Scholar discusses global challenges
Fareda Banda discussed international law and the challenges presented for women around the world.At the sixth annual Diane Markowicz Memorial Lecture on Gender and Human Rights on Sunday, Fareda Banda of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, connected Billie Holiday’s classic song, “Good Morning, Heartache” to global challenges facing women.
Banda began her talk, titled “Good Morning, Heartache: International Law and the Global Challenges Facing Women,” by reading the first stanza of “Good Morning, Heartache” aloud. She then said that one of the things she loved most about the song was its ambiguity—it could be about a former love or about Holiday’s heroin addiction. Banda explained that this same ambiguity about heroin could be applied to women’s rights within the context of international and religious law.
Banda continued to provide several examples of violations of women’s rights. She pointed to several examples of discrimination against women throughout the world from the abuse of older women in countries such as Japan to the Indian rape crisis. She said that the conflict and tension that arises from these individual incidents often snowball into broader debates about society.
Toward the beginning of her lecture, Banda briefly discussed the situation of women in the United Kingdom and the fact that, despite preconceived notions, they actually have a lot to complain about. She went through a list of several statistics describing the struggle in the U.K., which highlighted the incidence of rape and sexual assault.
After a few lighthearted moments peppered throughout her initial remarks, Banda delved into the heart of her lecture. “In today’s world, it is very easy to make assertions about how much the world has changed. But it is very hard to discern exactly how much better or worse it is,” she said.
Banda then discussed the United Nations and the several subcommittees devoted to the status of women and legal reform. She began with a 1952 U.N. resolution on the conventional and political rights of women, including the right to vote, mostly in developing nations. According to Banda, since 1952, the world is often classified as a “post-feminist” paradigm. And yet, Banda said that Rwanda is the country where the highest percentage of women participate politically, and “it took a genocide in order to achieve those results.”
Banda further discussed different problems that she saw throughout the world that most concerned women, from child marriages to loss of nationality. She explained that in many countries, once a woman gets married, she takes the nationality of her husband, meaning that she gives up citizenship of the country she was born in and applies for citizenship in the country of her husband. “Many presume this issue to be of relative unimportance in comparison to all the other discriminatory practices that globally impact women,” said Banda. “But only one with an American passport would ask why this issue matters.”
According to Banda, in other countries, women are left stateless, meaning without citizenship of any kind, if their husbands are stateless. Banda said that, as a result of this statelessness, women cannot obtain documents, have no freedom of movement and their children suffer. “Overall, in the 27 states that still enforce women taking the nationalities of their husbands, there is an increased risk of exploitation.”
Banda’s main focus, however, was the root of the problem with not only getting resolutions passed in the U.N. but also ensuring that they are enforced by the U.N. She said, “One of the main problems with women’s rights is that we, women, talk to each other. We need to be talking to our men. If a man’s participating, it’s viewed as important. Men have status that women don’t,” she said. Banda concluded the talk by reading the last stanza of “Good Morning, Heartache.”
The first speaker of the event was Shulamit Reinharz, founding director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. She spoke about the HBI and gave the audience a brief overview of the speakers to come. Reinharz described the event as “putting an end to all forms of discrimination” and discussed the significance of the event’s date, Nov. 9, which is commemorated as both the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Reinharz then introduced Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, director of the HBI project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law. Joffe briefly explained the origins of project as well as the long term goal, which is to support research of the tension that develops between women’s rights and cultural and religious norms.
Joffe introduced Sylvia Neil, founder and chair of the HBI Project, who also founded the lecture series in honor of her sister, Diane Markowicz, who passed away while attending Brandeis.
Neil added that it was her sister’s birthday on Monday. She explained that her sister truly personified a Brandeis student. “Diane was dedicated to justice, civil rights, and Brandeis was truly the place for her,” said Neil.