Women Creating Change

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Women Creating Change

Women Creating Change (WCC) draws together distinguished feminist scholars from across Columbia to focus on contemporary global problems affecting women and on women’s roles in addressing those problems. At the heart of WCC are working groups – scholars, students, practitioners, and socially engaged artists (filmmakers, dramatists, photographers) who meet in New York and at Columbia’s Global Centers with partners from across the world. Promoting networks of experts and activists that cross national and disciplinary borders, WCC envisions ethical and viable solutions to urgent problems concerning women, gender, and inequality. It also engages with other global networks and groups working to raise awareness of these problems, on campus and beyond, and is committed to the pursuit of social justice and a democratic future. WCC pursues research, teaching, writing and collaborative work that is necessarily interdisciplinary as well as comparative and transnational and that benefits from the rich resources and global perspective afforded by the Center for the Study of Social Difference (CSSD) and by Columbia University’s Global Centers.

Silvina der Meduerditchian

Current Projects

This project, which represents the workshop phase of an interdisciplinary, regional, consortial, Africa-led research endeavor, studies the rural-urban interface in Ghana and in Kenya, concentrating on the experience of women, youth, and men who inhabit this social and physical space. The research group includes colleagues at the Universities of Ghana-Legon and Nairobi as well as at Columbia and other New York-area institutions. The rural-urban interface or continuum extends from the rural to the towns and cities of the African continent. It is quite variegated and is characterized by a complex nexus of sites, including primary and secondary sites in relationships of gain and loss, dominance and subordination, associated in different ways with rural-to-urban migration. This first phase of the project will therefore attempt to situate key questions in the African context, and especially, in the rural-urban dynamics of the specific region being studied. Such questions include the interaction of space, gender, and political economy; the role of translation in interpretative social-scientific work; and the interplay of stories and statistics in knowledge making. Workshops based on a pilot study initiated by colleagues on Ghana and/or Nairobi will pay particular attention to gender relations in this space and to the feminization of poverty in migrant populations. The mix of approaches drawn from the humanities and social sciences is intended to help create productive collaborations among disciplines and among many actors, to get behind the statistics and move towards changing minds and building human capacity. As a working group, we will look at ways to combine qualitative knowledge with quantitative knowledge in a manner that highlights the real, impactful capacity of situated stories, narratives, and oral histories articulated by actual participants in these large-scale transformations, to illuminate and inflect the interpretation of other types of data that tend to dominate accounts and disproportionately inform policies. The humanities are a crucial source of knowledge of this sort, and, of language-sensitive learning techniques that are attentive to nuance and open to unexpected information or interpretations. Working with narratives, as well as statistics, will yield, we expect, nuanced insights that are unavailable to more conventional approaches.

How are gender relations impacted by material impoverishment and social segregation? Why do women suffer disproportionately from the social hazards of urban informality? This project addresses the global slum as the product of a complex interplay between the political economy of urban space, and the spatialization of social difference, especially gender/sexuality. Our project is especially interested in querying new aspirations around gender and consumption, the gender of poverty, new formations of informal labor and sex work, and emergent sites of violent conflict as these are remaking gendered relations of power.

Over the past two decades, women’s activism has taken creative new forms across the Muslim world. Working within the frame of Islamic piety and engaging fully with the Muslim tradition, women have been deliberately distancing themselves from the largely secular feminist projects of social reform, legal rights, or empowerment-through-development that had dominated the social field of women’s activism in most post-independence nations across the Muslim world. Efforts by women to work within an explicitly religious framework in order to transform society and participate more fully in public debates have influenced state policy in a number of ways. This group explores the divergences and points of contact between the flourishing work of those termed “Islamic feminists” and those who might best be called “Islamist women,” and evaluates the academic research used to promote the social inclusion and wider political transformation of women in the Islamic world.

Photo by Fatma Çelik“Women Mobilizing Memory” focuses on the political stakes and consequences of witnessing and testimony as responses to historical trauma. It probes how individual and collective testimony and performance can establish new forms of cultural memory and facilitate social repair. Using gender as an analytic lens, this project explicitly explores women's acts of witness and the gendered forms and consequences of political repression and persecution.