After months of planning beginning at the start of the fall semester, Women’s Week organizers produced the weeklong initiative to promote gender equity through a series of discussions, panels, and open microphone events dedicated to women’s empowerment and gender issues. This year’s theme was “Breaking Barriers.”
The programming has expanded since the initiative’s inception in 2007, said Gabriella “Gaby” A. Germanos ’18, who is an intern at the Women’s Center and who co-organized Women’s Week. Germanos said the Women’s Center changed how the event was organized this year.
“We used to have interns and liaisons who were running it—this was supposed to make everyone’s lives easier, but it ended up being a redundant step, and stuff was lost in communication. This year it was us and the student groups,” Germanos said, noting that the Women’s Center partnered with student organizations to host events this year.
Tajrean Rahman ’20, Germanos’s co-organizer, said the variety of events helped contribute to what she called the week’s success. The events ranged from small discussion groups to panel-led talks.
“Even if the room isn’t filled up at the beginning, the discussion and the interest is so present and that makes it seem like even if it is for this small group of people, they’re really benefiting and loving this,” she said.
Hannah A. Lemmons ’20 led “GenderxHarvard,” a discussion about recognizing the ways in which other identities interact with and impact female-identifying individuals.
“I felt like it was particularly important to focus on intersectionality just because I think that’s a conversation that has historically been forgotten in discussions about feminism and women’s rights in general. And across all sorts of these different types of identifiers—woman-identifying, trans, queer,” she said.
Though Lemmons said the small group setting helped facilitate discussions, she said she hopes to partner with even more student groups at future Women's Weeks to generate more awareness of the topic.
The South Asian Women’s Collective was one of the student groups who hosted an event—theirs was titled “South Asian Representation in Film.”
“SAWC is a relatively new organization—about two or three years old—so we wanted to have a presence in women’s spaces on campus,” Ahilya Khadka ’19 said.
Khadka said she and her former SAWC co-president Mayukha Karnam ’19 decided to apply for a Women’s Center grant last semester to host an event at Women’s Week.
At the event, Khadka and Karnam showed trailers from films including “The Big Sick” and “Meet the Patels,” followed by a small-group discussion about the portrayal of South Asian women in film.
“South Asian female representation in film is something we’ve talked about with our friends,” Karnam said. “For instance, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ was an extremely controversial film and was censored in India because it was ‘lady-centric.’ What does that even mean? Having these conversations and getting people to reflect on this issue is important.”
Rahman said she saw Women’s Week as forming an important part of the Women’s Center’s work on campus.
“The mission of Women’s Week is to make it so that student groups are able to lead events that really do challenge, motivate and inspire the student body, and that they do have an intersectional approach to women and gender issues,” she said.
The week of events came to a close with “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” an open microphone event organized by the Seneca, a gender-neutral campus social group, and BlackC.A.S.T., a student theater group focused on providing a space to students of color. The Seneca claims its mission is to make "the Harvard experience more rewarding for undergraduate women."
“Women’s Week is one of the coolest ways we get to contribute to the community,” Liat Z. Rubin ’19, the Seneca's Women’s Outreach Coordinator, said. “I think art is so, so important and can offer ways of reflecting on things we experience in our day-to-day lives, things we want to think more about, and things we want to share with other people. I’m just so excited to be able to celebrate the women who inspire us and use art to do that.”
The open microphone event, attended by roughly 40 people, began with a rendition of Kesha’s “Woman,” performed by Isabel “Isa” M. LaPuerta ’19. Around three-quarters of the attendees were female.
At the event, Germanos said this is a time to reflect on breaking barriers. “The goal is to break barriers big and small; including the barriers that still need to be broken not just by women but by everyone,” she said.
Shiyi “Emma” Shen ’20, a performer at the event, put it more concisely.
“It’s hard to be a woman sometimes.”
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