Women Scientists in Pre-Statehood Israel

In 2009, Israeli scientist Ada Yonath became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 45 years. Her success drew international attention to Israel and the issues surrounding women in science.

Following her last month’s presentation at UCLA titled “Models of Work-Family Balance in the Lives of Israeli Women Scientists“,  WCSG member Pnina Abir-Am provided the group with an overview on women scientists during the first decade of Israeli statehood, discussing the under-representation of women in science, societal difficulties in supporting work-family balance, and how statehood affected women scientists’ career and personal choices.


Weizmann Institute of Science‘s Ada Yonath, 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Photo: Wikipedia

Summarizing the presentation, Rajashree wrote:

Despite braving a time crunch and technical issues, Pnina’s talk on women scientists in the first decade of Israel’s statehood was eye opening. Esther Herlinger, Anna Weizmann, Ora Kedem and Pnina Elson were remarkable contributors to science and technology and could not be dismissed as just names. Pnina drew our attention to the context and historical and political landscape in which they operated. The challenges of women achievers are globally acknowledged but the particular experiences of these women were certainly rooted in Israel’s political and cultural ambitions. She also spoke about what contributed to these women’s achievements was that they belonged to families who were professionally vested in the sciences. This made me think of Bourdieu’s “cultural capital” and the family endowments that serve as key determinants of educational probabilities. It seemed like there was so much more to know and learn but thank you Pnina for leading us on the path to seeking out more. I, for one am grateful for your shedding light on the context and that part of Israel’s history that does not often get shared.


Maasai Stoves & Solar Project

World Cultures Study Group members and guests welcomed Brandeis faculty member Robert Lange who is also the Founder and President of the International Collaborative to share his innovative work with the Maasai in Tanzania. Joined by Elise Willer, student SID/Heller, Bob presented an informal discussion on his project “Maasai stoves and solar project” that has had profound impact on gender, environment and health among the Maasai.


Bob’s project focuses on what really makes a difference which in this case is removing smoke from homes. Collectively working with the community in developing stoves Bob brought the science and its practice to result in cumulative changes in the lives of women, men and children. As Elise very appropriately said, it is a “holistic” development approach with different components such as water harvesting, tourism, education – all of which make this effort very dynamic. (Rajashree)

Photo courtesy of International Collaborative. To learn more about Bob’s initiative visit: http://internationalcollaborative.org/about-us/

Indigenous Women

At our recent meeting our study group focused on indigenous women in different parts of the world and the numerous challenges they face in a rapidly changing world. Tracing indigenous traditions, Elinor Gadon  explained what makes people tribal rather than Hindu as she shared details on her research work with indigenous women in different parts in India:


Culturally they have always been part of Indian civilization. Unlike most tribal peoples outside India, they have maintained trading and ritual links with city-based, ‘civilized’ society for well over two-thousand years. Hindu civilization did not on the whole seek to displace or convert tribals, although there was certainly often conflict, and tribes were forced to retreat to the remotest areas: the forests and mountains between Hindu kingdoms.
The defining features of tribe anthropologically might be given as a close, ritualized dependence on the natural environment, especially the forest, a strong egalitarian social organization based more on clans than on caste or class, and a high degree on until at least recently of economic self-suffiency and political independence. Drums, dancing and song are at the heart of tribal culture. They do not worship the gods in temples of with the aid of brahmin priests, but at shrines in the forest. All their deities are closely connected with nature, identified with features of the local environment or natural forces including diseases. As well as priests they have diviners and shamans who go into trance to communicate with spirits.
Equality  is a powerful ideal. Land is usually divided equally among household, unlike Hindu villages which tend to have large divisions between landlords and landless laborers. Elders carry more weight in village councils than young men, and women do not usually take part, although they may have decisive influence from the sidelines. On the whole women are much freer than in Hindu villages. They speak out openly and are not bound by double standards of sexual morality, as free as men to have love affairs. Divorce is relatively easy; divorcees can marry again without any stigma. This emphasis on equality goes along with tribal villagers sefl-respect, self-sufficiency in fulfilling most of their own needs.
(Submitted by Elinor Gadon, from Felix Padel, “The Sacrifice of human being: British Rule and Konds of Orissa” New Dehli: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp17-19. Photo curtesy of WSRC/GaiDI)

Looking at issues of gender-based violence and inequality among indigenous women in a different part of the world, Marguerite Bouvard  spoke about her past experiences as she recalled her ties to Mayan women in Guatemala:

o23_84_99-m  My presentation was on the International Indigenous Women Forum and its work in leadership and human rights training, and building alliances between the Indigenous women‘s movement and the global women’s movement. Specifically I spoke about indigenous women in Guatemala, the generation that was subject to General Rios Montt’s genocide and the younger generation of Mayan Kakchiquel’s program. Lisbeth Coloc developed three programs for 60 women and their families that included strengthening the community and political advocacy, economic development, how women can become self-sustainable by building their own businesses and psycho-social help. The program works with community groups in five municipalities and is the largest indigenous group in Guatemala.

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News from our members: Marguerite will be reading poems from her new poetry book, The Light That Shines Inside Us on March 20 at 12:30. A quote from the blurb by Steven Kessler, “Across cultures, and languages, wars, brief intense joys and relentless suffering, her poems radiate compassion and a universal humanity. “

Violence Against Women With Disabilities

women-disabilities(image: PSC Crisis Connection, Disability Support Services, 24-hour Hotline)

The World Cultures Study Group had the pleasure to welcome Ana Maria Sanchez, who is currently working on her PhD in Public Policy, for a very interesting and stimulating talk on violence against women with disabilities.

Ana presented her work which is concerned with women with disabilities, a demographic that, she deplores, has generally been overlooked by the feminist researchers and activists. Focusing on two countries, Mexico and India, Ana strives to investigate the ways in which the various women’s rights organizations in these countries address, if they ever do, the problem of violence against women with disabilities.

The talk was a consciousness raiser for many of us, as Ana explained that the very word “disability” is unequivocal and resists a simple definition, even more so when it is used in different cultural contexts. She also underlined the difficulties she encountered in studying women with disabilities in Mexico and India, because they are a somehow invisible group first because they are a demographic minority, which does not make them a primary concern for government officials, then, because they are often hidden or isolated from the rest of society. Ana showed the importance of thinking about women with disabilities with a gender perspective and the necessity to raise awareness that women with disabilities are entitled to women’s rights.

Ana sent two links that she wanted to share with the members of the group, here they are:

Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?

For Different Indians Disability Means Different Things

The World’s Cultures Study Group would like to thank you again, Ana, for sharing your work with us. I hope this brief does justice to your inspiring talk. (Submitted by Maryline)

Forced Marriages / Follow Up

Vidya Sri, the founder of Gangashakti and a former WSRC guest speaker on forced marriages, recently participated in a panel discussion on NPR. Several instances of the prevalence of forced marriages in US are discussed among other issues. Here is the link: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/02/03/forced-marriage-america

Students From Cambodia Visit the WSRC

The Harpswell Foundation Students from Cambodia Visited the WSRC on December 20, 2013

Attending: World Cultures members Rajashree Ghosh, Ornit Barkai , Oge Dashzeveg, Marguerite Bouvard, Ruth Nemzoff, Linda Bond and other scholars Janet Freedman, Annette Miller, Karin Rosenthal.

Harpswell students from Cambodia: Sivgech (Sue) Chheng, Chandy Eng, Lina Hun, Bormey, Sivorn

World Cultures with Harpswell Students

Our guests from Cambodia graduated from four year colleges in Phnom Penh and are here studying in fifth year programs at Bowdin College and Rhodes College. During their semester breaks they are staying in Concord MA with Alan Lightman, author, MIT professor and director of the Harpswell Foundation which sponsors these students. The Harpswell Foundation provides safe dormitory housing for young women coming to college in Phnom Penh from rural villages in Cambodia. Without this housing they would be unable to live in the city and unable to obtain a quality education. The Foundation is committed to helping the women build self confidence and take responsibility for themselves, their families and their country. All of the women spoke about their early years and the support & obstacles they faced in pursuit of an education. They expressed pride in what they have accomplished, gratitude for the opportunities they have been offered, and a desire to act as role models for other young women. It was an inspiring afternoon for both students and scholars. (Submitted by Linda, photo by Oge)