Under the umbrella of NYUWomXn100—a year-long series of programming, events, and creative production to honor and celebrate the lives, pursuits, innovations, and achievements of womxn of transgender, non-binary, and cisgender experiences, Liberal Studies hosted a virtual conference titled Transnational Feminisms & Reimagining Futures in the (Post-)COVID World.
Liberal Studies Dean, Julie Mostov, opened the meeting by noting how the idea for the conference flowed naturally from Liberal Studies’ commitment to interdisciplinary, global, and critical encounters with contemporary challenges and a desire to contest and interrogate the absences and erasures of many women’s voices and historical legacies of exclusions and injustice. It developed as an opportunity to expose contemporary structures, practices, and relationships of violence, inequality, and domination deeply embedded in our gendered societies today.
“The conference grew out of our scholarship and our activism, and our understanding of the importance of listening to and learning from one another with the hope of building a more sustainable and just future. It developed as part of ongoing conversations and initiatives through which vibrant new voices are emerging. At the same time, recognizing that many voices remain unheard, Liberal Studies continues to collaborate with partners across the campus and beyond to fill those gaps.”
LS professor Mitra Rastegar, conference coordinator, and her committee members, professors Minu Tharoor and Dina Siddiqi brought together three distinguished panels of scholar/activists across generations and geographic spaces to grapple with contemporary challenges of expendability, global interdependencies, and post-COVID futures. The daylong conference drew participants from all around the world exploring a wide range of topics, from Jacqueline Bishop’s recovery of the tradition of collecting bone china in Jamaica to You Me Park’s discussion of gendered dependencies in global care chains, and Jallicia Jolly’s look at feminist solidarity and community building.
Professor Inderpal Grewal, feminist scholar and activist, framed a common theme of disruption in her keynote presentation. She explored what she called deep cultures of pluralism that, she argued, "unsettle" the state. She pointed to the resistance manifest in the recent farmers' protests in India as an example of unsettling authoritarian statist narratives and structures.
Lisa Coleman, NYU’s Senior Vice President for Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation and the University’s Chief Diversity Officer, greeted the participants by stressing the importance of noticing how the current pandemic is fundamentally changing the ways in which people think: “People are saying this is the new normal, but I want to encourage people to look at this as the new different,” Coleman said.
Several panelists spoke about how the coronavirus pandemic had changed their field of study or exacerbated existing problems for those of minority gender and ethnic identities. During the Panel on Interdependence/Solidarity, Shivangi Shrivastava, an Inter-Agency Coordination Specialist at UN Women, spoke about the increasing violence against women and children as a “shadow pandemic” that has lurked in the background of lockdowns. LS professor Dina Siddiqi similarly spoke about the way the pandemic has aggravated Bangladeshi garment workers' excessive dependence on global supply chains and exposed the basic expendability of this feminized labor force during the Panel on Expendability. Many of the panelists saw the pandemic as a tipping point for widespread global change.
During the lunchtime break, attendees from different parts of the globe joined smaller breakout rooms to discuss their thoughts about the morning’s presentations and connect with one another across national borders. Liberal Studies faculty led these conversations, including Dean Julie Mostov, whose own research offers a gendered critique of hard-bordered national spaces and calls for an alternative of soft-borders and transnational citizenship.
Further emphasizing the need for this type of cross-border collaboration, panelists offered important global perspectives on social movements that insular western feminist conversations often overlook. Socio-cultural anthropologist Meryleen Mena, speaking on the Interdependence/Solidarity panel, highlighted this theme during her talk on the organizing work of Black women and gender non-conforming individuals in Brazil.
The final Panel on Transformation explored the possibilities for change growing out of this historic pandemic year and drawing from transnational feminist praxis. Speaking about the fight for legal abortion in Argentina, NYU Buenos Aires professor Cecilia Palmeiro shared how the collective energy and empowerment emerging from these protests has served as a catalyst for real change, even if falling short of legislative reform.
“Defeat brings energy to the future for victory,” she said.
Likewise, feminist philosopher Rada Iveković, noted how these protests resonated in Paris, and brought her back to early steps in the transformative feminist movement in Yugoslavia in the 1970s. Sociologist Zahra Ali, speaking about women’s protests in Iraq, highlighted how transnational feminism is paving the way for a new type of critical feminist theorizing that each of the panelists at the conference represented in their own ways. “There’s an emergence of new, intersectional feminists,” she said. The conference closed with an eagerness to continue this conversation.
For additional information about upcoming programming like this, visit LS NYUWomXn100.