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Archive for the ‘Roja Bandari’ Category

by Roja Bandari, NWI rapporteur and PhD student in electrical engineering

I have had a chance to watch a movie with Shirin Ebadi, have dinner at the same table with Miread Corrigan, sing the “peel banana” song with Betty Williams, envy Wangari Masthai’s outfit, plan for an NPR interview with Jody Williams and sing, dance and learn from women many of which deserve to be laureates. Do you think I will ever wish to meet a president or celebrity in my life?

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by Roja Bandari, NWI rapporteur, PhD student in electrical engineering

Getting up wasn’t so easy this morning and my jetlag has been so hard to shake off. I got a cab to get to the conference this morning and had another good conversation with my driver. The Irish are really nice people! It is in the culture of taxi drivers in this region to entertain you with the most friendly conversations the whole way they drive. The B&B that Rebecca and I are staying at is also very cute and feels like home. I will definitely have to come back here with my husband as tourists!

Today was another amazing day at the conference. Women from Northern Ireland have achieved monumental success in ending a terrible conflict and have great insight and experience which must be utilized in dealing with similar situations especially the Palestine-Israel conflict. At the workshop titled “Challenging Fundamentalisms” we had a great conversation at our table with Iranian, Palestinian, Croatian, Syrian and Irish activists. I learned about Croatian women challenging Christian fundamentalisms in their country and also realized that collaboration among women from countries in the region who share some similar obstacles in women’s rights such as Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, Kosovo, Iraq and Syria is a great opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

The stories of Robi Damelin and Nadwa Sarandah from the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, who had all lost someone dear to them but were taking steps toward peace, made me cry but also showed me how we should never simplify the issue and take out the human factor.

In the end of the day, we watched a video on the Iranian women’s campaign for equality (the One Million Signatures Campaign). There were explanations given by Dr. Tohidi and Dr. Ebadi and questions asked about the forms of international support that are suitable. As supporters of this campaign in the US, a group of university students and I had been struggling for the past few months to contact someone from the NPR (national public radio) and ask them to include a report about the campaign but it is very difficult to find any contacts. I brought up this issue in the session and to my delight, Jody Williams immediately suggested that she would contact them so me and her can have an interview about the campaign. That was one of the highlights of this conference for me.

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by Roja Bandari, NWI rapporteur, PhD student in electrical engineering

I don’t know how one can sleep after such a day! I stayed awake in my bed until 4 am thinking about it. So many outstanding speakers from all over the world pumped information into my head all day. It was surreal and I shouldn’t really try to describe what it was like. I was especially surprised by these extraordinary women’s humility and sense of humor (Jody Williams is very funny) and I definitely wished I could pull off wearing the gorgeous bright yellow clothes that Wangari Maathai was wearing. I’m genuinely jealous.

I don’t think a woman engineer has ever had the chance to be in my position. Engineering is a masculine field (not in nature, but by current social norms) and my fellow woman graduate students in engineering and sciences at UCLA have recently started regular meetings that address issues of women working in these male dominated fields. During a section of the conference talks yesterday, the point was made that many weapons producers are from the US. As an engineer, that makes me think about who develops these weapons? In electrical engineering and especially in telecommunications – my area of graduate studies – much of the leading research is funded by the defense companies and a large portion of research funds is often spent by the government in defense projects. More often than not, a novel method or product is invented for a military application, and after several years it gets commercialized or used in urban spaces by the general public. A good example is the internet or wireless communications. This is accepted among the engineering community as something natural and research professors and scholar constantly seek projects funded by the US department of defense because of both the generous funding and the opportunity to work on the most exciting cutting edge technology. If an advisor gets funding for his or her student through a defense company, the student usually will not decline because there are not that many other funding opportunities.

It means engineers are passively contributing to the weapons development simply because of a passion for our profession, and shortage of other forms of funding. But is it ethical to contribute to a technology that can be used to kill others? To me this seems to contradict the first canon of the engineering code of ethics, “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.” I understand that this is not a black and white matter since the choice of the government to heavily fund research in defense projects is certainly something that has to do with policymakers and not engineers. An engineer can develop the internet for the public or for the military and it’s the government who decides which of these two has priority. But in either case you can’t ignore the personal choice that an engineer has to make in whether or not to be a part of a defense project.

What I will take away from this day is a plan for a more serious and in depth examination of this issue following a discussion about the engineering ethics of working with a defense company. Presence of more women in engineering will inevitably change the nature of this profession and maybe a harder look into our role in the cycles of violence in the world can enlighten all engineers in making career choices and maybe improve the nature of our profession. I plan to take this discussion into our next meeting with other UCLA women scientists and engineers.

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by Roja Bandari, NWI rapporteur, PhD student in electrical engineering

As an Iranian-American, I work to help my sisters in Iran while living in the US where my own life is affected by women’s image and position in the society. When I came to the US at the age of 20, I was accustomed to the Iranian society with its own forms of male and female stereotyping and a different (and more visible) version of patriarchy. I had gotten used to ignore or maneuver around most of these issues.

Americans have a different set of stereotypes (although there are some overlaps) and especially negative language associated with women which insulted me all anew when I started integrating into American society. I am specifically quite irritated at the media and popular culture’s image of women and the way it leads to how women see themselves and how men and women view other women. It’s not a very pleasant image, and not one that I’d like to be associated with. I have often wondered why there isn’t a more widespread and unified campaign to change this and to improve the public image of women in the US.

Today, when Yanar Mohammed brought up the issue of Iraqi television programs and how women are portrayed in them, I immediately remembered my own struggle at home. Yanar suggested for an international women’s television channel to be established. That sounded incredible and it compelled me to raise my hand and say how I think this channel will not only empower women in Iraq and other countries, but it can also empower the American women. It seems to me that American women are sometimes viewed by the international community as women with no problems and even maybe as a powerful group that perpetuates oppression on other people. I think this is not true.

I believe that the average American woman has to learn to feel solidarity with her sisters inside America in order to learn to also have solidarity with the rest of the women in the world. And for most American girls, that solidarity does not seem to be there, or at least I don’t see it. American women are not all-powerful forces that are sitting at the top of the world. They experience discrimination and violence as well, and especially when the world complains about the US acting as a bully (with its military, its media, etc.). In some situations, it’s not far off to think that American women can get bullied by their own macho media at home. Fighting the macho mentality inside America might help ameliorate the macho foreign policies of the US as well. I’m not a sociologist nor an academic in Women’s studies, but this simply seems to make sense to me.

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