Sunday, December 16, 2018

Just Published: #MeToo Movement and the General Condition of Women in Everyday Professional Life in Kolkata

News is just in that Jharna Panda's feature on the #MeToo Movement in Kolkata has just been published in a popular daily on 27 November 2018. In the English synopsis, Chandana Dey underscores that Jharna makes the point that the #MeToo covers celebrities in the media, but fails to highlight the sexual harassment faced on a daily basis by city women on the lower social rungs. She focuses on domestic help, especially the carers of old people, and call center workers- who have to travel at all hours. Jharna's Bengali text as published and Chandana's English summary are below.

In the Workplace, Committees to ensure security for women are useless, unless there is goodwill among its members. 


By Jharna Panda (Bengali Version above) with English Synopsis by Chandana Dey below

"Me Too" has focused on a certain strata of women. Beyond this are countless women, who work as domestic help or who are housewives, or who work in call centers- these women are voiceless. 

It is not a novel phenomenon to have stories of sexual harassment faced by celebrities in the media and for this to occupy a prominent place. (Me Too). The Me Too campaign has stripped many male celebrities from their pedestals. There has been vilification, and shaming, and new events have unfolded. The private lives of celebrities are being discussed in every corner tea shop. 

In the workplace, the Government has enacted a statute (COGSASH or Committee On Gender Sensitization Against Sexual Harassment) with the objective of safeguarding women from harassment. This entails setting up a Committee in every workplace. We need to ask whether in fact, every organization has set up this mandatory committee. It could be compared to the mandatory law that requires bikers to wear helmets- for their own security- but in fact, bike riders choose to wear helmets because they do not want to be stopped by traffic police. 

We know that workplaces with hierarchy and an uneven balance of power result in women’s insecurity. In NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) or private concerns, if women complain of sexual harassment, they can lose their jobs. There was an incident where a married woman wrote a love letter to her male boss. He sent the letter to the COGSASH Committee, and the woman was transferred to another part of the organization. But what would have the outcome been if the roles were reversed? In a case of a 25-year-old woman, who was about to place a grievance with the Sexual Harassment committee, one of her senior colleagues advised her against this move and said that this action might endanger her job. Committees may have been convened because they are required by law, but they may not end up carrying out their own statutes and guidelines. 

Let us look at the status of lakhs (a lakh is unit of 100,000) of women who earn a living by caring for other people. You may have noticed many hundreds of women, reporting to work by 8 am in the cities. (Editor: These women travel long distances by commuter train from distant villages into Kolkata). These women are called ’24 hour ayahs’ (female maid or nanny). No mention is ever made of the daily harassment they face at the hands of their employers and employers’ families. Many ayah- employment centers are run by housewives who earn a commission on the women’s labor, but these women have no recourse when their rights are abused. They need the work to run their homes and have to hide the fact of their abuse from their own families. ‘If my husband got to know the harassment I face, he would not let me come to work; then when money falls short, he would start drinking and abusing me. It’s best to keep silent’, says one women who works as a carer of an elderly couple. 

Another woman, Rita, who worked to look after an elderly couple at night was continually attacked by the men of the family (married and unmarried)- and not allowed any sleep. When she changed her job to a day- time job- difficult because she has two small children- she recounts, 'The elderly gentleman could barely get out of bed. But whenever I approached him to give him food or medicines, he would touch me inappropriately. When I would bathe his wife, an invalid, he would take his chair over to watch and would abuse me, in a low voice, and bad language.'

When the maids depart by eight in the evening, another set of women workers are out on the streets at ten or eleven. These are women who work all night in call centers and are forced to travel by public transport at night. No arrangements are made for women night workers by the organizations that employ them. (Editor: Call centers operate at night since the communication is with offices located in Europe, the UK or the US). We need to also look at women who often are asked to work for twelve hours or more- in places like banks. Says one such worker, ‘We sit for hours in rooms with LED lighting; we get headaches, and always carry our medicines with us; we need to bring tiffin (lunch box) from home because the canteens shut. Why only talk of sexual harassment? There are other forms of cruelty also.’

About the author (left): Jharna Panda is  Senior Research Assistant, Centre for Training & Research in Public Finance and Policy Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. Jharna is affiliated with the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development

English Synopsis by Chandana Dey (right), Founding Member of the UNESCO/ UNITWIN Network and former Editor for Social Science Press, New Delhi

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Raffi Freedman-Gurspan and Joe Kennedy: YES on 3!

On the momentous occasion of the YES on 3! rally at Copley Square, Boston, Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Director of External Relations at the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund, took the microphone to inspire the many participants to vote YES on ballot question 3 on November 6. They received uproarious support from the enthusiastic crowd to back and to promote the preservation of current Massachusetts legislation to protect equal access for all in public places, and notably for the transgender community.

Read on below for Raffi's powerful speech at the YES on 3! rally. Note that BU's Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program (WGS) is a strong proponent of YES on 3! Raffi is a long-standing member of our WGS community.

L to R: Rep Joe Kennedy and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan
Photo: Raffi's Personal Collection

Good Morning!

Thank you so much for coming out early this Sunday to show your support for Yes on 3!

I’m Raffi Freedman-Gurspan and I’m the Director of External Relations at the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund in Washington, DC.

The NCTE Action Fund is proud to be a coalition partner with the Yes on 3 Campaign. We stand together with you all to defend this law that guarantees transgender people the right to enter places of public accommodation free from discrimination. I am very proud to have at my side my beloved parents, Marion and Stan, who raised me down the street in Brookline and who have supported me, their transgender daughter, every step of the way.

Transgender equality is under attack across the nation.

During this past year, 10 states introduced 21 anti-transgender bills. We have seen the Trump Administration attempt to rollback important progress for transgender equality from the classroom to the workplace to doctor’s offices and even attempt to ban brave transgender military members from serving. Our opponents continue to misuse the Constitutional protection of freedom of religion as a cruel shield to justify bigotry against you and me because of who we are or who we love.

What can be done? We can fight. We can vote. And we can win just as we always have.

This year the NCTE Action Fund and others have worked hard to make sure policies and laws that protect transgender people are kept in place. We door knocked through the snows of Anchorage, Alaska to ensure one of America’s northernly cities continues to be a welcoming place for all. We worked with the trans community in the Big Sky Country of Montana to defeat a proposed ballot initiative that would have ripped up a similar law to the one we are defending today. And we have worked day in and day out in Washington to ensure equality under the law includes every transgender and non-binary person in America.

Now the transgender battlefront has moved to the hallowed land of Massachusetts. Only 18 other states and the District of Columbia have a law similar to our own that we defend today. Should Massachusetts fail on November 6th and step back from the noble values of freedom, justice and equality it has always stood for, it could send a rippling affect across the land.

But we won’t let that happen will we?

We are Massachusetts – her waters have bathed us, her institutions have guided us, and her soul from the Berkshires to the Islands resides in us. We are that City Upon the Hill where the eyes of all people are upon us. We say it on our license plates – we are the Spirit of America.

Fellow Bay Staters, it is time to awaken that Spirit once again. We know what we must do. It is time to sound the alarm like the Minutemen of old. Do not walk, run. Run to every home, every business, every institution, every pulpit, every Middlesex village and farm. Knock those doors hard, call again, be persistent, do not give up. Go! Go from this place and let them hear you from Cape Ann to Great Barrington, VOTE YES ON 3!

Thank you.

Congratulations Raghu Rai!

Breaking news: world-famous photographer, India’s Raghu Rai, is to be honored with the prestigious Achievement in Photojournalism Award of the Lucie Foundation on October 28th, 2018 at Carnegie Hall! Raghu has over the years been a supporter of the work of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture and People-Centered Development, notably in the state of Punjab.

Raghu’s stellar accomplishments include poignant photo features and books on the devastating human impact of the Bangladesh War and the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. He worked with top newspapers and magazines in India and abroad, providing pathbreaking photo articles vividly portraying humanitarian, cultural, and political themes. He has been called “father of photojournalism in India” by the Lucie Foundation website, and he has produced over 50 compelling photography books on a range of topics inspired by his home country. Raghu is a member of Magnum Photos.

See more at Raghu Rai, 2018 Honoree: Achievement in Photojournalism here:

Photo of Raghu Rai by Brenda Gael McSweeney

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Save the Dates for Ronni Komarow's upcoming Exhibition: October 3rd-28th!

You are invited to Ronni Komarow's opening reception for her new Exhibition, Tender Mercies at Galatea Fine Art on Friday, October 5th at 5:30pm. Galatea is located at 460 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02118. Ronni is a Board Officer of two of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network Affiliates, including the Friends Of the Faneuil Library (FOFL-Boston Public Library).

Ronni's new community/parenting/feminist-themed Exhibition features the large-scale (8ft x 8ft x 8ft) art installation "Diary of a Bake Sale Diva" (pictured below) inspired by Ronni's time as bake-sale coordinator for her son's middle school and her 15 years as a Boston Public Schools parent. Previous versions of this installation have been on display as part of Rutgers University's Feminist Art Project Day of Panels in Chicago, 2014, and at the Museum of Motherhood in NYC. The Exhibition runs from October 3rd-28th, 2018, also with an Artist Talk on October 13th at 3pm, plus a closing reception October 27th from 2-5pm.

"Diary of a Bake Sale Diva" mixed-media installation (8 ft. x 8 ft. x 8 ft.) 2018
Photo by Eric West

The exhibit will also feature the book she created about the Faneuil Library celebrating Dorothy Keller's 50+ years of dedicated, outstanding service to the community with the Boston Public Library. This book is 6 ft. across when opened; images below. (Collection of Dorothy Keller)

UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & Development Highlights Reel 2017/2018 now available!

2017-2018 has been a period of social activism from the grassroots to the global policy level for our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development anchored at Boston University's Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (WGS). The Highlights Reel gives a visual record of some of the key achievements of our Partners and Affiliates from three continents and is available here:

Illustrative of community-level activity is the work underway in fifteen villages in West Bengal to help women build ‘moving banks’ of livestock assets. This income-generating, female empowerment program is by rotation helping address children’s education and health needs, as well as adding to experience sharing – successes and remaining challenges.

Action for gender justice figured prominently in our portfolio this year. Our UNITWIN Affiliate, Unbound Visual Arts (UVA), launched a Women’s History Month educational exhibition titled Battle of the Sexes Revisited: The Sexual Harassment Volley of Today at the Boston Public Library’s Honan Branch Gallery. Other well-attended #MeToo movement-themed events took place from Greater Boston to Stockholm, simultaneously advancing components of the UNESCO Priority Gender Equality Action Plan 2014-2021.

Faneuil Library Autumn Gathering

The Friends of the Faneuil Library (FOFL), the newest Affiliate of our UNESCO/UNITWIN Network, hosted a gathering on September 11, 2018 to welcome new Librarian Amy Manson. FOFL's mission includes "promoting cultural and educational opportunities with the goals of fostering community and the value of diversity."

L to R: Ronni Komarow, Siobhan McHugh, Amy Manson, Laura Pellegrini, Annie Mazzola
Photo credit: Brenda Gael McSweeney

Here is the link to a Flickr photoset reflecting the large turnout from the community including local representatives, community activists, artists, and Faneuil Library Friends and Members:

Saturday, September 22, 2018

You are invited: Unbound Visual Arts' Wellness Exhibition and Reception!


Hi there,

This time here's the link to the photo album for the Wellness Exhibition and Artist Talks held on October 20th at Lasell College. The selected works from 14 Artists in the Exhibition curated by John Quatrale were magnificently displayed in the stunning setting of the Wedeman Gallery of Lasell College's Yamawaki Art & Cultural Center!

Another successful UVA event: Brava, Bravo to All!

Three cheers,


Please join the Unbound Visual Arts (UVA) Wellness Exhibition Opening and Wine Reception with the Artists on Saturday, Oct, 20th from 6-8 pm. The Exhibition runs from October 9-27th, 2018 at Lasell College's Wedeman Gallery, 47 Myrtle Ave, Auburndale (Newton), MA 02466.

Unbound Visual Arts (UVA), a member of our WGS-based UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & People-Centered Development, is the sponsor of the Exhibition entitled Wellness with works by 14 Member Artists and curated by UVA Executive Director John Quatrale. The artists include: Linda Clave, Anita Helen Cohen, Marian Dioguardi, Dianne (Iyan) Freeman, Francis Gardino, Lynda Goldberg, Pauline Lim, Nhung Mackey, Nadia Parsons, Ruth Rieffanaugh, Ruth Segaloff, Diane Sheridan, Christine Winship and Ellen Zellner.

Cosponsors include the UNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture & Development at Boston University and the Gender & International Development Initiatives of the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center (GaIDI/WSRC).

For more information including the Exhibition Statement visit:

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

WGS Director Catherine ‘Cati’ Connell Celebrates the Accomplishments of Two Colleagues

Dr. Cati Connell, Director of the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (WGS) at Boston University, recently shared important news:

Please join me in congratulating Yoon Sun Yang on her promotion to tenured Associate Professor of Korean and Comparative Literature as well as Joanna Davidson on her promotion to tenured Associate Professor of Anthropology!

Yoon Sun Yang
(Photo: BU/WGS Website)

Yoon Sun Yang’s scholarship uses literature as a tool for investigating how gender and sexuality are implicated in the projects of modernity and coloniality, and does so in new and exciting ways. Her first book, From Domestic Women to Sensitive Young Men, disrupts the taken-for-granted interpretation of female characters in the early colonial Korean literature as outside of the modernization process. From schoolgirls to femme fatales, women characters (and the domestic novels they often appeared in) have been written off as unimportant to understanding the relationship between literature, modernity, and colonial rule. Yoon Sun’s analysis, though, shows that in fact these characters (and their authors) played a pivotal role in developing the modern notion of the individual. On a deeper level, the book shows how the process of translation – in this case, the choices made by those who translated these early modern Korean texts – is itself shaped by hegemonic norms of gender and sexuality. In addition to contributing such fascinating research to BU’s Women’s & Gender Studies program profile, Yoon Sun’s courses like Gender in East Asia and Growing Up in Korea are crucial in offering global and transnational breadth to the curricular portfolio. 

Joanna Davidson
(Photo: BU's Anthropology Department Website)

Joanna Davidson specializes in cultural anthropology, centering her research on the Diola peoples of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa through lenses of economic development, agriculture, gender relations, inter-ethnic conflict, and the politics of storytelling. She authored a critically acclaimed book, Sacred Rice: An Ethnography of Identity, Environment, and Development in Rural West Africa (2016), co-edited another, and published numerous articles and reviews in top scholarly journals. WGS looks forward to adding her global and methodological expertise to the program’s ever-expanding research profile.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

You are invited to a UNESCO/UNITWIN co-sponsored event: Women in Boston's Public Art!

The Brighton-Allston Historical Society is pleased to present
Mary Howland Smoyer
Women in Boston’s Public Art

Thursday, April 26, 7:00 p.m.
Brighton Allston Congregational Church

Image above: The Boston Women's Memorial honoring Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone, and Phillis Wheatley.
 –Wikimedia Commons/Ingfbruno by artist Artist Meredith Bergmann.

Mary Howland Smoyer has been active in the Boston Women's Heritage Trail ( for over 25 years. The Trail was founded in 1989 to recover, document, and disseminate Boston women's history. Note that the Boston Women's Heritage Trail website here carries the BAHS Women's History Initiatives and Women of Vision: Brighton Allston Women's Heritage Trail Guide!

In honor of this rich legacy, Mary will talk about women recognized in public art with a focus on the stories of six women honored with statues around Boston. Mary’s talk is most timely, since the 2018 Theme for National Women's History Month is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”

If you have explored the Boston Women’s Memorial pictured above on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, then you will recognize three of Boston’s firebrand women: Lucy Stone, Abigail Adams, and Phillis Wheatley.

According to the Boston Women's Heritage Trail website:

“Lucy Stone (1818-1893) was one of the first Massachusetts women to graduate from college. She was an ardent abolitionist, a renowned orator, and the founder of the Woman's Journal, the foremost women's suffrage publication of its era. Abigail Adams (1744-1818) was the wife of John Adams, the second president of the United States, and the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. Her letters establish her as a perceptive social and political commentator and a strong voice for women's advancement. Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753-1784), born in South Africa, was sold as a slave from the ship Phillis in colonial Boston. During a time when slaves were forbidden to become literate, she was a literary prodigy whose 1773 volume Poems on Various Subjects, Religious, and Moral was the first book published by an African writer in America.” (Source:

Join Mary Smoyer to hear the stories of Boston’s amazing women reflected in public art – perhaps of these three along with stories of Harriet Tubman, Anne Hutchinson, and Mary Dyer who have also been honored with statues in Boston – and you might ask Mary for tales of others recognized on Cape Cod (Rachel Carson, Mercy Otis Warren, and Katherine Bates)! 

CosponsorsUNESCO/UNITWIN Network on Gender, Culture, and People-Centered Development based at Boston University's Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program
GaIDI (Gender and International Development Initiatives), Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Save the date: UVA's Women's History Month Exhibition! Battle of the Sexes Revisited

Battle of the Sexes Revisited: The Sexual Harassment Volley of Today

Honan-Allston Library Art Gallery, 300 North Harvard St., Allston, MA 02134

Organized by Unbound Visual Arts (UVA)
March 10 - April 27, 2018 
Reception: March 10, 2018, 1:00 - 4:30 pm

Exhibition Designer - Alexandra Kontsevaia
Exhibition Assistance - Si Chen, Emily Friedlander, and Lauren Mclean

Featured Artists: 
Jean Aserkoff, Audrey Banks, Romani Berlekov, Si Chen, Tsun Ming Chmielinski, Linda Clave, Jennifer Jean Costello, Elle Cox, Joanne Desmond, Peg Ehrlinger, Francis Gardino, Adric Giles, Susanna Hilfer, Wendy Holmes, Tom Jackson, Amanda Kidd Schall, Heidi Lee, Yanni Li, Pauline Lim, Susan Loomis-Wing, Elisandra Lopes, Brenda Gael McSweeney, Nadia Parsons, Connie Pemberton Glore, Jeffrey Powers, Mick Provencher, Ruth Rieffanaugh, Edward Sokoloff, Mary Vannucci, Christine Winship

Live music by pianist Mae Siu Wai Stroshane, short artist and curator talks, and complimentary appetizers

Lead-in to Exhibit: Special showing of Nowhere to Call Home: The tale of a Tibetan migrant worker in Beijing sponsored by GaIDI/WSRC on Feb. 1, 2018. See more here.