On March 8, Colgate celebrated International Women’s Day. In honor of the day, there were student presentations and a lecture by Doctor Stanlie M. James, professor of African American and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
International Women’s Day has been observed since 1911, with the purpose of honoring the achievements of women while reflecting on the struggles they face.
Colgate students recognized this double purpose in their presentations at a Brown Bag lunch. Senior Anjuli Fernandez discussed the Peruvian activist Maria Elena Moyano.
“Even though she was so young, at the age of about 25, she became the head of a woman’s organization,” Fernandez said. “She started creating programs that were benefiting people all over [Lima, Peru], such as the Vaso de Leche, or ‘cup of milk program’ – she ensured, along with all the other women that were involved in the women’s federation, that every child within her shantytown received a cup of milk.”
Moyano had a lifetime of achievements as a community organizer and also became the first female vice-mayor of Villa El Salvador, a vast shantytown outside of Lima.
“It was incredible that she was able to do this given her limited resources and also given the fact that she was living in a very male-dominated society that didn’t lend itself to women’s activism,” Fernandez said.
Another student speaker, sophomore Jina Chung, discussed the “comfort women” movement in Japan and Korea during World War II, where the government rounded up women to provide sexual services for their soldiers.
“The girls who were recruited for this did not know it was sexual slavery; they just thought they were going to be working at a hospital or war factory,” Chung said. “So, they really had no idea. ‘Comfort women’ was basically a euphemism for what was really going on. About 100,000 to 200,000 young girls from the ages of 12 to 16 were recruited out of middle school and early high school … These women were considered toilets – a place where men could go and relieve themselves.”
African and Latin American Studies Guest Speaker, Doctor Stanlie M. James, also came to campus to celebrate the day. In addition to her position at the University of Wisconsin, James is currently the Distinguished Faculty Visitor in Global Feminisms at Emory University. She discussed her research, which focuses on black women and their role in the human rights movement.
“In the last half of the 20th century, U.S. black women and men were continuing a long established tradition of confronting the racism, sexism and classism that has infected this country since its inception,” James said. “Disheartened by the entrenched recalcitrance of the U.S. government and, in turn, the limited agenda and successes of the Civil Rights movement, some black women were looking towards human rights as a possible alternative that would not only link their struggles to others fighting multiple oppressions domestically and internationally, but could focus global attention on the shortcoming of our government’s policies and laws.”
James argued that the Civil Rights movement was not enough to strengthen human rights, and that the next step to reform was pursuing international human rights.
“Rarely addressed in the international human rights or black feminist literature, or even in the broader context of African American history, is this underlying, yet potentially more comprehensive, conceptualization that rights represent a logical progression of U.S. black women and men’s traditional emphasis on the civil and political aspects of human rights,” she said. “Although this human rights motif has surfaced from time to time throughout our history, I am particularly interested in black women’s human rights activities in the last quarter of the 20th century.”
James has traveled internationally to meet and interview female black leaders who are involved in the human rights movement, and plans to write a book on her findings. After her lecture, James received questions by the audience and was asked if it was possible to encourage human rights in the face of various cultural phenomena, such as genital mutilation.
“A lot of times,” said James, “genital cutting occurs on babies and young girls, when they are not in a position to make up their minds whether or not this is something that they want to do. It’s one thing if adult women decide that it is what they want to do; it’s another thing when a five year-old has it done to her.”
James, who has a book on the subject, urged the audience to avoid speculating on the practice and instead to listen to the voices of the women within those cultures.
“You need to listen to the voices of the women in these societies or cultures about why it’s done and how that relates to, or how it is embedded in, the cultures that they live in, and what they think would be appropriate to address the issue,” she said.
In the end, James noted that more needs to be done regarding the issue of human rights, and that the issue is still undermined in politics today.
“You’ll hear our State Department, and our Secretary of State and the President periodically mention something about human rights,” James said. “Usually they are talking about ‘over there,’ it’s some foreign country that they’re talking about. They are not talking about human rights here. That’s problematic.”