Arts and Diplomacy to Uplift Women’s Rights

Tufts community members organize seminar on women’s education in Afghanistan
Panelists sit in front of a room with the moderator standing at the podium

Students at Tufts congregated earlier this semester thanks to an unlikely collaboration: between a current Fletcher student and a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Though at first blush, fine arts and Fletcher might not share apparent overlap, the nature of this collaboration was quite intuitive: people from both communities were organizing in support of women’s education in Afghanistan and found an opportunity to voice their support on Fletcher’s campus.

Ravjot Mehek Singh, a film director and SMFA alumna, and MALD student Rohini Roy F23 first connected in the fall. Roy found one of Singh’s art installations online and invited her to speak on a panel about care during the annual Conference on Gender and International Affairs.  

“We as a society have such rigid ideas about who is capable of producing knowledge and who is capable of practicing global affairs,” said Roy. “As a result, we often either leave many people out of the conversation, because they don't relate, or worse, we convey to them that they must conform.”

“I often wonder,” she added, “what if that part that they leave behind would have fueled their passion to come up with a really creative solution to a global problem?”

At the conference, the duo quickly connected, recognizing that representing their cultures and cultural identities was important to them both. So when Singh, the Boston lead for the Global Movement for Peace in Afghanistan Union, was hearing that local members wanted to organize in support of women’s education, she recalled her conversations with Roy during the gender conference, as well as Fletcher’s interest in dialogue on human rights. She reached out to Roy to propose an alternative form of protest on Fletcher’s campus: education.

“I believe in protesting, but I felt like it would be better if people walked away with actual information around what’s happening in Afghanistan, especially given what we’re fighting for is women’s education,” said Singh.

Through their collaboration, Roy and Singh hosted the seminar Let Afghan Girls Learn, featuring a conversation between Pashtana Zalmai Khan Dorani of LEARN, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Afghan women’s access to education, and Robin Ryczek, an educator and researcher who has previously held faculty, advisory, and administrative positions at the National Institute of Music, Kabul University, and local arts youth centers in Kabul. They discussed the future of female education in Afghanistan, sharing their firsthand experience working with organizations on the ground that secretly educate women.

“Pashtana said that we should always remember that Afghanistan is not a victim nation, and that the women of Afghanistan are not victims,” said Singh. “There are beautiful amounts of courage and rebellion, and we should not be painting them as helpless people.”

The event also examined Afghanistan’s history and how Western involvement contributed to the country’s circumstances today. Similar conversation took place during visiting scholar Sima Samar’s International Women’s Day lecture, “The International is Personal: The Struggle for Women’s Rights, Human Dignity, and Social Justice.”

Following the seminar, Singh found that attendees learned about meaningful ways to support women’s rights in Afghanistan.

“We should be really listening to these women leaders. Sharing something online is just the very first step. There are ways to get involved as an anonymous volunteer, to donate, to take action,” said Singh. “Also be alert, ask a lot of questions, and assess where biases are coming from: what might be the agenda behind the information that I’m seeing or hearing?”

As for the event’s creative cooperation between the arts and diplomacy, Singh and Roy see room for more in the future.

“Coming from a filmmaking and artist background, it’s really cool to be collaborating with folks who are all about law and policy,” said Singh. “We have a couple of ideas in the future for follow-up events.”

“Events and collaborations such as this expand the boundaries of what global affairs can be,” said Roy. “Can global affairs be art? Absolutely. If you're really passionate about storytelling, but want to address food insecurity in some part of the world too, can you use your passion to make that change? You sure can.”

“Interdisciplinary collaborations reflect the need of the hour,” said Roy. “We need to get creative about how we see the world around us, and how we seek to solve global problems. At the core of every revolution is its people and the relationships they share with each other and with the spaces they occupy. By allowing people to bring to the table what they want, as opposed to what they think they should, we can make changing the world—or whatever little piece of it we're trying to work on—a community owned and driven process, thereby making it truly sustainable.”