Women’s Rights and Resistance in a Global Context

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In November, the Center for Ethics Education‘s hosted the third and final installment of their Fall 2021 discussion series, Advancing Health and Social Justice, titled, Women’s Rights and Resistance in a Global Context. The three speakers included Dr. Tamara Fakhoury, PhD, Ramya Kadekallu, L.L.M., and Elisabeth Wickeri, J.D. Professors Fakhoury, Kadekallu and Wickeri engaged in discussion on both theoretical and applicable ways to speak about women’s involvement in gendered social justice and resistance measures.

Tamara Fakhoury, PhD
Tamara Fakhoury is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She has also taught at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where she earned her PhD in Philosophy. Her work focuses on normative ethics and social and political philosophy with a focus on the ethics of resisting oppression. Dr. Fakhoury also has teaching experience in Ancient Greek Philosophy.

Dr. Fakhoury’s talk, “Quiet Resistance,” focused on how resistance measures against oppression come not only in forms of public advocacy and social mobilization, but also in quiet habitual actions which defy the system being opposed. She began by presenting the story of Marji from Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel “Persepolis.” In her story, Marji does “everything she is not supposed to do” in accordance to the Iranian’s government rule such as smoking cigarettes and listening to punk music. Marij, in this story, does not need to engage in civil disobedience or social activism in order to be disruptive. Her silent, individual habits and self-expression are enough to be considered acts of resistance. Parallel to this story, Fakhoury argues, is that of the female bikers of Cairo. Rather than political mobilizing, riding motor bikes as women in Cairo is a “personal defiance against the effects of injustice in their day to day lives.” In light of this, Fakhoury then asked, “How do we understand this behavior?”; “Can we really say that they are resisting their oppression?”; “And if so, what is the value of this kind of resistance?”

Fakhoury defines quiet resistance as doing something that one loves and enjoys that is discouraged or forbidden by the oppression that one experiences. Fakhoury continued to explain that this resistance is motivated by love for the resistor’s special project and relationships rather than justice or political motivations. It is quiet in the sense that it aims not to communicate a message, but rather in allowing the resistor to engage in what they want despite of the pressure not to. Then she asks the question, “Is quiet resistance genuine resistance?” Her answer is yes. This is because quiet resistance successfully satisfies the following three conditions to identify resistance: (1) it challenges oppressive norms, (2) its motives are informed by the fact that the action is socially forbidden or discouraged, and (3) in acting against oppression, one risks receiving oppression-related backlash. Unfortunately, Fakhoury started that such acts of resistance do little to change the system’s oppressive structure. Nevertheless, such quiet resistance is still of value. This is because the actions still hold value for the individual, regardless of their political potential. “Quiet resistance is valuable in large part because it allows individuals to maintain a certain kind of personal integrity, consisting and refusing to be stopped from honoring the people and relationships and goals and activities that one cares about. Because this allows individuals to maintain meaning in life under oppressive conditions.”

Elisabeth Wickeri, J.D.
Elisabeth Wickeri is the Executive Director of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School, as well as Adjunct Professor of Law. She received her B.A. from Smith College, her Graduate Certificate from Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Cente, and her J.D. from New York University. Her work focuses on public international law, comparative legal frameworks, sexual violence in conflicts setting as well as legal developments in Asia. She also focuses on resistance and social and gender justice issues across the entirety of her work.

Wickeri’s talk focused on preserving and protecting the space for women to engage in resistance measures through her work at the Leitner Center. She began by highlighting how legal and political changes in places such as Hong Kong, Afghanistan, or Myanmar have become of concern when it comes to preserving that space. This is why her work focuses on projects which try to identify human rights violations and atrocity crimes, as well as supporting efforts which resist such violations. Through their network of partners they try to assess whether domestic legal and political process have affected such spaces for resistance. They also help elevate the work that partners are already doing in the field. However, its main focus is on international law. Mainly, how international law and organizations aid these communities when domestic processes will not. For example, aiding when a government is authoritarian, during a humanitarian crisis, or during an on-going conflict.

Some examples on how the Leitner Center does this work is by (1) holding training sessions on how to use international legal tools and mechanisms, (2) working with partners to create legal tool kits for advocates and ordinary civilians to understand how to access legal services when they are detained for protesting; and (3) partnering with women’s rights organizations in order to create advocacy reports and submissions to international bodies. Currently, they are working in legal resource coordination for individuals in Afghanistan. In this type of work, there are multiple human rights concerns related to gender and human rights.

Wickeri highlights that though international law provides documents and frameworks to safe-guard human rights and gender justice, this is often not sufficient. The reason for this, she explained, is the disconnect between the documents and topics such as compliance and accountability. According to Wickeri, there are no true mechanisms geared towards enforcement despite ratifications of treaty regimes. This is why Wickeri’s work is not only aimed at aiding and highlighting the voices of those calling out injustice, but also in documenting and preserving information of such instances.

Ramya Kudekallu, L.L.M.
Ramya Kudekallu is a teaching fellow at Cardozo Law, as well as a research fellow at Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham School of Law. She received her L.L.B. from Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College located in Bengaluru, India. Kudekallu then received her L.L.M. from Fordham University’s School of Law. Her work focuses on the rights of minorities, atrocity prevention through international intervention, labor, gender-based discrimination, and access to justice.

Kudekallu’s talk focused on community movements and collectives for sex workers and sex work organizations. In her talk, she described the concept of sex work as work within a labor rights framework, as well as the current second wave of demands calling for the decriminalization of sex workers. Her work as lawyer and the basis of her research focuses on street-based sex work specifically in South India. The first paradigm that Kudekallu explained is the criminalization of sex work and its effects.

By the virtue of this criminalization, she argues, sex workers are subject to denial of their basic human rights. “This denial is activated by pervasive violence stigma discrimination, both by society and the state.” The undermining of sex workers’ dignity is conflated with trafficking issues and the way trafficking laws are developed. Systemic oppression of sex workers exacerbates the conditions in which they can be exploited or trafficked. Through the human rights framework, Kudekallu argues that “…the inalienable promise of human rights is that every person, by virtue of being human, is owed such rights and what is true of the experience of sex workers is that this is absolutely not the case. What is critical and urgent about this conversation is that we’re not just looking at society stigmatizing and marginalizing individuals, we’re looking at governments and states actively using agents like law enforcement to aggressively curb sex work in a way that creates fatal experiences for the sex worker.” Women who choose sex work as employment suffer from being treated as second class citizens, according to Kudekallu, which impacts dimensions of their lives that are not related to their labor. This can include access to healthcare, education, and justice, among other needs. The discrimination bleeds into other members of the community and family members associated with the individual who performs or is suspected of performing sex work.

The second paradigm is what happens when sex work is already decriminalized, which is the full recognition of sex workers are laborers. This guarantees recognition, access to improved livelihood, freedom to unionize, creation of workers’ protections, access to social security, qualification for sexual harassment protection laws in the workplace, and full participation in workers’ rights. This paradigm, Kudekallu states, is not only useful, but necessary so that sex workers can make claims about their welfare when engaging in such labor.

Please visit the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education‘s Events Page for upcoming events and webinars. For questions on the series, please email Dr. Steven Swartzer, Associate Director of Academic Programs, at sswartzer@fordham.edu.

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