Caribbean Feminisms: From the Page to our Lives, Across Borders and Communities


Victoria Brown and Edwidge Danticat at Barnard College

In hosting a series of events that featured conversations between Caribbean woman writers, the Barnard Center for Research on Women sought to centralize the importance of developing a transnational feminist dialogue. This year, the debut event for the BCRW’s Caribbean Feminisms on the Page series featured a conversation between Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown.
wind is spirit (1) bird hill

The concluding salon in the sequence was a discussion about The Wind is Spirit: The Life, Love, and Legacy of Audre Lorde and The Star Side of Bird Hill between their respective authors, Gloria Joseph and Naomi Jackson.

The writings of Victoria Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Audre Lorde, and Naomi Jackson, are all formed within a framework of Caribbean feminism. As Black women with ties to the Caribbean, the authors’ literary projects have been informed by a transnational feminist effort that welds U.S.- based Black feminism, anti-imperial dialogues, and the liberation efforts of Caribbean women at home and in the diaspora. To suture the rifts and fragments of their narratives, Caribbean women make use of a feminist impulse that constantly questions state violence and structural domination. The works of these authors reveal the resistant forms of everyday knowledge-making and activism practiced by Caribben women.

In Edwidge Danticat’s work, specifically in her memoir, Brother I’m Dying, these dialogues are depicted as emerging from deeply personal interactions with state power and governance that threaten to rupture the familial structure. In depicting the instability and precarity experienced by a family caught in the links of migration, detention, and displacement, Danticat reveals a disruption of familial space by threats of forceful state governance. Naomi Jackson’s coming of age novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill, delves into an equally complex family narrative with similar concerns around transplantation, displacement, and the mobility of the fractured West Indian family and body. Offering deeply intimate accounts of Black girlhood and its complexities, the narratives fit within a contentious structural conflict between imperialist governance and Caribbean feminisms. This type of governance is rooted in efforts to gain control over Caribbean livelihoods to serve the needs of Euro-American economic and political expansion and is tied to state practices of border control. 

The works of Victoria Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Audre Lorde, and Naomi Jackson consider home as a mobile and precarious site. This precarity is informed by the shifting migratory patterns produced by border delineations that have segmented the Caribbean body, and arguably all migrant bodies, warping its sense of belonging and cultural allegiance.

Audre and Linda

In Zami, Audre Lorde describes her own sense of longing for a home she only knew through her West Indian mother. Lorde forges a link between her relationship to her mother and her relationship to Grenada, establishing a maternal kinship that exceeds time and place, extending the notion of communal networks among women beyond borders. Lorde posits not only gender identity and sexuality as unstable categories, but also the very notion of home.

Once home was a far way off, a place I had never been to but knew well out of my mother’s mouth. She breathed exuded hummed the fruit smell of Noel’s Hill morning fresh and noon hot, and I spun visions of sapadilla and mango as a net over my Harlem tenement cot in the snoring darkness rank with nightmare sweat. Made bearable because it was not all. This now, here, was a space, some temporary abode, never to be considered forever nor totally binding nor defining, no matter how much it commanded in energy and attention. For if we lived correctly and with frugality, looked both ways before crossing the street, then someday we would arrive back in the sweet place, back home.

In examining practices of border delineation, Brown and Danticat consider Caribbean feminism a form of resistance to their resulting influence in producing displaced and stateless subjects. In order to critically consider notions of empire, spatial organization of bodies, and national allegiances, Caribbean feminisms demand attention to the gendered contours of statelessness and displacement. Understanding regional and transnational political dynamics as interactive allow insight into the practices by which Caribbean women’s subjectivities are formed.

During a “Caribbean Feminisms on the Page” conversation between Edwidge Danticat and Victoria Brown, a question arose about whether there is a feminist movement in the Caribbean that mobilizes scholarly, intellectual engagements. Demanding attention to visibility, class inequality, and various structural challenges that eclipse efforts of resistance to imperial governance mobilized by Caribbean women, Danticat offered insight into the gendered dimensions of the Dominican-Haitian border relations. In the context of border conflict, Haitian women’s bodies are caught in the juncture of dominance and subjugation enforced by paramilitary state practices and border policing. The livelihoods of Haitian women are undermined through displacement while their subjectivity and sovereignty are constrained within structural power relations. Any attempt at understanding contemporary struggles against xenophobic and anti-Black border policies must be grounded in a differential study of Haitian and Dominican histories as they connect with practices of U.S. imperialism, colonial relations, and insurgent movements and practices of resistance.

Caribbean feminisms are informed by historical narratives of struggle, resistance, and survival against imperial and colonial domination. They operate as part of a mobile and global dialogue and are rooted intimacy of the home setting. Audre Lorde centers her self-actualization and instinct for creating communal bonds with other women in the home-place she refers to as Carriacou, her mother’s place of origin. She describes these lessons in Zami in recounting the narratives of her kinfolk:

Women who survived the absence of their sea-faring men easily, because they came to love each other, past the men’s returning. Madivine. Friending. Zami. How Carriacou women love each other is legend in Grenada, and so is their strength and their beauty.

Created by the labor and collective engagements of Caribbean women, Caribbean feminisms are inextricably linked to traditions forged within the context of slavery. In her dialogue with Gloria Joseph as part of the “Caribbean Feminisms on the Page” series, Naomi Jackson emphasizes the imprint of slavery and its legacy in the context of Barbadian communities. Caribbean feminisms have been mobilized across time and space to give form to complex narratives and subjectivities, and have been integral to resistance efforts and radical engagements for change in the livelihoods of Caribbean women.

These efforts and narratives converge when we consider women’s labor activism in Haiti and in the Dominican Republic. Black women’s bodies in their racialized constitutions are inextricably linked to state power and expansion and Black womanhood is anchored to the concept of nation-building. Strategies of empire-expansion deploy women’s bodies within their racialized hierarchies to sustain complex capitalistic economic and political structures. This is revealed in the historical practice of using Black women’s bodies as tools of labor production and reproduction in the United States and in the Caribbean.

One StruggleOngoing issues concerning wage disparity, statelessness and displacement, state violence and carceral practices against Black bodies must be viewed through the critical lens of Caribbean feminism. The condition of Haitian workers in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the United States, where imperial forces operate to sustain capitalist economies, must be viewed as inextricably linked.

By generating feminist discourse concerning Caribbean womanhood, nationhood, and history, Danticat, Brown, and Jackson are effectively mobilizing resistance and forging transnational links of solidarity between feminist narratives. The Feminisms on the Page series has provided a forum in which we have grappled with the tools and narratives offered within Caribbean feminist frameworks

We must continue to go further; from the page to the streets, across borders and communities, we must devote creative efforts and generate activist engagements that centralize narratives of resistance and forge links of solidarity between our liberation strategies. 

We can draw from the narratives offered by our foremothers, Caribbean woman-storytellers, healers, and activists like Audre Lorde to carry out our investments in collective liberation.




“Next Steps in the Struggle for Citizenship in the Dominican Republic”

“Home is Where the Heart Cannot be: the oppression of Haitians in the Dominican Republic” 

“Digital Translations of Quisqueya” 


Content Warning: This piece contains descriptions and statistics concerning the physical and sexual violence against and the murders of Dalit people.

Dalit women all over South Asia are starting and leading historic movements to end caste-apartheid and caste-based sexual violence. The #DalitWomenFight United States tour began in September, and self-organized Dalit women like Anjum Singh, Manisha Mashaal, and Thenmozhi Soundararajan have been sharing their stories no matter how persistently Hindu fundamentalists have tried to silence them.

I attended a die-in in Times Square on October 17, standing in front of the Red Steps, listening to these women’s stories and recognized that caste is something so much larger than religion. The caste system is racist, classist, and colorist. Caste apartheid is anti-blackness and anti-indigenous. An institutional system of violence, caste is a death sentence from birth, with your family’s caste ranking determining your entire life, including your job, spiritual purity, and social standing. Those at the bottom are condemned to a life of exploitation and violent discrimination. The caste system has a death count, and it is not a small one.  In 2014, over 744 Dalits were killed, many of them children burned alive at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists

Dalit Women Fight protest

#DalitWomenFight protestors, varied in age, gender identity, and color, perform a die-in in Times Square. They lie on the ground covered in fake blood behind a poster featuring an image of the Indian subcontinent, blood-spattered, titled “ATROCITY NATION #ENDCASTEAPARTHEIDNOW.”

Caste is everywhere in India and even more intensified in the diaspora, where Hindus facing xenophobia and racism, cling to fundamentalism and traditionalism for safety. Unfortunately, for Dalits and Adivasis, this foundation of the caste system in diasporic life results in an apartheid that has simply translated into a different language. In India, upper-caste Hindus, often light-skinned, receive lower interest rates for loans, better-paying jobs, and occupy most political offices. In North America, South Asian institutions carry over job discrimination, with only a handful of Dalit faculty in the over fifty South Asian and Asian Studies college departments.

India’s Hindu varna, or caste, system has been under scrutiny for decades. Divided hierarchically into five groups, the caste system consists of the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Sudras, and the so-called “Untouchables.” These pariahs have given themselves the name Dalit, meaning “oppressed,” or more specifically, “broken by oppression, but defined by struggle,” to call for the abolition of this system. Hierarchically, this system is ordered by race or color, light-skinned Brahmins at the top and Black, dark-skinned, and indigenous Dalits and Adivasis at the bottom. 

The Dalits are numbered at about 260 million in India’s 1.3-billion person population, by no means an invisible number. However, they live segregated lives, residing in separate villages, praying in separate places of worship, drinking from separate water fountains, and learning in separate schools. They are not allowed to wear shoes in the presence of upper caste people or to drink and eat from the same utensils. The caste system is a lethal one, in which Dalit women are raped, murdered, and burned, where Dalit men are castrated, where the Dalit people are slaughtered, lynched, and brutally assaulted time and time again. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, two Dalits are assaulted every hour and four Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched every day. This violence is meant to silence Dalit communities, to keep Dalit women from receiving justice.

But they cannot silence Dalit women.

I myself have a complex, yet privileged, caste identity, coming from a light-skinned Brahmin father and a darker-toned Vaishnavi non-Brahmin mother. Walking in the dusty streets of India, I would be perceived as Brahmin walking alone next to my father, yet non-Brahmin while accompanying my mother. Beyond that, I am gender nonconforming, or third-gender, unsure of my place in India and existing outside of a caste system that has yet to accommodate people like myself. It is vital, however, that I use my caste privilege to bolster the voices of Dalit women, who do not have and have never had the same opportunities as myself, let alone the privilege to ignore their caste identities as I have until now.

Only in liberation for the Dalits and Adivasis of India can we all achieve liberation. Until Dalit women are free, no woman is free.

Dalit Women Fight

Three Dalit women hold lit-up signs that say #DalitWomenFight


Digital Translations of Quisqueya

This semester, BCRW will host a plethora of events on transnational feminisms and activism in the Caribbean. 

Here you will find student-generated content on topics ranging from feminism to political economy on the island of Quisqueya, more commonly known as Hispaniola. I hope that they can serve as resources for research or just getting to know more about such topics after attending talks such Caribbean Feminisms on the Page with Edwidge Danticat ‘90 and Victoria Brown, or “Easy Money and Respectable Girls: Neoliberalism and Expectation in the US Virgin Islands” with Tami Navarro.

Digital Translations of Quisqueya

Last semester, I was in Professor Maja Horn and Professor Kaiama Glover’s team-taught course “Translating Hispaniola.” In this course, we explored the ways in which the transnational  histories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic have influenced present times. The course culminated in the creation of a digital humanities project.

Map of Quisqueya

Protesters taking a stand against the Dominican Republic’s mass deportation of Haitian people

For this class, we used a variety of resources from films such as “Des hommes et des dieux” (Of Men and Gods), fictional works by Edwidge Danticat ‘90 and Junot Diaz, legal documents, and news articles, and we were able to delve into an interdisciplinary study of the island of Hispaniola. In addition to the texts and films we worked with, we also attended weekly lectures with scholars such as Ginetta Candelario and Carlos U. Decena, who were also kind enough to direct us in our research.

Some of the topics we explored included the Haitian-Dominican border crises 1937 and 2013, colonial Hispaniola, US imperial interventions and their gendered implications, and literary engagements with dictatorship.

Working in teams of four, we carefully curated and developed timelines on topics such as  sex tourism on Hispaniola, queerness in Hispaniola, dictatorship and economy, and women’s political engagement.

Along the way of completing such research, there were many challenges ranging from language barriers to researching topics that there is very little to no academic scholarship on. Nonetheless, we were able to complete our research and create our timelines, which you can see below:

Queering Hispaniola

Zachary Etheart
Karina Jougla
Salma Nakhlawi
Nichelle Watkins

Sex Tourism on Hispaniola

Erasmia Gorla
Sarah Freedman
Katherina Barguil
Maria Paley

The Economy Under Dictators

Olukemi Adeniji
Danique McGowan
Katherine Castro
Yarimar Gonzalez

Women of Hispaniola: Female Political Engagement

Cinneah El-Amin
Wilda Escarfuller
Nina Anacaona Mency Reign
Elina Rodriguez

-Salma Nakhlawi ‘17

Salma Nakhlawi is an Africana Studies major at Barnard College and a Research Assistant at the BCRW.

Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity

On October 7, 2014, Professor Tina Campt gave the annual Helen Pond McIntyre ’48 Lecture. Professor Campt was introduced by BCRW Director Janet Jakobsen and publicly welcomed as the new BCRW Co-Director. Emma Schuster, a Barnard senior and BCRW Research Assistant, reflects on the lecture below.

“What does it mean for a Black feminist to think about, consider, or concede to the concept of futurity?” This was the question that framed Professor Campt’s talk, “Black Feminist Futures and the Practice of Fugitivity.” She urged the audience to consider the future not just in terms of hope, but in terms of tense, focusing on the grammar of the “future real conditional” tense, that is, “that that which will have had to happen.” What is central to this Black feminist grammar that she proposes is the idea of “living the future now,” or imagining what must be and embodying that idea in the present. Also central to the concept of futurity for Professor Campt is looking and listening for futurity not just in large, vocal political or revolutionary movements, but in less obvious places as well.

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Home Is Where the Heart Cannot Be: The Oppression of Haitians in the Dominican Republic

How does it feel to be a stranger in your own home? To be told that you don’t belong in the place you grew up? Activist and law student Altagracia Jean Joseph addressed these questions in her lecture “How Does It Feel to Be Stateless,” hosted by BCRW on October 1. Altagracia, of Haitian descent, was born in Batey Esperanza, a “company town” in the Dominican Republic constructed to keep Haitian workers close to the sugar plantations where they worked. She, along with other Dominicans of Haitian descent, must deal with the consequences of TC168/13, passed in September 2013. The law permanently annulled the citizenship of children born to “undocumented parents” going back to as far as 1929. Clearly aimed at Haitians in the Dominican Republic, who have historically been looked down upon by Dominicans as inferior, the law invalidates the identity of people of Haitian descent who were raised in the Dominican Republic and consider themselves Dominicans.

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Photo by Miriam Neptune

Altagracia described how even before the passing of TC168/13, sympathy towards the Haitians in the Dominican Republic was nonexistent. She recalled the difficulty she faced in obtaining a copy of her birth certificate; her request was constantly denied. She was told she could not get a copy of the birth certificate because her “last name was weird,” a “ridiculous excuse.” After the first time she was denied her birth certificate, Altagracia cried for three days. Then she made a decision: “I knew I had to do something.” She contacted people, went to the press, and organized other Dominicans of Haitian descent who had been denied—they began to hold public demonstrations, in order to protest their treatment as second-class citizens (or for many, not as citizens at all). In these demonstrations, she said, the use of dance and drums show how “we are Dominicans and we have rights.” Unfortunately, it may take a while for these protests to make an impact. The government has gone so far as to overlook its own constitution in favor of persecuting those of Haitian descent. Altagracia mentioned a provision in the constitution that views those born before 2010 as citizens. Yet, with the passing of TC168/13, it is evident that the government is more interested in pursuing their agenda than in upholding past legislation.

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Welcoming our new Associate Director, Tami Navarro

BCRW would like welcome Tami Navarro as our Associate Director. Tami holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Duke University and is also a proud graduate of Wesleyan University (’03). She is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Virgin Capital: Financial Services as Development in the US Virgin Islands, which engages with a local program (the Economic Development Commission, or EDC) to explore the ways that neoliberal initiatives are often built upon existing inequalities, particularly those related to gender and race. This project is based on 16 months of fieldwork Tami conducted in the US Virgin Islands, a time during which she worked closely in the newly-formed banking sector with a number of local women and one billionaire who was later convicted of using the EDC program to run a multi-million dollar fraud.


Before joining BCRW, Tami worked at the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, a direct-service organization co-founded by Audre Lorde, an experience that solidified her commitment to feminist organizing. Just before coming to Barnard, Tami was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality (IRWGS) at Columbia University where she shared her work on contemporary development policies in the Caribbean in a talk entitled “Easy Money and Respectable Girls: Neoliberalism and Expectation in the US Virgin Islands” as part of IRWGS’s Embodiments of Science series. In this talk, she outlines the features and gendered effects of neoliberal policies in the Anglophone Caribbean.

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African Women’s Rights and Resilience

To celebrate National Women’s Day, Barnard will host the African Women’s Rights and Resilience symposium with Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-sponsored by the Gbowee Peace Foundation, Barnard’s Africana Studies Department, the Athena Center for Women’s Leadership, BCRW, and the Barnard College President’s office. The symposium will consist of three panel discussions addressing integral points of continental women’s movements: “Women’s Rights and Transnational Feminisms,” “African Men and Feminisms,” and “Intergenerational Organizing.”

Leymah Gbowee leads a group of women

This semester, I am taking Professor Tina Campt‘s Feminist Theory course, a staple for any Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major. I was happy to discover that this semester’s course is co-taught with Ms. Gbowee. I often find myself treading the lines between optimism and realism, so it is easy to understand why, when reading that Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee would be co-teaching this course, I assumed the syllabus had a typo. After reading excerpts from her book, Mighty Be Our Powers, and watching the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I was in disbelief as Ms. Gbowee casually walked into my classroom, sat down and introduced herself. I don’t think I am adequately expressing the gravity of this moment: Leymah Gbowee walked into my class–MY classroom–she who helped lead a women’s peace movement with a coalition of Muslim and Christian women, helping to bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War and to fight the violence against women’s bodies. I could go on and on about her incredible work, but I will spare you the time. Instead I will focus on how she approached our class discussion.

During this class Professor Campt proposed that we interrogate the relationship between “agency”, “resilience”, and “redress”. What stood out to me in particular was the definition of redress. Saidiya Hartman writes in Scenes of Subjection: “redress is a remembering of the social body that occurs precisely in the recognition and articulation of devastation articulation of the broken body.” Redress becomes synonymous with restorative justice.

Ms. Gbowee approached this discussion through the physicality of students’ bodies. She asked two students to join her in the front of the class as she tied them together at the wrists with her scarf. She then asked them to walk in opposite directions and separate themselves. When they were unable to, she elaborated on how progress is limited if we are burdened down by the individuals who harm us. Their bodies were used as representation for ways in which we can begin to attain restorative justice, first through the act of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not to be conflated with forgetting, or passive acceptance of malice, never to be mistaken for weakness, because it requires true strength to forgive those who have committed heinous acts against you.

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S&F: Digital Engagemet Panel

This Saturday at the annual Scholar and Feminist Conference, Locations of Learning: Transnational Feminist Practices, speakers will discuss the ways feminist activists, writers, and thinkers around the world engage with issues of globalization, nationalism, gender, sexuality, identity, and power. One prominent type of engagement is through online communities. For the lunchtime Digital Engagement session, we will be asking participants to share with us their experiences, suggestions, and challenges around engaging with these communities.In preparation for the conversation we’d like to have around this issue, we’ll highlight some of the work being done by our conference speakers, including Tamura Lomax from The Feminist Wire, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh from Zanan TV, photographer and activist Zanele Muholi, Maria-Belen Ordonez from FemTechNet, and Laura Hale from the WikiWomen’s Collaborative.

The Feminist Wire (TFW) seeks to critique “anti-feminist, racist, and imperialist politics pervasive in all forms and spaces of private and public lives of individuals globally,” especially those that perpetuate structural violence. TFW creates an alternative blogging space online for intersectional and international perspectives on politics, culture, sports, religion, health, and many other interconnected topics. They have a diverse group of managing, associate, and contributing editors, and accept submissions from the public. TFW also uses social media to circulate their articles and call for submissions, which increases their audience and contributor pool and may help reach those outside of purely academic or activist circles. The Feminist Wire is published completely in English and is U.S.-based which may create challenges for organizing transnationally, but these challenges no doubt inspire creative solutions. Some of their pieces in transnational feminism include celebrating the work of feminists such as Farah Tanis and Chandra Mohanty, and discussing the geopolitics of Beyoncé’s Black feminism. Tamura Lomax is the co-founder of The Feminist Wire as well as a professor and author.

In a metaphorically apt turn of events, Zanan TV was launched at Zuccotti Park in the space created by Occupy Wall Street, with the intention of creating a similar alternative space online, one that would be, as Director Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh put it, “the vanguard of the women’s movement in Iran.” It is part of a history of online spaces created by the Iranian women’s movement, and seeks to provide an online space for feminist discourse and alliance formation between activists organizing around seemingly different goals. Zanan TV accomplishes these objectives through the use of video journalism with on-air and on-demand programs including documentaries, analysis, and news coverage. Zanan TV journalists are activists in various social movements, including the women’s movement. They offer websites in both English and Farsi, and have covered topics such as grassroots activism in Nepal, Iranian female musicians, and women in film internationally.

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Guidelines to Prevent Abuse of Children with Disabilities: Report from New Delhi

While pursuing a major in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies I have studied the concept of intersectionality, an idea that states that different identities interact with one another to contribute to the person’s place in society with respect to systems of privilege and, conversely, oppression. The idea that oppression is never just based on race, class, gender, or ability but an interlocking of all these identities is an idea that I find extremely important. I am also interested in how these systems operate within a culture that marginalizes and stigmatizes disability, especially amongst women and girls.

This summer I had the opportunity to intern with the National Trust, which is an organization under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in New Delhi, India. Its primary function is to ensure the legal protection of rights of people with disabilities. The Center was working on a legal guideline to help protect children with disabilities from exploitation, violence, and sexual abuse. The guideline is intended to bridge the gap between existing laws regarding children and people with disabilities to ensure that the Indian legal framework was equipped to deal with violations, especially those involving sexual abuse, in a stringent manner.

Furthermore, what made the guideline urgent was the fact that the government and private institutions that looked after these children were currently operating without a system in place to correct violations including exploitation, violence, neglect, and sexual abuse. The protection and well-being of children admitted to homes supported by government and non-governmental agencies are pivotal. Some of the key features of the guidelines were:

1. Proper registration of institutions under the government, whether private or public entities, to make sure these institutions were complying under the existing laws of the country. The drafting committee found that because of the structure of facilities that dealt with children with disabilities, they were registered with the government under laws related to either child protection or disability. The committee was keen to consolidate this data and ensure that every facility was accounted for by both laws.

2. Mandatory sensitivity training for all people involved in the administrative structure of these institutions. The guideline emphasized the use of language and gestures while interacting with children with disability. It is crucial that all administration including support staff and cleaning staff should interact with the children according to their training. Hurtful language and gestures not only affect the child, but also make the facility an unsafe and inhospitable place.

3. Developing a sex education program targeting adolescents with disabilities. While protecting children with disabilities from sexual abuse was obviously an important goal of the policy, I was pleasantly surprised to note that there was a clause on sex education for adolescents with disabilities. Sex education is not a component in the education curriculum in India, and so to have it included in this sphere is progressive, even groundbreaking. This gave adolescents with disabilities an opportunity to own their desire, an idea that is often ignored even today. While efficient implementation of this guideline remains to be seen, it is certainly a first and most important step towards the protection and prevention of violence and sexual abuse amongst children with disabilities.

Damini Mohan is a junior at Barnard College majoring in Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies and South Asian Studies. She is a Student Research Assistant at the Barnard Center for Research on Women.


Engaging the Production of Violence

This post is part of a series of reflections on the interdisciplinary winter seminar, “Mumbai At Home and in the World: Gender, Sexuality and the Postcolonial City.” BCRW Associate Director Catherine Sameh introduced the seminar in part 1, BCRW Research Assistant Nicci Yin reflected on occupying space in an urban environment in part 2, and Liz Gipson discussed understandings of queer space in part 3.

students and faculty gather around plastic tables set up on a lawn, eating and talking

Students and faculty eat lunch and discuss the themes of the seminar at Sophia College in Mumbai

I spent two fleeting days at the Mumbai Winter Seminar. And yet, it served as a crucial conduit between my Barnard experiences (notably the Global Symposium in Mumbai) and my new position at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. Connecting three women’s colleges across the globe; transporting and translating ideas, philosophies, literatures, values.

In preparation for teaching a student body that represents the entirety of continental Asia, I was particularly keen on finding comparative elements in each session. Collectively, the few segments I attended offered some really interesting comparative insights into patterns of physical, sexual, and structural violence.

The session that best exemplified these themes was conducted by BCRW Associate Director Catherine Sameh. She applied a transnational feminist framework to recent incidents of severe violence, such as the December 2012 rape in Delhi and the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which allowed us to locate similar (if not the same) theoretical principles in an analysis of extremely different cases (that one might otherwise deem entirely unrelated). Often, ‘western’ discourses shame non-western cultures for breeding violent mentalities. In reality, we are guilty of the same, and it is imperative to also turn the critiques westward if we wish to really understand violence as a global cultural phenomenon. Perhaps Indian culture has cultivated an environment in which men feel overly entitled, women are overly objectified, and the sociopolitical, legal structures in place rarely serve the needs of victims. If so, then American culture has created a space for gun possession to become normalized, gun violence to take place all too frequently, and victims of any act of violence unfairly undervalued (if not entirely blamed).

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