Event Coverage: International Women’s Day
March 14, 2017
A-block: Syrian refugee
During A-block, there were two different sessions being held, one in the MLK room and one in room 342. The session in room 342 was about the Syrian refugee crisis, specifically how it is affecting women. Junior Lyra Johnson led the event and started off with a video called “European Refugee Crisis and Syria Explained.” Hiam Altali Francis, who founded Justice For Detainees in Syria, skyped in to discuss her organization, the events in Syria and their effect on women. Francis is originally from Syria and created this organization to defend the rights of young people who have been impacted by human rights abuses. She was also motivated to start her organization because her father was arrested and held for nine years by the Hassad regime.
Francis spoke about how many Syrians thought that when a revolution in Syria started in 2011 they could earn more freedoms, but instead it turned into the Syrian Civil War. According to Francis, women were the first to speak out for freedom and democracy. When the revolution started, women were also the first to start a political group, which, according to Francis, demonstrates how strong women are. Francis also spoke about how women gained a lot of responsibility during the war because so many men were killed and displaced.
Junior Maya Shaughnessy asked how students and others can help and Francis responded by saying that you can join Amnesty International, which holds weekly vigils because of the recent executive order immigration bans, attend a demonstration or march in front of embassies and call for the release of detainees.
B-block: Somali refugee
The B-block assembly in the MLK room featured a Somali refugee named Shamso Ahmed. Unfortunately, Ahmed was only able to speak for a brief period of time, which ended up producing an interactive Q&A.
Ahmed began by sharing her story as a refugee from Somalia. As a 5-year-old, Ahmed left her home due to a civil war, which drove her family to Ethiopia and later Kenya, where they lived in refugee camps. Ahmed described these camps as a very dirty and impoverished environment to grow up in, where she didn’t attend school because they were overcrowded. Later, in the early ‘90s, Ahmed and her family were able to immigrate to Roxbury, Mass.
Eventually, Ahmed drew from her experiences as a refugee and started a business called the International Translation Company, which bridges the language gap for refugees entering America.
Many of the questions the audience asked Ahmed encompassed women’s rights and the recent political climate in both Somalia, where a new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, has been elected, and America’s recently elected president, Donald J. Trump.
In response to Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from countries such as Somalia, Ahmed said she felt strongly about the unfairness of the law.
“It is not good to close doors on someone in need,” Ahmed said.
After being asked about women’s rights in America under Trump’s command, Ahmed reported feeling as though Muslim women in particular have been put in a tough position and have not been treated with respect.
“I feel blessed having the privilege to live here . . . but I definitely contribute to society and I want to see that reflected in my rights,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed ended her short assembly with a note of optimism. She believes that after 22 years of civil war, Somalia’s new president is shifting the country in the right direction. She also feels that now is the time to educate people who come from all faiths and backgrounds on women’s rights, and that now is the time for all people to not feel oppressed.
Bertina Xue/Sagamore Staff
Students and teachers gathered in room 383 during C-block for a presentation by Saheli volunteer Meenakshi Garodia. Saheli is a community-based women’s organization headquartered in New England, which focuses on the needs of people from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and others. Saheli staff members and volunteers speak most South Asian languages.
The presentation was split into three parts. The first part was a powerpoint presentation introducing Saheli. The organization offers legal advocacy, social worker counseling, police and court advocacy and many other forms of help. Volunteers and staff members spend more than a thousand hours with each woman that requests help. Garodia defined some common terms like domestic violence and explained the different types of abuse. According to Garodia, South Asian women face serious barriers when leaving an abusive relationship. Some of these barriers are early marriage, employment problems, language fluency, shame, immigration or visa status and restrictions on her social, financial and academic life.
“Getting out of an abusive relationship is only the first step,” Garodia said. “Some people feel ashamed that they actually let abuse happen to them.”
For the second part of the presentation, Garodia read real experiences from anonymous women who received help from Saheli. Then, a series of advertisements were shown. Some of these ads were the Super Bowl 2015 domestic violence PSA, Bell Bajao “Ring Ring” ads and an Italian ad titled “Slap Her.” Using these advertisements, Garodia explained how small things like simply knocking on the door or saying hello are ways to be an upstander in an abusive situation. In the final part of her presentation, Garodia opened the room up for questions.
According to Garodia, making sure that you are not in an abusive relationship is one way high school students can contribute to the cause.
“The biggest thing is that you do not have to live like that. You can always survive any situation. No one is important enough that you should put up with being abused by them. Don’t let it happen to you, and don’t do it,” Garodia said.
When asked about what Saheli does in terms of getting the abusers arrested, Garodia said that sometimes police are involved, but that the abusers are not Saheli’s main focus.
“I think you need to choose your battles, and the battle for Saheli is to actually empower the women and let them lead financially and emotionally strong, independent lives,” Garodia said. “Because very often when women come to Saheli, they are so mentally fatigued and vulnerable. It’s about building them back up.”
F-block: Women in religion
The F-block assembly in the MLK room served as a chance for the school community to learn about religion and its relationship to gender. To begin the assembly, junior Komal Wasif introduced three religious leaders from the Boston area, who each spoke about their religion.
First to speak was Episcopal priest Gretchen Grimshaw of St. Paul’s Parish in Newton. Grimshaw first spoke about what it means to be a Christian, saying that generalizations about Christians are “alternative facts,” in reference to Donald J. Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway. She then spoke about the role of women in the Bible, saying that many female Biblical figures are overlooked or misconstrued. Grimshaw also spoke about women’s struggles in the Church, as women are still not allowed to be ordained as priests in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches and have only been allowed ordination in the Episcopal Church since 1974.
The second speaker was Tali Puterman, a member of the staff of Temple Israel in Boston. Puterman, like Grimshaw, spoke about a relative lack of female role models in the scripture of her religion, the Torah. She said, however, that in the Boston area there are many female rabbis, and that through reform Judaism, she has found a balance between social justice and religious involvement.
Last to speak was Malik Khan of the Islamic Center of Boston, a mosque located in Wayland. Khan started by saying that Islam does not have an official hierarchy and that there are no authoritative figures; it is all about a relationship between follower and higher power. Next, he emphasized equality in Islam. He said that in the Quran, the holy book of Islam, men and women are consistently described as equals. He passed out a list of passages from the Quran to help illustrate his point.
Each guest was met with applause from the MLK room audience, and each of the speakers stayed after their speech was over in order to answer students’ questions individually.
G-block: Transgender experience and female role models
Room 309 — Transgender Story
Senior Grey Fahrner began the G-block Q&A session — “Transgender Story” — by introducing London, a transgender woman and former student (Class of 2013).
London began her story by saying that she was lucky to have a very supportive family that even threw her a party when she came out as transgender.
“Even though it didn’t make sense to them, they still loved me no matter what,” she said.
London said that after graduating high school, she went to beauty school and now works as a hair and makeup artist traveling around the state.
“Some of my coworkers don’t understand the whole process, but they’re not mean about it,” she said. “Sometimes my coworkers misgender me and say mean things, but my friends who work in that salon tear them down.”
London described her transition as frustrating for a while because people would ignore her out of fear. However, she said that after her third year post-transition, she feels more welcomed and has made many new friends.
“I feel like a whole new person compared to what I was a couple years ago,” she said.
The audience was then allowed to ask questions about London’s life and experience as a transgender person, ranging from how she handles cruel comments to misconceptions about transgender people to the media’s portrayal of transgender people.
MLK Room — Female Role Models at BHS
The “Female Role Models at BHS” assembly was held in the MLK room G-block. Junior Komal Wasif introduced the three panelists: Associate Dean Melanee Alexander, Dean of Faculty Jenee Ramos and history teacher Kate Leslie. Math teacher Kathy Hitchcock was scheduled to participate, but was sick. The panelists discussed their social justice backgrounds and how their womanhood has affected their social justice pursuits.
Alexander spoke about her time on a Panamanian island in 2003 when she coordinated three committees to pick up the island’s trash. To this day, two men use the boat Alexander helped procure to collect the trash.
“It is difficult to balance assertion with being perceived as threatening, but you have got to get things done,” Alexander said.
Ramos said she has felt the “pull to service” since the age of eight. She spends many hours each week as a hotline counselor in the field of sexual assault and also distributes food in Copley Square each Wednesday. Ramos said being a woman has helped her and never blocked her in her social justice pursuits.
Leslie pinpointed her beginnings as an advocate to 2008, when California passed Proposition 8, a measure that banned LGBTQ people from marrying. She signed up on an online message board to plan a protest against Proposition 8 and worked alongside four college men. Despite her nervousness, 5,000 people attended the protest. Leslie said she wanted young people to know that “anyone can be an advocate or an activist.”
The assembly culminated with Alexander offering advice to the assembled students. Alexander said to “not be afraid to care” and that “you should not be bossy,” because it is ultimately about what the group can accomplish.