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Students share experiences of violence against women, discuss feminist leadership

A panel of University students shared stories of violence against women on Douglass campus yesterday as a part of the “Feminist Leadership: Transforming Boundaries at the Center For Women’s Global Leadership.”

Along with hearing the panel’s stories, students participated in interactive events and learned about feminist leadership.

The presentation began with students making post-it notes about what feminist leadership meant to them. They were allowed to use either words or pictures to express what came to their minds when hearing the phrase “feminist leadership.”

Bethany Shenise, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, spoke about her experiences at the 2013 conference of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.   

Shenise said she and her classmates that also attended the conference were surprised by the difference between her expectations of the conference and how it actually worked.

“We were shocked to that only member states could negotiate, and non-governmental organizations had to hold their conferences, discussions and forums outside,” she said.

Despite this, Shenise said she was still impressed with the people who were able to participate in the UN-CSW.

“We saw women from all religious and socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said. “They took the cultural boundaries and transformed them. They were not seen as boundaries but as a variety of viewpoints for a conversation.”

The presentation also included a student panel that talked about violence against women inside the United States. The panel had four members, who each spoke of a different topic by narrating real life accounts of women and girls who encountered gender violence.

The first topic was reproductive rights, narrated by Ruhab Hassan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Hassan told the story of Jennifer, who was seven months pregnant when she was arrested for writing bad checks.

While she was in labor, police shackled her legs together and handcuffed one of her arms to a bed.

“[Jennifer said] ‘I know I did something wrong, and I have to take responsibility for what I did, but it was not like I was a murderer,’” Hassan said.

Michelle Shin, a School of Arts and Sciences junior spoke about domestic violence. Shin recounted the story of Yvette, a woman who filed a restraining order against her ex-husband in response to his constant abuse.

Shin explained that despite the restraining order, Yvette’s husband called her 14 times to say he wanted to have sex. Yvette’s ex-husband later burned 60 percent of her body.

Yvette later learned the judge presiding over her case removed the restraining order against her ex-husband three weeks before the incident without her knowledge.

“[Yvette said] ‘he said it was a clerical error, but clearly, that was not the case,’” Shin said.

Ama Ayeh, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, discussed human trafficking using the story of Debbie, a girl who was abducted at age 12, and forced to become a prostitute. She explained that Debbie’s abductor treated her as his personal property.

“[Debbie said] ‘he made sexual advertisements of me, and sold them online,’” Ayeh said.

Dina Mansour, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said looking at the role of media images in gender violence is important.

“One of the contributing factors to violence against women is the media,” she said.

Mansour then presented a video from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  The commercial shows a woman in a neck collar, resulting from aggressive sexual activity stemming from her boyfriend adopting a vegan diet.

Participants had an opportunity to hear several quotes on women’s rights, where they were asked to guess in what ways, if any, was each given quote problematic.

One quote the participants found problematic was from Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, which advocated for a society to celebrate women’s efforts to become corporate leaders. The problem was the notion only benefits wealthy women, while neglecting women from other economic backgrounds.

Hassan said feminism should focus more on an outreach to new groups of people.

“Meetings like the CSW conference and the Women of the World Summit end up being about women talking to other women, which is great, but we need to get beyond that,” she said.

Abdul Abad, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he wanted to learn more about feminist leadership, feminism, and feminist’s issues.

“I learned that language is very important, because you run the risk of dismissing people from the conversation,” he said.

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