Student organizations Elevate, South Asian Awareness Network and Paani jointly hosted a collaborative workshop to discuss feminism through a South-Asian lens on Tuesday night.

The event was part of a four-part series exploring global perspectives on feminism. About 50 people engaged in the discussion and Q&A led by Debotri Dhar, women’s studies lecturer, and Zunaira Jilani, a Wayne State health and social psychology Ph.D. student. The speakers addressed the importance of intersectional feminism in the South-Asian community both in the region itself and in the U.S. 

Engineering junior Kyra Kothawala attended the event in hopes of exploring more about other social justice issues outside the U.S.

“I recently went to an event from SARS (Students Against Rape Society), and I thought it was really empowering, and I am kind of interested in learning more about feminism around the world,” Kothawala said.

Dhar began the discussion by addressing the difficulty of explaining South Asian feminism in a limited time period, given the diversity of the countries and the non-linear nature of feminist movements in the region. She went on to comment on the impact of colonialism on grassroots-level feminist movements in south-Asian countries which were not only focused on local challenges but set in the context of a larger, global framing.

“It’s like teaching a full semester course in 15 minutes. Sometimes, these movements are similar to what we see in the West but sometimes break away in order to articulate local needs,” Dhar said.

Stressing the importance of understanding how culture is not static, Dhar rejected the idea of cultural universalism when drawing comparisons about feminism between Western countries and other regions. After talking about specific movements in fields such as literature, film and policymaking, Dhar talked about how male allies are doing incredible work across different avenues in the region.

LSA senior Taha Bashir also attended the event and was interested in learning what he can do as an ally to support the women from the South Asian community. 

“As a guy, I would love the opinion of someone who is a woman and to understand the daily life and the daily struggles of someone from the South Asian culture, and so I can know what to do in solidarity,” Bashir said. 

Zunaira Jilani’s focus was on South Asian culture in the U.S. and sexual violence. She talked about her early experiences discussing this topic with her mom while watching “Law and Order” and realizing the taboo behind discussing sex in the community. When asked about fueling cultural change, Zunaira Jilani emphasized talking about the issue in specific community groups and eliminating girl-on-girl hate as possible solutions.

“Embracing your strong cultural identity and channeling it to form strong alliances is very important,” Zunaira Jilani said.

Sumrah Jilani, event organizer from SAAN and LSA senior, talked about some takeaways from the event.

“I learned that there are a lot of different cultural norms that differ in South-Asian culture compared to a Eurocentric perspective, and I think the speakers did a good job of highlighting that it’s okay to be different from the norm,” Jilani said.

Moving forward, Dhar emphasized the importance of understanding the complicated nature of feminism in south Asia. 

“Feminism in south Asia is not a linear narrative. It’s messier as it is anywhere around the world, but I’d like to believe that it is a forward movement, despite the complications,” Dhar said.


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