How do sexual violence survivors discuss their experiences when their language doesn’t have a word for “rape”?
That question and others like it were posed by scholars, activists, and artists who gathered Oct. 8-10 for “Exploring Women’s Testimony,” an international conference on human rights held at Colby and the University of Maine at Augusta.
Assistant Professor of French and conference co-organizer Audrey Brunetaux said she hopes the event, which explored gender issues related to human rights abuses, gave attendees an opportunity to “reflect and act upon our moral responsibility in this world while developing and encouraging cross-cultural understanding.”
The conference featured guest speakers from Colby and other institutions. Michigan State University Associate Professor Anna Norris discussed women’s testimonies of violence in the French archival project Le Memorial de la Shoah and Mona El-Naggar of the New York Times spoke about the Egyptian revolution and women’s identities. Robert E. Diamond Professor of Government and Global Studies Jennifer Yoder shared her research on lost women’s voices in the United States, and 2014 Oak Human Rights Fellow Clare Byarugaba spoke about the growing levels of homophobia in Uganda, her home country.
The conference was the first in Maine to focus on women’s testimonies in the context of violence and human rights abuses. With women subjected to human rights deprivations in the United States and abroad, the conference offers a unique and relevant forum in which to exchange ideas and perspectives on human rights and Holocaust related issues, Brunetaux said.
Several Colby students attended the conference, including Aquib Yacoob ’15. Yacoob recently returned from an International Honors Program trip that took him to Nepal, Chile, and several other countries to learn more about health, culture, and societal issues. He said that following that experience he was especially interested in the last panel of the conference, which focused on U.S. human rights abuses.
“I had these incredible opportunities of learning about women’s rights in the world and them really shaking things up,” he said. “So I want to listen to what these incredible speakers have to say about what’s happening in my own backyard and see what dots I can connect.”
Brunetaux co-organized “Exploring Women’s Testimony” with University of Maine at Augusta Professor Robert Katz, in cooperation with the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine.