Multiculturalism and Women’s Rights (Cross-listed with PLCP 3000)

Discipline: Women, Gender & Sexuality
Instructor: LeFebvre
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1550
End: 1705
Field Work: Day 4 - Tuesday, 3 November | Senegal Download Syllabus

This course examines the rights of women in the global context, with emphasis on violence against women and rights issues in port countries.  This course introduces students to international and national documents creating norms, standards, and goals with regard to the rights of women, as well as other mechanisms intended to attain gender equality.

We will look at the causes of discrimination and violence against women, including poverty, economics, politics, religion, government laws, customary laws, patriarchy, and traditions, and evaluate international and national responses and solutions. Violence against women ranges from intimidation and psychological violence to physical battering, slavery, sexual violence, sexual mutilation, torture, enslavement, and murder. Topics include the following: “honor” killings and other “honor” crimes; rape and sexual violence; “domestic” violence; sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and slavery; “mail-order” brides and child marriage; sex tourism and child prostitution; preference for male children; hostility and violence against the LBGT community; rape and violence against women as weapons of war in conflict zones; “customary practices harmful to women,” including female genital mutilation; forced sterilization; and ethnic, social, legal, cultural, political, and religious discrimination against women.

Reducing violence against women and enforcing the rights of women are global concerns, with serious legal, physical and psychological, economic, political, and social ramifications. In response to these concerns, the UN, the EU, and European Court of Human Rights, other relevant regional courts, some governments, non-governmental organizations, and the international community have recognized the need to set international standards and goals and commit resources and fund programs designed to empower women, enforce laws, create remedies, and stop or reduce violence.

Field Work

Country: Senegal
Day: 4 - Tuesday, 3 November

The successful women’s human rights NGO, Tostan ( is, headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, and concentrates on women’s empowerment programs with regard to FGM, child marriage, economics, education, and governance in Senegal and five other West African countries, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Mauritania. Tostan was founded in 1994 and is headed by Molly Melching, an American who was first a volunteer in Senegal and then a Peace Corps worker there. You will read about her before we arrive in Dakar, in the book However Long the Night: Molly Melching's Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph, which is assigned for this course. Unlike most other programs in FGM-countries, Tostan has had marked success in reducing the prevalence of FGM in Senegal through its Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a grass-roots, community-based program used by Tostan in all areas of its work. In the morning, we will visit the Tostan offices in Dakar, where the staff will talk with us about the following: FGM; other women’s issues in Senegal; the details, history, and examples of its Community Empowerment Program (CPE); how Tostan helps facilitate empowerment for women in Sengalese communities; and why it has been successful. After lunch, we are planning to go to a CPE village that been positively affected by Tostan’s work. We will talk with women there about how they achieved those changes; the kinds of activities the community engaged in to meet goals they set for themselves; problems they encountered; and what else needs to be done.  In addition, we will talk with the women about their everyday lives and the hopes and dreams they have for themselves and their children. In this field lab, we will be talking with Sengalese women for whom FGM is an everyday reality, not a course topic. You will connect what you see hear, observe, and talk about at Tostan and in the community with what you have learned in the course, about the millions of girls vulnerable to FGM all over the world. You will turn in 3-5 page reflection paper on this lab, discussing what you learned from this field experience and connecting it to your readings. Academic objectives:

  1. Connect the course readings to the reality of female genital mutilation (FGM) and other women’s issues in Senegal
  2. Learn more from Tostan staff about the following: the strategies it uses to reduce occurrence of FGM in Senegal and why its methods are more successful than methods used in other countries; how its Community Empowerment Program (CEP) operates and how and why it is successful in empowering women in Sengalese communities
  3. Connect the readings on FGM to learning directly about this practice from locals in a country that has successfully reduced FGM numbers.