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Women’s human rights theme of International Education Week

"Salma," the story of a Muslim girl in India who, against all odds, becomes a famous poet, is the keynote film of UB's International Education Week celebration.


Published October 31, 2013

UB’s annual celebration of International Education Week will focus its attention this year on women’s human rights, with arguably the world’s foremost expert on the subject serving as keynote speaker for the event being held Nov. 11-15.

Liesl Gerntholtz

Addressing the theme of “Women’s Human Rights in Focus” will be Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director, Women’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch. Gerntholtz, whose work at Human Rights Watch has included documenting access to safe and legal abortion in Ireland, and sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake, will discuss “Women’s Human Rights: The Unfinished Revolution” in her keynote address at 4 p.m. Nov. 14 in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall, North Campus.

Her talk will focus on the work of the Women’s Rights Division documenting abuses against women all over the world, specifically violence against women, women in conflict, maternal health and reproductive rights, economic rights and early marriage. She will relate the work of the division to the broader women’s rights movement—the long hauls, the heated advocacy battles won and lost, and the ground left to gain.

Another highlight of International Education Week will be the screening of the film “Salma” at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Student Union Theater, North Campus.

The film tells the story of a young Muslim girl in India who was forced into seclusion once she reached puberty, forbidden by her family to study and pushed into marriage. Words became her salvation as she began covertly composing poems on scraps of paper that were smuggled out of the house and into the hands of a publisher. Against all odds, Salma became a famous poet—the first step to discovering her own freedom and challenging the traditions and code of conduct in her village.

Canisius College faculty member Christopher Lee, a specialist in the anthropology of religion and religion in South Asia, Islam and Hinduism, will provide commentary on the film.

In explaining the choice of women’s human rights as the theme of this year’s International Education Week celebration, Ellen Dussourd, assistant vice provost and director of the Office of International Student and Scholars Services, which organizes the event, notes that one of its objectives “is to provide cultural context for and insightful analysis of international news events that Americans see on television and read about in the newspaper every day.”

“In the past year or so, we have seen coverage of the prevalence of sexual assault in the U.S. military, the gang rape of the Indian medical student and resulting protests, the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan and other acts of violence against women. Accordingly, we felt that the theme of women’s human rights would be timely,” she says.

“IEW 2013 will explore the full range of women’s human rights issues, focusing on current challenges, efforts to address these challenges and achievements that have been made. We also hope to highlight social entrepreneurs who have made notable contributions to improving women’s human rights.” 

In addition to the keynote address and film screening, other International Education Week events will showcase UB’s international student population, as well as feature the international efforts of UB faculty and students. These include two workshops designed to help the community understand the perspectives and traditions that international students bring to UB, the annual “Without Borders” lecture series and the “World View: Study Abroad Photo Contest and Exhibition,” a display of photos taken by UB students in the university’s numerous study abroad programs.

No International Education Week would be complete without the traditional dance and musical performances by UB international student clubs and community organizations, among them the impressive Lion Dance, Middle Eastern dances and the popular Kendo and Combined Martial Arts demonstrations and International Fashion Show.

All events are free and open to the public.

An annual UB tradition since 2001, International Education Week offers an opportunity to showcase the rich cultural diversity of the campus community, provide insightful analysis of issues of critical importance worldwide and highlight the university’s international programs and outreach, Dussourd points out.

The celebration is particularly relevant at UB. With more than 5,000 international students—the largest number in UB’s history—representing 115 countries, the university ranks in the top 20 of 2,700 accredited U.S. universities in international enrollment, according to the Institute of International Education. The university has exchange agreements with more than 80 institutions in more than 30 countries.

For a full schedule of events, visit the ISSS website.