Amnesty International chapter celebrates International Women’s Day: Layli Miller-Muro speaks about her work with survivors of gender based-violence

By XUEYING CHEN ’16

News Editor

Wellesley’s branch of Amnesty International celebrated International Women’s Day this past Saturday in Tishman Commons. Nearly 45 students attended the keynote address.

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, three years after 15,000 women marched in New York City demanding better wages, improved working conditions and voting rights.

Layli Miller-Muro, the founder and executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center, delivered the keynote address that opened the day-long event. Tahirih Justice Center has helped provide legal representation to more than 14,000 girls who have escaped from gender-based violence.

Miller-Muro attended Agnes Scott, a women’s college, and then went on to the American University Washington College of Law. She began working on a hypothetical argument to extend the current legal definition of asylum for refugees to protect women fleeing from gender-based violence.

In the past, the United States would only grant asylum to refugees escaping persecution as a form of punishment on the basis of their race, religion or political opinion. The law did not accept many forms of gender-based persecution, including rape, domestic abuse and forced marriage.

“The equality of women and men is something we’ve never seen in human history before,” Miller-Muro said.

During Miller-Muro’s second year in law school, a young woman named Fauziya Kassindja fled to the United States from the West African country of Togo to escape a commonly-practiced ritual in her tribe of female circumcision, which is performed to purify a woman for marriage. Kassindja sought protection from the U.S. immigration office, which arrested her for illegal entry in New Jersey. Miller-Muro helped to defend the case.

Eventually, in 1996, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals granted Kassindja asylum and changed the law to offer protection from gender-based violence for any refugee. The following year, Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center to continue giving female immigrants legal support.

Following the keynote address, Catia Confortini, assistant professor of peace and justice studies, and Sima Shakhsari, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies, spoke on a panel about intersectionality, which is the study of the intersections of various types of oppression.

“I think there are a lot of discussions on theoretical issues of gender and intersectionality, but often we get lost and don’t focus on the practical issues. This is a really good combination of discussion and practical planning,” said Hadley Chase ’15, who attended the event.

Attendees participated in an African healing dance workshop and also asked Miller-Muro questions about starting up a non-governmental organization for women.

On the eve of International Women’s Day this year, Hillary Clinton ’69 encouraged the United Nations to prioritize the development of equality for women worldwide.

“This remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” Clinton said in her address to the United Nations. “No country in the world, including my own, has achieved full participation.”

Co-President of Amnesty International Caroline Golub ’14 questioned why Wellesley College did not formally celebrate International Women’s Day.

“Even though we are a women’s college and we push women to the forefront in everything we do, I still think we can get something incredibly valuable about taking the day to recognizes issues that are affecting women in the wider world,” Golub said.

Wellesley’s Amnesty International chapter considered its first International Women’s Day celebration a success, and aims to invite more on-campus organizations and departments to participate in the event next year.

“We didn’t ask other organizations to be at this event because we wanted to make sure that we could do it,” said Claire Mildrum ’14, the other co-president of Amnesty International. ”So in the future, we’ll be reaching out to other organizations and we’d love to hear from them if they have ideas.”

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