Liberal Arts scholars to host women’s studies conference in Bellagio, Italy

Susan Burlingame
August 13, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Thanks to a grant of nearly $50,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation, three Penn State professors will host a conference this fall focused on addressing the crisis facing women’s and gender studies programs in Africa. Alicia Decker, Gabeba Baderoon and Maha Marouan, all associate professors of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts, will travel to the Bellagio Center in Italy Sept. 24 to 28 to hold meetings with women’s studies scholars from at least 11 African countries as well as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Decker, Baderoon and Marouan are co-directors of the African Feminist Initiative (AFI), which was established in 2015 to advance research and teaching about African feminisms at Penn State and to build partnerships between Penn State faculty and feminist scholars, activists and institutions in Africa and beyond. According to Decker, women’s studies in Africa was once a thriving discipline; but, over the last 20 years, it has suffered from budget cuts and widespread efforts to integrate the discipline into other academic programs.

“It’s hard for African feminist scholars to advance their research agendas when they are stretched thin because of the move to incorporate gender studies more broadly,” she said. “In some cases, larger academic departments have absorbed the small feminist units, effectively neutralizing their potential to promote radical social change. The more women’s studies becomes mainstream, the more it potentially loses its power to make a difference.”

The Bellagio assembly will examine the status of women’s and gender studies throughout the African continent and map out a comprehensive strategy to address the “mounting crisis,” said Decker, noting that the last survey of women’s and gender studies in Africa happened more than 16 years ago.

“Gender equity is central to human development. It’s a human right, and women’s and gender studies is crucial for informing our understanding of history, politics, economic development, and so much more,” Decker continued. “This conference gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that gender studies really matters.”

“The visionary leadership of the African Feminist Initiative over the last three years has yielded many important milestones in the building of African feminist scholarly collaborations,” said Melissa Wright, head of the Penn State Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. “Their conferences and workshops, to date, have established a transnational platform for generating productive collaborations. I am confident the Bellagio workshop will result in many productive outcomes and make an important contribution to the ongoing work of the AFI at Penn State.”

By funding conferences and projects at its Bellagio Center, including the Women’s and Gender Studies in Africa event, the Rockefeller Foundation furthers its mission to promote the well-being of humanity across the globe. The Bellagio Center has hosted thousands of artists, policymakers, scholars, authors, practitioners, and scientists from all over the world, “enabling them time and space to work, to learn from each other, and to turn ideas into actions that change the world.”

“We are honored to be one of the elite group of participants in Bellagio Center events,” concluded Decker. “Because of the generous funding the Rockefeller Foundation provides, we now have a real opportunity to make a difference, to collaborate with the who’s who of women’s studies scholars, to produce more research on this critical topic, and especially, to bring new knowledge back to inspire Penn State students.”

Last Updated August 13, 2019