UH hosted “South Asia to Houston: Conversations and Connections Around Gender-Based Violence” on Friday afternoon at the Rockwell Pavilion of the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library in an effort to bring awareness to violence against women in South Asia and the U.S.
The colloquium included students, scholars, practitioners, artists and activists who joined in on this topic. Questions about the representation and response to violence against South Asian women were discussed as well as questions about the specific concerns to transnational South Asian communities in Houston.
Elora Halim Chowdhury, an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Massachusetts, discussed her book, “Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing against Gender Violence in Bangladesh.”
In “Transnationalism Reversed,” which was awarded the National Women’s Studies Association’s Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize in 2012, Chowdhury examines the transnational movement by focusing on Bangladeshi acid attacks and explores the complexities of women’s organizing, gender injustice and the feminist practice in the global South.
“It’s an extremely sensitive topic,” said finance senior Dilip Gerba, “but Chowdhury does a great job on bringing light to it.”
She also delivered a keynote address on “Mapping Transnational Narratives of Violence, Victimization and Agency.”
“There’s this belief that these things happen only to girls across the world,” Gerba said. “But if you’re aware of your surroundings close enough, you’ll realize there is a small percentage of girls here in Houston who have been through this too. I’m curious as to what a girl who has experienced an acid attack firsthand might think of this book. I hope it’s able to reach out to them.”
Special guest speakers Lakshmy Parameswaran and Vyoma Majmudar-Banker spoke on behalf of their nonprofit organization, Daya, and the work they have accomplished throughout Houston.
Daya promotes healthy family relationships in South Asian communities by providing counseling, translation/interpretation, legal advocacy, referrals and financial support services to victims affected by family violence and sexual assault.
Founder Parameswaran and Director of Counseling and Client Services Majmudar-Banker pointed out several factors that could increase South Asian women’s vulnerability to domestic abuse. From cultural, economic and language barriers and immigration status to information gaps due to a lack of technology or Internet service, Daya hopes to overcome these hindering circumstances with community outreach and education.
Liberal arts senior Karen Mazzu shared her experiences of witnessing gender inequality here in Houston.
“The event emphasized a South Asian focus, but this is an issue that affects all corners of the world and all races,” Mazzu said. “It may be a cultural or generational influence, but gender inequality is evident with many families here as well, especially first-generation American families.”
Mazzu described a mother’s role in a family setting.
“I know some moms who although may be powerful as the mother role, when it comes to their husbands, they fall submissive,” Mazzu said. “They let their husbands verbally abuse them and always receive scrutinizing judgements from their in-laws. One family I know moved here from California to get away from that. The daughters have more freedom now, but the mother received a skewed reputation of stealing her family and leaving her husband.”
Women’s Gender Studies Student Association graduate assistant Sandra I. Enriquez, who helped organize “South Asia to Houston,” shared similar experiences to Mazzu’s in her hometown in Mexico.
“I’m originally from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,” Enriquez said. “We have a lot of issues with gender violence from the early 90s until now. There were several cases of femicides, where young women working were killed and raped and no one ever caught the culprit. I’m pretty sure the police of the politicians were involved. It was a huge scandal in Guadas and in Mexico.”
Sehba Sarwar of Voices Breaking Boundaries — a grassroots nonprofit arts organization open to artists, individuals and organizations from a multitude of perspectives, backgrounds and countries — discussed her project “Women Under Siege,” an artistic production exploring the effects of religious extremism on women’s health, education and reproductive rights and Sufi culture.
Sarwar was originally inspired to create “Women Under Siege” in 2012, when she joined the board of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and was surprised she had to go through metal detectors to enter the building .
In one video called “Protecting Space,” Sarwar had interviewed various women by the entrances of the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the patron of Karachi in Pakistan.
VBB Managing Director Ana Laurel said she was happy with the outcome of “South Asia to Houston.”
“I’m glad they said they involved art with the activism and with the service organizations, because I think all of it works hand in hand, and all of it is necessary,” Laurel said.
“Whereas academics reach the students, the service organizations reach the people who need the services, and the art includes everyone in the conversation,” she said. “It’s something everyone can access. Art is a visual representation, and it’s not something done through language. It’s an universal component that draws everyone together.”
Mazzu found the colloquium to be inspiring.
“It was very inspirational to hear the message that as artists and writers, socially and politically oppressed people have an opportunity to influence culture in a way that makes society more welcoming to them and those like them,” Mazzu said. “We can change the world for the better if we want to and remain confident that we can.”
To find out more information, please visit dayahouston.org and womenundersiege.vbbarts.org.