eds. (Routledge, London, 2011)'. -Niraja Gopal Jayal

You can find Niraja's bio at:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

JMI's International Seminar: In Pictures

We are pleased to announce that our colleagues at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi have provided us with a terrific visual portrayal of the most recent UNITWIN International Seminar hosted at Jamia. To see the entire collection of photos, please click here.

Seminar organizer, Dr. Arvinder Ansari of Jamia, has also just shared with us that the thirty-five papers presented in the seminar are due to be made into a UNESCO Reference Document by early next year. We of the Boston University-based UNITWIN are most excited about this recent news and join our friends at Jamia Millia Islamia in expressing our deep gratitude to Mr. Najeeb Jung, Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia University. His help and unwavering support helped to make possible this inaugural event of the second phase of our UNITWIN Network. The two-day gathering on "Gender, Violence and Development: The South Asian Experiences" marked another "first," as the first International Seminar organized by the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia. It was well attended by scholars and students, and deemed "a big hit"!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chandana Dey Reporting Live from Jamia on the UNITWIN International Seminar!

Dear Brenda,

Was just settling down to write to you. Today's Seminar was an unqualified success! Everyone was really happy at the variety of presentations and the two halls were packed with students and faculty, right to the end- even though the Session went on for about half an hour longer than scheduled.

The UNESCO delegate gave a very fulsome description of the UNITWIN initiative- and lots of very nice things were said about the Boston-based team- quite deservedly.YOU WERE GREATLY MISSED. Arvinder did a sterling job!

 Seminar organizer Dr. Arvinder Ansari of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

There were many presentations from all sorts of places in India- and from outside too; a very intellectual delegate from Colombo who decided to "de-construct" the definitions of "empowerment and development". We will be hearing from Dr. Imtiaz tomorrow.

There are several male delegates here and a couple of very interesting papers looking at "masculinities". Kamla Bhasin (author and social activist) gave a stirring call to ditch patriarchy, which she said was squeezing the "humanity" out of all the men- here in the room and elsewhere.

My own presentation on empowerment and development from the grassroots perspective went off quite well. Tomorrow, I'm chairing! UNITWIN was well represented by Malkit (Professor Malkit Kaur of Punjabi University at Patiala) and also JMI's Dr. Savya Saachi; Asha (Professor Asha Mukerjee of Visva-Bharati) will be able to come tomorrow.

 Dr. Savya Saachi, a founder of our UNITWIN Network

More tomorrow!


(Chandana Dey, Co-Founder of the Bhab Initiative of West Bengal and a founding member of the UNITWIN on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development)


Day Two:

Day 2 was really an emotional day- as we heard first-hand accounts of state-induced violence against women in neighbouring countries- the Hudoot in Pakistan and the fatwas in Bangladesh- and although we were told to leave "emotions" outside the door- it was difficult. It occurred to me that perhaps a Conference of this kind could only be held in India.
Chandana Dey

There were also stories of hope: for example, how the police approached the Social Department of Jamia Millia to sensitize them on the topic of domestic violence and, in particular, understand the ramifications of the Domestic Violence act;  how women activists working with women's organizations are finding the courage to act as "change agents" in their personal lives; how men working on women's issues are re-evaluating their own masculinity and the way they have been brought up.

I was really impressed at the level of scholarship displayed by the young scholars who showed both intellectual rigour and chose topics that had a humanist relevance- and which the UNESCO delegate, Dr. Huma Massod, hopes will make it into working papers for May 2012. Huma says she's had the good fortune of working with you and hopes to really take this UNITWIN initiative to ever greater heights. I think, too, that Arvinder achieved such a high benchmark with the themes, variety of papers, the level of interaction, and the extremely warm atmosphere for all who participated. I'm sure the other UNITWIN partners will now be doubly inspired.

 Picture courtesy of Jamia Millia Islamia Alumni Directory

I also had the good fortune to meet several "gurus"- Kamla Bhasin, Mary John, and such big names such as Imtiaz Ahmed. To have so many "eminent personalities" interacting, under one roof, with scholars and students alike on an equal footing: what better example of building a new world where hierarchies will dissolve and where we can think out of the box? We heard about the 'paradigm of patriarchy" from a Sociologist/feminist man, who's now working to build shelters for the homeless women in Delhi. The ex-Head of the Sociology department of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Dr. Oomen, spoke about the need to eradicate not just "structural and physical violence" but also what he termed "symbolic violence"- verbal abuse of women inside the home. We also heard the repeated demand that participants in the development process stop and think about the root causes of violence- those that are separate from issues of equity and justice; namely, if one achieves more egalitarian economic relations, this does not necessarily impinge on social relations and improve gender balances- or stop the violence inflicted on women.

What better example of active participation than Dr. Mohini Anjum, who used to head the Sociology department of Jamia, and had many students among the faculty today- and who chose to come all the way from Ghaziabad to attend the Seminar.


Monday, August 29, 2011

UNITWIN Colleagues Visit Boston University's Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program

We are pleased to share with you news of a recent visit from two of our UNITWIN colleagues in West Bengal. Social activists Chandana and Nandini Dey spent a day with the Boston branch of our UNITWIN Network at Boston University's Women's, Gender, &  Sexuality Studies Program. Welcoming the visitors were Program Head Deborah Belle, UNITWIN Network Initiator Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney, Program Coordinator Carly Pack-Bailey, Visiting Scholar Smitha Radhakrishnan, and Teaching Assistant Katherine Lochery. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to hear about some of the great work that Chandana and Nandini are doing in their native India, particularly in the areas of rural women's education and livelihoods and  the Right to Information movement of MKSS (MAZDOOR KISAN SHAKTI SANGATHAN - a non-party People's Organization engaged in the political process in India) spearheaded by Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, and Shanker Singh.

Right to left: Professor Deborah Belle, Visiting Scholar Smitha Radhakrishnan, Chandana Dey, Nandini Dey, Carly Pack-Bailey, and Katherine Lochery

 Program Coordinator Carly Pack-Bailey and Nandini Dey speaking of the Right to Information campaign in India

For more pictures of the visit of our UNITWIN  partners, please visit our flickr site:

Friday, August 26, 2011

India's Pratichi Institute Launches New Website

We were just advised by Kumar Rana of our UNITWIN Network that the Pratichi Institute of West Bengal has launched its website. Established and sponsored by the Pratichi (India) Trust, with Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen as its Chairman, the Pratichi Institute is committed to ‘research for action'. Through this research and the public action it inspires, Pratichi aims to "enhance human capabilities, expand social opportunities, and enliven people’s agency to improve their own well-being, as well as to make a difference in other people’s lives."

You can learn more about Pratichi and the work the Institute is doing in India by visiting:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

International Seminar & Call for Papers

We are pleased to announce an upcoming International Seminar being organized by Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, one of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network partners. Please see below the organizers' seminar concept note and call for papers. Do submit your abstracts as soon as possible. 


"International Seminar on Gender, Violence, and Development: The South Asian Experiences

12-13 October, 2011 - New Delhi

Organized by Dept. of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia in collaboration with UNESCO/UNITWIN and Indian Council of Social Science Research
In 2001, the United Nations adopted its Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015. Goal 3 states to promote gender equality and empower women. Various states have formulated policies to promote gender equality and to bridge the gender divide. In no society women are treated equally to men. From childhood through adulthood they are abused because of their gender. In many parts of the world women and girls are fed less than men and boys, have fewer opportunities to secure an economic livelihood not because they are less capable but the societal structure is such. They receive less education; have no access to proper healthcare which increases their vulnerability.

South Asian region shares a rich culture and reflects multiculturalism, intermingling of various religions and ethnicities. Most of the countries in South Asia suffer from widespread gender inequalities and violence against women. These violence are multi-causal. The social structure and institutions of society, widespread militarization of the region and armed conflicts, neo-liberal economic reforms are some of the major players in the violence against women. Gender equality is a contentious issue of debate in countries where culture and religion feature prominently as regulating factors in social conduct. Culture and religion represent the two important bases for social systems and rules. What is more disturbing is that these structural elements have given rise to some of the worst forms of violence against women in the region. Traditional feudal and patriarchal social relations play pivotal role in most of the South Asian countries in defining the relation between man and woman. Man is the centrifugal force through which all other forms of power are articulated. Individuality of a woman is either ignored or suppressed. This is quite evident in the South Asian context in the manner in which fundamentalists are reasserting notions of masculinity and femininity, as well as chastity and modesty. The religious and ethnic identities are centrally constructed around the roles of women in order to protect the power and privilege of men, particularly of the dominant castes and classes. The oppression which a dalit women faces may be starkly different from the oppression experienced by a westernized women. It is patriarchy, along with class and culture, which defines, determines, and enforce the relations between men and women in family and in society.

South Asia is one of the most militarized regions in the world. Conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan have attracted global attention.Parts of India, Sri Lanka and Nepal have experienced long-running conflicts. It is a common knowledge that women, especially poor women, suffer most due to wars and conflicts. The impact of conflict on women is highly complex and varies widely in terms of cultural and political contexts. Studies reveal that sexual violence is the most common form of violence perpetrated against women during wars and conflicts. Targeting the women of ‘other’ involves rape, torture, and murder. Various UN security reports show that 90% of war causalities are civilians and amongst them majority are women, children and old people. Entire communities suffer from the consequences of war but women and girls are particularly affected because of the status that they are granted in our society. During the time of conflict their bodies become markers of their religion/ethnicity/caste and gender, a battleground. They are raped, forced to undergo sterilization, other forms of violence include sexual slavery, forced pregnancy & are forced into prostitution. After war, many women are left as widows and single parents. They need help to continue their lives, special support to rebuild their house and job training to support their families. Available data shows an increasing number of female-headed households in Sri Lanka among certain occupational categories.

While global economic integration has provided new opportunities for some poor women, overall it is further impoverishing millions of already poor people, and is creating new pockets of poverty. The ILO Report (2009) on Global Employment Trends for Women   observes that for women access to decent work is limited and are forced to move into more vulnerable jobs. In South Asia, women, out of sheer economic necessity and to meet the high cost of living, cutting across caste, community and religious lines, enter the labour market in a thousand ways which are still to be recognised a economic activity by the government. Available statistics reveal that the work participation rate of women is low which makes them dependent on the male members of the family which contributes to the perpetuation of violence against them. Development, without the involvement of half of its population, is impossible to achieve for any country. Millenium Development Goals Report 2010 (released in June 2010) observes “Gender equality and the empowerment of women are at the heart of the MDGs and are preconditions for overcoming poverty, hunger and disease. But progress has been sluggish on all fronts- from education to access to political decision making.” Women are discriminated against men in health, education and labour     market. Countries with high gender inequality also experience unequal distribution of human development. Woman should not be looked upon as merely a creature to complete their male counterpart. They should be considered as agents of change and central to the process of bringing education, development and prosperity to all. The seminar is an attempt to look into the various forms, contexts, and nature of violence against women in the light of the challenges to development that it poses. Papers can fit into the following sub-themes:

(1) Gender, Violence, and Development
a. Displacement
b. Forced labour
c. Feminization of Labour
d. Trafficking
e. Gender and Environment

(2) Cultural Violence
a. Institutional Violence
b. Domestic Violence
c. Honour Crimes
d. Fundamentalism

(3) Armed Conflict and Militarization
a. Gender and Conflict
b. Case Studies from South Asia
c. Women after War

(4) Social Responses to Violence Against Women
a. Legislation
b. Women’s Movement
c. NGO’s and Civil Society

Other issues can also be suggested but it should be in the context of gender, violence, and
development. Preference will be given to empirical based research. All proposals should meet the following criteria:

a. 300-400 word abstract of the paper by August 10, 2011.
b. Brief bio-note with email and complete postal address.
c. Indicate the theme of your paper.

Please send your abstracts or questions to: OR"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recognition of Women's Contributions goes Global!

This month, scholars and social activists across India are beginning to pull together their thinking and research on the contributions of representative Indian women to public service, education, literature, and the arts. This work is to be compiled into a "Women of Vision: India" publication.

This initiative follows on similar work in Burkina Faso (read more here). 

The pioneer work in this Women of Vision series took place in the Boston neighborhood of Brighton-Allston. Recently, the Brighton Allston Historical Society hosted the 3rd Women's Heritage Trail Tour to recognize and publicize 15 remarkable, local women and women's organizations.

For more on this Women's Heritage series, see the BAHS publications: "Women's History Initiatives: Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development" (Ed. Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney) and "Women of Vision: Brighton-Allston Women's Heritage Trail Guide" (Co-Eds. Dr. William P. Marchione and Dr. Linda Mishkin)

Historical Society Promotes Recognition of Brighton Novelist's Achievements

On Saturday, July 9, 2011, The Brighton-Allston Historical Society celebrated the 200th birthday of author Fanny Fern. Fanny Fern was one of the country's most famous 19th century writers and the first woman columnist in the United States. Fanny was the highest paid newspaper writer of her time, earning $100 a column in 1855. At the height of her career, in the 1850s and 1860s, her columns reached over a half million readers weekly.

From left to right: Quiz Contest Guest, Dick Marques BAHS Board of Directors, BAHS Visitor-Kevin, Peg Collins-BAHS President, and John Stenson-Master of Ceremonies

A history quiz game on Fanny Fern and other notable Brighton women was the highlight of the celebratory event.

For more photos, please visit the flikr site

Monday, July 18, 2011

News from The Women's Studies Centre at Visva-Bharati

We wish to share with you that The Women's Studies Centre at Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan recently released its Annual Report for 2010-2011 (from April 2010 to March 2011). The report includes a section on their extension activities and in particular, mentions several projects carried out in local villages:

"A number of meetings with the members of self help groups (SHGs) and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representatives from Islampur, Basapara, Halsidanga, Mollarpur, Lavhpur, Govindapur, Ahmedpur, Ilambazar jungle (tribal villages) and other villages near Santiniketan, Birbhum, and panchayat (local government) representatives were organized during April, 2010 – March, 2011 by the Director, Women's Studies Centre, Prof. Asha Mukherjee [at left above] and the Research Assistants of WSC. The purpose was to identify and monitor the village problems and issues which can be taken up for empowerment through training, workshops to be organized by WSC, and also to inform them about WSC's activities and its role in the extension activities for women and the girl child."

For more pictures of village workshops and related Women's Studies Centre seminars, please see the flikr set here

Friday, May 27, 2011

Coordinator of the Global Network on Gender to Participate in International Conference

Gloria Bonder, Coordinator of the new Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender has been invited by the Director General of UNESCO, Ms. Irina Bokova, to the International Women Leaders Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation: Education and Training for Women and Girls, taking place from 29 May to 3 June 2011 in Haifa, Israel. Our UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development is a founding member of the Global Network, and on its Advisory Board.

The Haifa Conference will bring together 50 women leaders from all regions of the world, and will provide a great opportunity to present the Global Network!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Breaking News: Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender

The Boston-based UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development is thrilled to announce that Co-Coordinators Professor Deborah Belle and Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney just learned that our Network has been invited to represent North America on the newly-created Advisory Board of the Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender!

We of the UNITWIN (university twinning) Network are honored and thrilled to carry the voices of our many University and NGO Partners and colleagues in India, Burkina Faso, and Boston to this prestigious international board, with leading academics and feminists, and to advise other UNESCO Chairs and Networks concerned with gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide.

The Advisory Board has quarterly 'phone-conference' meetings as the Global Network is based in Buenos Aires. We are excited to share our UNITWIN Network's initiatives and achievements, as well as our work at Boston University's Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program and the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, with these colleagues from around the globe, and will be keen to share ideas and projects we learn about through this Board.

Thanks for everyone's vibrant participation!

Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales - Sede Académica Argentina

that hosts the UNESCO Chair on "Gender, Sciences and Technology"

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender: Background and Objectives

The Global Network of UNESCO Chairs on Gender was created collaboratively in 2010 by UNESCO Paris and the Argentina-based UNESCO Regional Chair on Women, Science and Technology. Launched during the International Conference "Gender Equity Policies-A Prospective View: New Scenarios, Actors, and Articulations," which took place 9-12 November 2010 in Buenos Aires, the Network brings together 12 UNESCO Chairs currently developing gender research, training, and advocacy in a variety of fields around the world. Universities, research centers, NGOs, foundations, and international organizations working on gender equality are also invited to join the Network.

The Network follows the strategic orientations of the UNITWIN Programme adopted by UNESCO's Executive Board at its 176th session in April 2007. Since the adoption of these new orientations, emphasis has been placed on:

-The dual function of UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN Networks as "think tanks" and "bridge builders" between the academic world, civil society, local communities, and policy  making;
-Readjustment of a geographic imbalance which is now in favour of the North;
-Stimulation of triangular North-South-South cooperation;
-The creation of regional or sub-regional poles of innovation and excellence;
-Closer cooperation with the United Nations University (UNU).

The Network is also aligned with UNESCO's priorities as expressed in the Medium Term Strategy for 2008-2013 as well as with the UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan 2008-2013. As an international platform, the Global Network aims to increase interdisciplinary exchange for the creation of new knowledge and innovative policies and practices.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Microfinance: Does it Work?" Panel Discussion

We are pleased to share with you that on March 10, 2011, GaIDI (Gender and International Development Initiatives) of the Women’s Studies Research Center, hosted at Brandeis University a panel discussion titled “Microfinance: Does it Work?” A first time co-sponsor with WSRC was Boston University’s Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (WGS).
The specialist panel consisted of Roy Jacobowitz, managing director of External Affairs for ACCION International; Janina Matuszeski, research coordinator in the Community Finance Department of Oxfam America; Marcia O’Dell, former director of WORTH-a woman’s program launched in ten countries in Asia and Africa; Kim Wilson, lecturer at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Fellow, Center for Emerging Market Enterprises and the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University; and Steve Atlas, independent filmmaker and social justice advocate.

Beginning with Jacobowitz, each panelist presented their respective views on microfinance and the variety of ways in which the concept of lending money to the world’s poorest could be used to help alleviate poverty around the globe. For his part, before delving into the heart of his presentation on microfinance and ACCION’s work, Jacobowitz first defined microfinance as “the provision of a broad range of financial services ranging from short-term working capital in a group, through individual lending, through long-term housing finance, through savings, through time deposits, payment systems, insurance, annuities, the full range of financial products, and services that the poor household needs in order to manage their financial lives and accumulate assets.” Jacobowitz went on to posit that, while microfinance may not lead to marked macroeconomic development, granting the poor access to an array of financial services will serve to improve the lives led by the world’s poor. He explained that microfinance will “help develop the demand for goods and services because people will have the capacity to pay and, therefore, even if the random control trial researchers can’t find poverty alleviation results in their short term studies-even though they can’t find it today … I think we’ve all agreed that the poor will enjoy a better quality of life if they can access these basic financial services that we’re talking about.”

Roy then introduced two film clips by award-winning director Steve Atlas, titled “A Better Life” and “Still Here”. While the first introduced ACCION and its mission, the second captured a visit by ACCION CEO Maria Otero to Mibanco clients in Lima, Peru.

While Jacobowitz focused primarily on the subject of microfinance and how it functions in bettering the plight of the poor, the remaining three panelists anchored their presentations in the concept of micro-savings. The first to pursue the idea of savings groups was Kim Wilson. According to Wilson, motivation lies at the heart of the success of savings groups over lending institutions. Instead of relying on external lenders, women in many poor communities come together and form savings groups. Each week, members of the group contribute a small amount of money that the women in the group can later draw from when they need to. Wilson explained that when she spoke to some of the groups’ members, they shared with her that “again and again [my] group gives me the discipline. My group gives me the confidence that I can sacrifice, I can pull this money together.” Promoting savings groups over the idea of outside financial lending institutions, Wilson asserted that unlike savings groups, a bank is not going to provide what she deems to be the strength at the core of the microsavings idea: motivation.

Complementing Wilson’s endorsement of savings groups, Janina Matuszeski of Oxfam also spoke in support of microsavings. Using a chart to illustrate the differences between microsavings and microcredit, Matuszeski explained that while microcredit is facilitated by an outside lending institution and is often contingent on funds being used to start up a business, microsavings allows the funds to be used for consumption and is reliant on the group members themselves over an external lender. She also shared her hands-on empirical findings of the flourishing of women’s microsavings groups in Mali. Matuszeski closed by emphasizing that the savings model allows women to bring funds into the household as added income and in turn assists them in gaining the respect and attention of their husbands.

Completing the panel’s discussion, Marcia Odell energetically presented on behalf of microsavings. Highlighting the central reason to endorse savings groups, Odell said “In the savings-led model who are the bankers? The people in the group, so where does the interest on all that lending go? … It stays with the people in the community and that is a huge difference [between that and the ACCION concept].” Rounding out her talk, Odell stressed the social solidarity and unity that emerged amongst the groups’ female participants as result of the savings model.

WSRC Resident Scholar Brenda Gael McSweeney then introduced award-winning filmmaker Steve Atlas. After greeting the packed hall and the participants, Steve shared his film “Tipping Point” on possible ways forward for microfinance.

Then, another GaIDI organizer and WSRC Resident Scholar Mei-Mei Ellerman introduced WSRC Director Shulamit Reinharz, who kicked off a lively debate session.

Other co-sponsors with the lead organizers WSRC and BU’s WGS, were The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, and the International Business School, all at Brandeis University.
Photos: courtesy of Mei-Mei Ellerman 

Visit links on Microfinance and Microsavings: 
Steve Atlas Productions: Helping non-profits across the digital divide  
Contact ACCION
Link suggested by Kim Wilson and Marcia Odell on Microsavings

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just Published by UNESCO!

We  wish to share with you a link to the recent e-publication on UNESCO's UNITWIN website of a gender case study update in Shantiniketan, West Bengal!  Brenda McSweeney, along with Krishno Dey and Chandana Dey, had an opportunity in November 2010 to visit and write on one of the nine original ‘Srihaswani’ (Creative Manual Skills for Self-Reliant Development) villages to capture the impressions of many of those, both women and men, who had participated in the program for several years. Since 2008, eight of the villages had also created a specific ‘Gender Group’ in which there were 127 girls with their mothers. Please find the full publication at:

We now gearing up here at Boston University for the Spring Semester, and as well as our next research initiatives in Ireland, South and West Asia, and beyond. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Letter from Yaaminey Mubayi on Livelihoods in Punjab and Orissa

"Gurmeet [Rai] and I are busy with our crafts village in Amritsar- this is the one I "discovered" while doing research for another project- a settlement of traditional metal workers who had migrated from Pakistan in 1947. We are developing the area as an Endogenous Tourism destination.

I am also doing a project in coastal Orissa- Tourism as an alternative livelihood to combat the problems of overfishing of Chilika Lake, in 8 villages along the coast. The gender issue to flag here is the fact that women have lost their traditional livelihood as the sellers of the fish, now that commercial interests have reduced the fishermen to wage labour, rather than individual owners of boats and other assets. Think of the plight of widows and wives of retired fishermen, who are literally starving, no traditional safety nets for them! Am working with some Self Helf Groups to develop crafts- some excellent bamboo and golden grass weaving done by fisherwomen!

Here are a couple of photos of the region, including of an old lady who lives off temple offerings.

Cheers and Best Wishes for a marvelous year ahead."