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Professors Meet with United Nations Official

Professors United NationsTwo University professors met with Pramila Patten, the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, on Thursday, Feb. 21. 

In an hour-long meeting, Rekha Datta, Ph.D., newly appointed Freed Chair of Social Science and a professor of political science, and Johanna Foster, Ph.D., Helen McMurray Bennet Endowed Chair of Social Ethics and an associate professor of sociology, discussed several issues surrounding sexual violence on the Yazidi women in the Sinjar region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq with Patten. 

The three, in addition Sherizaan Minwala, Chief of Party for the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Program in Iraq, and Foster’s co-author in her work, also discussed the issues in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, where female Rohingya refugees are facing various forms of gender-based violence. 

Datta first met Patten in 2018 at a conference at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, but she and Foster have been studying various aspects of gender violence, gender justice and policy measures, nationally and globally. 

Foster’s recent work, conducted with Minwalla and Monmouth alum, Sarah McGrail (’16), “Genocide, Rape, and Careless Disregard: Media Ethics and the Problematic Reporting on Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Sexual Violence,” examines the problematic violations of United Nations Global Protection Cluster Recommended Guidelines for Reporting on Sexual Violence in Humanitarian Conflicts in the coverage of the genocidal attacks against the Yazidis.

In their analysis of 75 online English language news articles at the height of the reporting period,  Foster stated that she and her colleagues found that a stunning 100 percent of the articles violated the UN Guidelines in ways that put women and girls at risk for ISIS retaliation, and for possible honor-based violence within their own community. 

In October, Foster was invited to present the team’s research at Utrecht University in The Netherlands for the conference, Terrors of Injustice: Gender Violence and the Ethics of Shame.  Their previous research on Yazidi women’s experiences with journalists was published in 2018 in Women’s Studies International Forum.

According to recent estimates by the World Bank, 1-in-3 women worldwide face gender-based violence in their lifetime.

While men and boys also experience sexual violence, the World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the cases of gender-based violence in the world occurs against women. 

Datta takes a public policy perspective and examines gender inequality, discrimination, and violence against women in India in the context of international and national policies and norms. In particular, she looks at the role of education and economic empowerment on gender-based violence. 

 “Sexual violence occurs in peacetime and in conflict zones, in the privacy of homes and in intimate partner-relationships, in public spaces, in the workplace, and on college campuses,” Datta explained. 

In 2017, Datta received a Fulbright Senior research fellowship to conduct field research on violence against girls and women in villages in Haryana in northern India, just outside the capital city of New Delhi. 

In 2018, in a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey, India was named as the most dangerous country for women. “It is shocking to find the world’s largest democracy scoring worse than conflict-ridden countries and monarchies where women’s rights are suppressed,” said Datta. 

In her reflective piece “A Changing India,” Datta examines the question of whether education and economic empowerment can put an end to the gender-based violence that has plagued the country. 

Intent on having their research inform their teaching, Datta and Foster are also bringing their research into their classroom and on campus. Building on their work and that of decades of research and advocacy by feminist scholars, NGOs, national governments and international organizations, they are organizing a research symposium, The Unveiling Inequality and Gender-Based Violence Symposium, to be held on the campus this June 6-7. 

“This symposium seeks to address the ethics and politics of this global crisis through the lens of critical social science,” said Datta. “In particular, the symposium will provide an opportunity for scholars, students, policy-makers, and advocates to confront the realities of gender-based violence through the conceptual lens of inequality, and to explore how law and policy at the national and international level can reduce gender-based violence.” 

The symposium organizers are in the process of collaborating with university gender studies programs and community organizations. The organizers, through the Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences have also invited Patten to deliver the keynote address at the symposium this summer.   

PHOTO COURTESY of Johanna Foster