Over 250 people participated for the first-ever two-day Conference on Gender and International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy this past Friday and Saturday.
The conference was hosted by two Fletcher School student groups: Global Women and the Gender Initiative. It was funded by several other institutes and student organizations on campus, according to Jonathan Ramteke, one of organizers of the event and the head of the Gender Initiative.
Ramteke, a second-year student at the Fletcher School, said that the two graduate groups brought in speakers who work in areas of fields that pertain to gender studies, feminism and equality.
According to the Fletcher website, the aim of the conference was to look beyond binary understandings of gender in socioeconomic and political issues worldwide and to “encourage a critical dialogue on competing and complementary avenues for creating change in a complex global environment.” The conference also intended to get participants to reflect on how their various identities influence their own interactions with the world.
The conference kicked off on Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. with an opening session titled “Seeing the World through a Gender Lens,” which featured speakers such as Marie O’Reilly, head of research at The Institute for Inclusive Security; Dr. Cynthia Enloe, professor of political science at Clark University; Emtithal Mahmoud, the 2015 winner of the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship; and Sebastián Molano, leader and founder of the Defying Gender Role initiative. The discussion was intended to introduce attendees to a new field of study at the Fletcher School called Gender Analysis in International Relations. Dr. Dyan Mazurana, an Associate Research Professor at the Fletcher School and moderator of the session, said that students are leading the tide of change for this new gender analysis field at Fletcher.
In the discussion, Enloe spoke at the session about curious intellectualism and the role of women in countries where female participation is unrecognized, discouraged or actively prevented. She said that gender studies is one aspect of society that is continually being adapted and is changing because of passionate individuals.
Following the opening session, there was an alumni and networking reception from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The conference on the next day, Dec. 5, began with a panel called “Inclusion Through Technology: A Gendered Perspective,” which focused on gender in technology. Speakers on the panel included Jamie Dobie, executive director of non-profit Peace is Loud; Tanya Henderson, founder and executive director of non-profit Mina’s List; Dr. Smitha Radhakrishnan, assistant professor of sociology at Wellesley College; and Dr. Christopher R. Tunnard, professor of the practice of international business.
The panel, which was moderated by Fletcher lecturer in International Business and Human Security Kim Wilson, discussed how technology can be used as a tool to engage women and girls facing sexism and discrimination. Speakers answered questions about how technology can be used to give women economic assistance, through crowdfunding and women’s access to technological services.
Henderson spoke about the use of social media to bolster women’s roles in society and around the world.
Radhakrishnan then talked about the relationship between finance and gender, including her research on the relationship of the information technology industry in India and how it can perpetuate discriminatory notions of class and gender, as well as the role of microfinance institutions in women’s management of their economic situations.
Tunnard spoke about the role of networking in gender perceptions, relating the topic of networking and outreach to tactics used by ISIS to recruit followers across gender differences.
The second Saturday panel, “Surviving in the City: Urban Displacement, Gender and Vulnerability,” focused on humanitarian aid and was moderated by Dr. Anita Häusermann Fábos, professor of international development and social change at Clark University. The panel featured Beth Maclin, research coordinator for the Women in War program at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; Dr. Alivelu Ramisetty, global gender advisor at non-profit Oxfam America; and Hanni Stoklosa, emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The panelists discussed the implications of gender in urban displacement and responded to questions about how gender may create different types of needs.
Maclin spoke about displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where gender roles are shifting, and men have used violence to take back lost power.
Stoklosa, who is also a Harvard School of Medicine clinical instructor and a Global Women’s Health Fellow, spoke about human trafficking. She explained that sexual abuse and violence are connected to human trafficking, pointing out that “55 percent of those being trafficked are female.”
After a lunch recess, the conference continued with the “Reproductive Justice and Human Rights” panel, which addressed the applications of social justice to reproductive rights battles. Speakers included Pierre R. Berastaín, the communications and marketing manager for the National Latino Network; Loretta Ross, co-founder of the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective; and Dr. Kimberly Theidon, a Henry J. Leir Professor at the Fletcher School. The panel was moderated by Dr. Mindy Roseman, academic director of the Human Rights Program at the Harvard Law School. This panel touched on the effects of gender, economic, racial and cultural inequalities, as well as different genders and sexualities, on the ability to gain access to resources for reproductive health.
Ross said a major problem is that societies “contain bodies, constrain bodies and eliminate bodies.”
“You see the world through the lens of your standpoint,” she said. “Identity politics should be used in that way. Don’t be throwing shade on the other lenses ’cause they’re just not yours.”
Many of the speakers spoke about intersectionality in the context of gender relations.
“[Reproductive justice is a combination of] identity politics and intersectionality…to achieve human rights,” Ross said.
Berastaín said it was important to have education relating to the health of non-cisgender individuals.
“Trans women and trans men have higher rates of getting breast cancer,” he said. “[Consider] whose bodies are being controlled [and]…what kinds of bodies are being controlled.”
The conference ended with a keynote address by Enloe. She spoke about the present plight of the Syrian women and explained that many women in wartime Syria have tried to politically organize, but without prior experience or any sort of a network to rely on, these women had to build a network from scratch.
Enloe added that the unfortunate reality for these women is that many who are “active at the local level don’t see themselves as doing political work.” The women have to work without any assistance and have to convince other women that being political does not just mean wielding a gun, she said.
“To be political is to be civic,” Enloe said. “Trying to meet people’s basic needs in a warzone is political activity … What do people need? What does a shattered life look like that it can be rebuilt?”
According to Roxanne Krystalli, former head of the Gender Initiative, the conference was a culmination and celebration of years of gender analysis and study at the Fletcher School, bringing together “leading feminist and gender scholars, practitioners and activists across fields.”
“Fletcher students have always been curious about the ways in which gender analysis could inform their studies and professional trajectories, whether that is in business, diplomacy, humanitarian action, law or beyond,” Krystalli told the Daily in an email. “Students are grateful for the support from faculty and administration, and are excited to continue to watch gender become an integral part of study and professional development at Fletcher and beyond.”
Ramteke said that while this conference was the first of its kind, the host groups Global Women and the Gender Initiative have previously involved with gender equality efforts at the Fletcher School. He said that the Gender Initiative tracks the gender balance of professors at Fletcher and of authors on course syllabi, as well as organizing lists of potential speakers to ensure a more equal gender distribution among speakers.
Ramteke said Global Women has been involved in professional networking outside of Fletcher, including the Fletcher Women’s Network, an alumni networking group. The group brings Fletcher alumnae back on campus to speak about what it means to be women in the International Relations field.
“If we rely on the same old scholars and the same old ways of thinking, the world is never going to change,” Ramteke said. “Bringing diverse perspectives into International Relations matters, whether we’re talking about gender, race, sexual orientation, class [or] disability status.”