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HeForShe educates community about violence against women

Maria Noel Vaeza speaks at the College of Arts and Sciences Thursday evening to discuss reducing violence against women. PHOTO BY MAISE MANSFIELD-GREENWALD/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

HeForShe at Boston University hosted Marie-Noel Vaeza, the director of the United Nations Women’s Programme Division, to discuss violence against women worldwide on Thursday evening at the College of Arts and Sciences.

Frances Ogilvie, the president and co-founder of the club, brought in Vaeza — her mom — for the first HeForShe event of the semester because of the extensive amount of work she has done in addressing women’s rights around the world.

“She has extremely valuable things to convey to college students about the impact of gender inequality across the world,” Ogilvie, a Questrom School of Business junior, said before the talk.

Ogilvie said Vaeza’s work in improving women’s rights influenced her to become a feminist and start a HeForShe chapter at BU.

“My mom has helped approve policies to end genital mutilation in Zimbabwe and had the chance to meet Syrian women at refugee camps,” Ogilvie said. “She has seen how high the stakes are and wants to help BU students see it too.”  

BU’s HeForShe chapter seeks to educate students and start conversations about the issues facing all genders when it comes to politics, education, health, identity, violence and work, according to Ogilvie.

Grace Li, the club’s other co-founder, said bringing in an international voice helps shed light on important feminist issues outside of the United States.

“We try to make [the club] very representative of what it means to be a woman or a man all over the world,” the College of Communication junior said before the talk.

Vaeza started off her talk — which had about 30 students in attendance — by stating that more than one in five females across the globe has experienced physical or sexual domestic violence. She offered additional statistics on harmful practices against women and girls, including female genital mutilation and forced sexual relations.

“One billion women suffer from violence every day, and they cannot get rid of their partner because perhaps they never work or they don’t have money and have three or four children,” Vaeza said. “Imagine what it represents for an individual. Their rights are being completely violated.”

Vaeza also brought up issues of gender inequality in the workplace, noting that only one-third of top-level company executives are women.

She also touched on the progress she has seen women make in the workplace. She worked with the company AccorHotels, which used to only employ women as maids, to increase the ratio of women working as executives.

“The CEO of Accor committed to us to increase in his board from zero to 40 percent,” she said.

After her talk, Vaeza said she hoped attendees were able to grasp the seriousness of how violence against women continues to strip them of their humanity.

“I would like for students to understand that a woman’s issue is everybody’s issue,” she said.

Several students in attendance said they believe in HeForShe’s feminist cause and found the talk informative on issues concerning sexual violence and gender equality.

Shabnam Rafieizadeh, a COM junior, said she thinks it is important to educate the public about discrimination between men and women.

“I see so many women, because of the fact they were women, they have less opportunities or they have been violated in some way,” Rafiezadeh said.

Lorenzo Tomiello, a CAS junior, said he enjoyed learning about specific projects women in the UN have started to promote gender egalitarianism.

“The fact that she is a woman that is able to come from a developing country and go up to a spot in the top category of directors within the UN, that is so empowering,” he said. “It is empowering for other women, for everyone that is here.”

Sarah Mar, a senior in COM, said that talking about violence against women is important, as not many people understand the extent and pervasiveness of the issue. Mar said she found Vaeza’s infographics and statistics particularly useful in shedding light on an important issue.

“[Vaeza] made it super clear and concise and to the point where we can use the facts if we need to because it is something that more people need to be educated on,” she said.

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