Monday, October 19, 2015

International Workshop on Gender, Development, Resistance at University of Lapland: A Report

Shreya Sen

Shreya Sen is a Doctoral Fellow at University of Calcutta. She participated in the workshop. She can be reached at

The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland recently organized an International workshop on Gender, Development, Resistance between the 7th and 8th of June 2015, bringing together activists, practitioners and academics dedicated to the research, analysis and discussion of upcoming issues in these areas of study. The workshop was a follow up of the Ninth Feminist Research Conference on ‘Sex and Capital” sponsored by ATGENDER, a European organization for gender documentation and research, which also took place at the University of Lapland, from 3rd to 6th June 2015. Altogether, there were 21 papers presented at the workshop over eight panels and over a span of two days, with a keynote lecture by Dr. Paula Banerjee of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Calcutta and a concluding talk by workshop host and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Lapland, Dr. Tiina Seppala.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Paula Banerjee (University of Calcutta) explained how the development paradigm favored by much of the post colonial world has resulted in massive displacement, since the cost of development is not borne equally by all sections of society. The most vulnerable of the population such as the indigenous people, minorities etc. she argued, bear the cost of development while the more endowed enjoy the fruits of development. After providing an overview of women’s resistance to dams, mining and other development projects in Northeastern India and in the Indian states of Orissa and West Bengal, Dr Banerjee concluded that women occupied a significant portion of the resisting population owing to a concern for their children and future generations, their training in Satyagraha and their longstanding struggle against state, patriarchy and capital.

The first session of the workshop chaired by Dr. Tiina Seppala, began with Elina Onias (University of Helsinki) exploring contemporary forms of feminist resistance and protests through varied responses to Femen, an activist group in Tunisia in 2013. Anitta Kynsilehto (Tampere) followed by examining corporeal forms of resistance, highlighting the potential of mobile persons to disturb administrative power which regulates and prevents irregular global mobility by adopting a policy of containment. Eija Ranta (University of Helsinki )then entered into a discussion of the aspirations and experiences of women in Kenya who venture into political forums and national decision making.

The afternoon session was chaired by Dr. Paula Banerjee and opened with Sreya Sen (University of Calcutta) analyzing the impact of river erosion induced displacement on the lives of women in Malda, West Bengal (India) and Khulna, Bangladesh,to see how this phenomenon triggers resistance among the women displaced instead of simply making them victims of the process.By looking at three case studies from Hyderabad, India, Dr Nanda Kishore (Leiden University) then spoke about livelihoods that have been disrupted as a consequence of development induced displacement, emphasizing the gendered nature of development politics, especially with regard to decision making. Neetu Pokharel (Nepal Institute of Peace) explored how the empowerment of women has been narrowly understood and defined in Nepal by identifying lacunae in policies and practices for this purpose. Som Prasad Niroula (Nepal Institute of Peace) highlighted complexities in women’s rights movements in Nepal by sharing his interviews with key women’s rights activists in the country.

The concluding session of day one chaired by Tiina Seppala, saw Roopshree Joshi (Lutheran World Foundation) sharing findings from her research on women’s access to citizenship by comparing how Nepalese women married to Tibetan men and single Nepalese mothers were incapable of transferring citizenship rights to their children. This was followed by Bhagavati Adhikari (Nepal Institute of Peace) offering some perspectives on gender from within slum communities in Nepal.

Session one of day two with Dr. Nanda Kishore as the chair began with Signe Arnfred (Amsterdam) discussing women’s rituals in Northern Mozambique with a focus on spaces of resistance and forms of knowledge, drawing inspiration from the notion of material knowledge. Janet Conway (Brock University, Toronto) then explored the myriad and inter connected transformations in feminism such as the forging of alliances with non feminist others around common struggles, by studying the World March of Women and its politics of allegiance surrounding food sovereignty in the last decade. Leones Ansems de Vries (Queen Mary University, London) showcased the relation between resistance and governance in the context of refugee subjectivities in Malaysia in her talk, by examining resistance practices and the context in which these emerge, thus moving away from the notion that refugees are mere victims who are subjected to control and violence. Paola Vizcaino Suarez and Rocio Serrano Barquin (Mexico) shared preliminary results of their ongoing research which seeks to assess empowerment processes among women artisans who are vendors and producers of ethnic clay crafts in a central Mexican destination for cultural tourism. This was followed by Carolina Serrano Barquin, Rocio Serrano Barquin and Adelaida Rojas Garcia (Mexico)analyzing the interpretation and assimilation of the body image binary by student athletes from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico.

In the afternoon session chaired by Tiina Seppala, Wendy Guns (Amsterdam) investigated whether women friendly international norms could be established only if women were made to be a part of the law making process,  concluding that while gender plays a crucial role in this regard, so do the ideas of the women who are involved, after which Lotta Gammelin (Uppsala University) spoke of how spirituality and healing is constructed and gendered in a Mybeyan community in Southern Tanzania, raising the question of whether women’s religious narratives and experiences built on power, fertility and sexuality, could be explained in a post-colonial setting. EnniMik Konen (Lapland University) then addressed the changing social position of women in rural communities of Nepal, scrutinizing the external and internal forces that drive this transition after which Heidi Alatalo (Lapland University) engaged in an examination of African conceptions of development via their own discourses by exploring two different social interest groups in three East African countries, to offer a new understanding of future development in Africa. Through an argument of how rationalities and technologies of the modern nation state find reproduction in contemporary times by individualizing social ills and pathologizing the poor, Sara Motta (Australian National University)then explained the legitimization of continued and increasing interventions to remove children from refugee, poor white and indigenous families.

The final session was chaired by Dr. Paula Banerjee and began with Afroja Khanam (Lapland University) discussing the extent to which women’s lives have been affected as a consequence of multiple migrations due to river erosion in Char Batia, located in the Bogra district of Bangladesh, stressing on the dire impact this displacement has had on women’s social status, within the family and community, their livelihoods and their security. The workshop concluded withDr. Tiina Seppla (Lapland University) critiquing resistance and autonomy in South Asia, highlighting the importance of decolonizing forms of feminist solidarity and reflecting on the challenges and potential that it brings in the context of engaged social movement research, through an analysis of ethnographic fieldwork with social movement activists in Kolkata, India and in Kathmandu, Nepal. 

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