Social justice worker Rajasvini Bhansali, a 2003 alumna of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said in a speech on Thursday in honor of National Young Women’s Day of Action that women in developing countries must actively defend their rights against gender-based violence and government neglect.
Bhansali is the executive director of International Development Exchange, a nonprofit which develops community-based solutions to poverty in Africa, Latin America and Asia. She discussed stories of international efforts to create social justice and gender equality by ending poverty among women and empowering them to take control of their lives.
“We’re all implicated, both in creating the conditions that have brought us such huge disparities in the world and in creating the solutions,” Bhansali said. “Never has it been more necessary and relevant for us to begin to push and advocate for a change in our policies here in the United States and in the rest of the world.”
Women in northeast India reacted to gender-based violence with mass protests in 2004, she said. Thangjam Manorama Devi, a suspected member of the banned People’s Liberation Army, was brutally raped and killed in Manipur, India, while in the custody of the Assam Rifles, a major Indian police organization. In response, women from up to 100 miles away gathered outside of the Assam Rifles headquarters, shed their clothes and asked the police to take them in place of their daughters, shouting, “We are all Manorama.”
The speech marked the fifth annual on-campus celebration of the National Young Women’s Day of Action and serves as a way to emphasize the Gender and Sexuality Center as a women’s resource center as well as a GLBT resource center, said Ana Ixchel Rosal, director of the center and an organizer of the event.
“Women’s issues matter,” she said. “I think far too often we kind of sweep them under the rug, or we think that the women’s movement is something that came and went and everything’s okay, when in fact we can still see the inequity on this campus.”
Bhansali’s passion is a reminder of women around the world struggling for gender equality, said Chey Mashburn, an East Asian studies and women and gender studies junior and director of the UT Women’s Resource Agency. Mashburn plans to work on domestic violence issues in the U.S.
“It’s always good to know that we’re not the only ones fighting, that there are women just as passionate about their rights who want to affect their communities outside of the United States,” she said.