Chai Wai Series: Gender-Based Violence in the Global South—South Asia and Beyond

by Katrina Spencer

November 12, 2014

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The Chai Wai Series Tackles Gender-Based Violence

  • Had Jyoti Singh Pandey, victim of a fatal attack in 2012, been a poor woman, would the media have given the same attention to her case?

These were some of the questions addressed Wednesday of last week at the second meeting of the Chai Wai Series. Envisioned by South Asian Librarian Mara Thacker and doctoral candidate in history and instructor Julie Laut, this discussion was a direct offshoot of the History 365 course, “Gendering War, Migration and Memory: Fact and Fiction in Modern South Asia”. The research collected around the theme “Gender-based violence in the Global South: South Asia and Beyond” formed part of Laut’s students’ culminating project for class. Largely structured around South Asian literature, the course allowed students to create a lib guide, a rich compilation of relevant resources organized in one space that is informative, collaborative, public and enduring.

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The diverse group of panelists was moderated by Laut who has specialized in gender, women’s and South Asian studies. Together, they expanded the discussion to wide regions of the world. Speakers included UIUC’s law professor Margareth Etienne, doctoral student of human resource development Anne Namatsi Lutomia and comparative literature professor Dr. Rini Mehta. Etienne’s voice was unique and valuable as she explored how laws are constructed to criminalize gender-based violence; Lutomia’s contributions educated attendees with regard to African attitudes surrounding gender-based violence; and Mehta revealed how sociocultural systems like castes can impact the degree of targeting and the protection victims of gender-based violence experience in India.

Mindfully nuancing the discussion, Etienne, author of “Addressing Gender Based Violence in an International Context,” commented that gender-based violence has a broad definition as it does not strictly identify women as victims; it also encompasses crimes carried out against people who do not exhibit gender in the ways their societies expect them to, as seen, for example, in the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.” Many hate crimes are committed not around the idea that a man is a man or a woman is a woman, but rather that a man isn’t masculine enough or a woman isn’t feminine enough to satisfy his/her society’s and peers’ expectations.

Lutomia, recipient of the Maria Pia Gratton Award, a fellowship meant to honor the memory of a victim of gender-based violence, shared that the practice of polygamy in Africa can make wives especially susceptible to gender-based violence. “We don’t have a law that is categorically against domestic violence,” she said, speaking of her native Kenya. Corrective rape, too, she intoned, carried out frequently within severely homophobic societies, is a damaging practice meant to punish, intimidate and terrorize people exhibiting sexual identity that falls outside of societal norms. Much of this violence, she highlighted, must be viewed through a post-colonial lens.

Mehta, whose academic work includes the 2011 documentary Post 498: Shades of Domestic Violence, introduced a variety of aggressions lesser known to the Western world, including the concept of “Love Jihad,” allegedly a deceptive practice of emotional manipulation designed to win converts to Islam. She also stated that “rape is more than a crime in South Asia. It is more of a phenomenon.” Calling this tendency a “pogrom,” Mehta pointed out that it is commonplace for one ethnic or religious group to target another and systematically murder its men or rape its women in an effort to humiliate, intimidate and demoralize. She, too, iterated that the legacy of colonialism colors the gender-based violence discourse.

Amid the brave, terrifying and undeniably contemporary comments, it was perhaps an audience member’s question that was the most compelling of all: “What is the origin of the need to control women that seems to cross borders, cultures and even time?” While gender-based violence is, again, not restricted to women, there is obvious, cross-cultural investment in a certain degree of conformity when it comes to the performance of one’s sexual identity. When people across the globe step outside of these norms, they frequently enter violently charged and threatening spaces. What is it, indeed, that makes us hurt each other in such deeply violent ways and what can we do about it? Please join our discussion by leaving a reply to this post. Visit the Chai Wai event lib guide and look for the International and Area Studies Library’s next event in the Chai Wai Series on conflicts in the Ukraine in February 2015.

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Chai Wai Series: Migrants, Immigrants & Refugees

The Chai Wai Series Launches with “Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees”

by Katrina Spencer

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“What does it take for someone to leave what they’ve worked for their whole life?” he asked. In one of the more provocative statements made at the International and Area Studies Library’s (IASL) first Chai Wai event, Ricardo Díaz of the C-U Immigration Forum boldly affirmed that “Mexicans don’t want to come to the USA,” openly challenging a common premonition existing about the U.S. being an immigrant’s ‘paradise.’ “Immigration is a natural human process,” Díaz said, adding that “It’s not just liberty” that attracts people from other countries to seek lives within the U.S. borders: “it’s the economic opportunity”. Díaz passionately suggested that many people of both working and professional class love their home countries but make deliberate choices of sacrifice in order to provide secure futures for their families. They were statements like these that constructed the framework in which push and pull factors regarding immigration were visited Tuesday of last week.

As South Asian Studies Librarian Mara Thacker’s brainchild, the Chai Wai Series was launched to much acclaim. This series seeks to provide a forum for conversations regarding global issues that need space for development, debate and discussion. More than forty people gathered in the Main Library’s room 321 to hear four panelists speak on the topic of “migrants, immigrants and refugees.” The event was moderated by Steve Witt, head of the IAS Department. Three panelists in addition to Díaz, University of Illinois anthropology professor Ellen Moodie, Ha Ho of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) and Gai Nyok, a current master student in economics and former refugee, shared their personal narratives, highlights of their research and general postures that encouraged, as Moodie phrased it, “compassionate policy in a country that can absorb immigrants.”

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One valuable feature of the event was the diversity of voices and experience represented by the panel. Too often issues of immigration are reduced to discussions of U.S.-Mexico relations. This panel, by its very nature, infused identities that spring from war-torn areas like the Sudans, persecuted minorities like the Hmong of Vietnam and Central American narratives of post-war reformation. In addition to the varied faces on the panel, some insights were particularly compelling. Moodie, for example, affirmed that “violence actually increased” following armed conflicts as countries entered into new instabilities and reconstruction. The post-war period, then, while largely interpreted as one of peace, may in fact see more human mobility than when fighting is active. Moreover, some internally displaced people choose not to seek refuge in places like the U.S. even when a protected status is available to them. When asked if his mother could join him in the United States, Nyok, a former Lost Boy of Sudan who found a second family in a foster home in Virginia, affirmed that yes, she could. However, he supposed that her experience in the West might indeed be of an inferior quality than that which she is experiencing in East Africa, citing the language barriers she would encounter, the cultural isolation, the laborious work she would take on, and the lack of respect and promotion she would likely experience in trying to integrate into a foreign society and its job workforce at an advanced age.

Despite all of this, Ho, speaking from experience, affirmed with great confidence that “the United States is a very generous country.” As someone whose immigrant status has seen a variety of classifications—visitor, resident and citizen—Ho acknowledges that “immigration law is very complex,” yet also that the U.S. offers a wealth of possibilities for mobile persons. The discussion implied that there are significant varieties of meaning indeed between migrants, immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people, exiles and even expatriates, and that the variety of their experiences merit the richness of the vocabulary used to describe them. While the opportunities are numerous once a migrant obtains a certain status, before then, immigration policy can appear hostile. “I don’t expect the system to change without a struggle,” Díaz concluded, and for that reason, Díaz lives out his passion and encourages others towards advocacy. He is currently promoting José Toledo’s documentary “Unfreedom: Latino Immigrants in a Midwestern Town.”

For more on the Chai Wai Series, follow the International and Area Studies Library on Facebook, access our lib guide which addresses our first event and be sure to join us Wednesday, November 5, 2014 from 2:00-3:30pm when we will discuss gender-based violence in the global South.

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