Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship: Resourcing research to build safe campuses


Campus sexual violence and harassment is endemic, and has a huge role to play in ultimately creating the workforce gender gap. Research shows that 20% of women at one time during their academic career experience sexual assault, and it is one of the chief causes for high drop-out rates among women.

With this in mind, the Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship was instituted in 2016 by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) in honour of Dr. Martha Farrell, to continue her life’s work in engendering workplaces and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The programme draws on the Foundation’s expertise to offer training and support to two staff members from ACU member universities in East Africa and Asia to enable them in leading an effective anti-sexual harassment initiative at their home university.

In its maiden year, the Fellowship was awarded to Mojibur Rahman, a professor and researcher involved in education and social science research at the University of Dhaka (DU), Bangladesh. Having been in academia for over 16 years, the incidence and impunity around sexual harassment had preoccupied Rahman for a long time. When he got accepted into the fellowship programme, it merely strengthened his pursuit of practical solutions.

Mojibur Rahman

Martha Farrell Memorial Fellow, 2016

“Sexual harassment at the workplace and academic institution has become the central concern across Higher 
Education Institutions (HEIs) in Bangladesh of late. Having witnessed and understood the severity of this problem, 
I felt it was necessary to design and enact a zero tolerance policy in order to effectively combat it.”

-Mojibur Rahman

As a part of the programme, Rahman received all the adequate orientation and mentorship required to developed a draft Policy against sexual harassment for his institute. “Before the Fellowship, I found the notion of policy development or awareness-building quite challenging,” Rahman wrote in a 2017 bulletin for The ACU, reflecting on how the Fellowship helped broaden his understanding of the conditions and factors which enable sexual harassment at the workplace. “I learnt a lot from the training programme as well as from the education professionals and gender experts I met along the way.”

With the commencement of the Fellowship, Rahman underwent a series of orientation programmes in India – first, a seven-day training on participatory research (PR) at PRIA, New Delhi, along with a three-phase online training on the issue of Sexual Harassment at Workplace by Martha Farrell Foundation. Following discussions on how to address the issue effectively and efficiently with the experts here, Rahman developed an action plan and ideated the implementation of an effective sexual harassment policy at the university-level.

Using the PR methodology, he conducted rigorous interviews with (current and former) scholars and faculty members of IER, women’s rights activists, legal experts, representatives from University Grants Commission (UGC, Bangladesh) and various student bodies, as well as different academic and administrative members of DU to collect necessary data, which formed the basis of the draft policy. He then tried to imagine a comprehensive legal framework that would work across HEIs in Bangladesh, asking national and international experts to weigh in. Dialogues with UNICEF officers, Supreme Court lawyers, psychologists, student unions and teacher’s forums were facilitated with help from The ACU.

Validated by stakeholders and approved by his Institute, the policy soon came to be shared with other faculties, departments, and institutes of DU through advocacy and awareness campaigns, and even with other universities across the country with the help of UGC, Bangladesh. Rahman also oversaw the orientation of faculty and non-academic staff members at his institute. Looking back, the policy architect reflects, “The Fellowship experience motivated me thoroughly, enough to conduct my PhD research on this issue.”

In successive years of the Fellowship, we have support researchers from Sri Lanka and Tanzania. Currently, in its fourth year, the Martha Farrell Memorial Fellowship is once again open for two scholars from Commonwealth nations with a demonstrable interest in making their campuses safe. All interested and eligible candidates are encouraged to apply here.

Samaj-Sarkar-Bazaar: The Future Of Collaboration Must Be Feminist

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailHaving come from a two-year stint in a media house, I found that my first experience of attending a development sector event—and the Samagam 2020, no less – was strikingly different, yet uncannily familiar in so many ways.

Perhaps it was the fact that the two-day conference of civil society leaders, government officials, and some of the key organisation heads and corporate social responsibility leaders in the country, had the same youthful energy and enthusiasm for change-making as a process, that I hold in such high esteem, and hope to learn from.

Or perhaps it was the spirit of solution-orientedness that spoke through every talk and discussion under the theme of the importance of civil society organisation (CSO) collaborations.

Most likely, however, is the strain of issues being discussed during this massive virtual gathering, and a most crucial lesson I took away from it. Read on.

Also Read: Women Leaders Are Not Welcome!

The Premise

Unsurprisingly, a large part of the context for the event lay with the pandemic and its devastating impacts on the work done in the Indian development sector—years of work done to dismantle the various inequalities that exist within our society by CSOs, NGOs, non-profits, CSRs.

As my training and my very staunch values dictate, I could spot one other glaring commonality in all the issues discussed: gender. More specifically, the impact on women, across-the-board. Everywhere.

For example, the challenges to nutrition because Anganwadi centers were too far from villages, subsequently depriving small children and new mothers their share of the food being prepared for their benefit.

Or the impacts of a hard-hit job market and economy, that has led to wide-scale job loss and in many households, disproportionate (often far lower) allocation of resources for women.

Or the fact that the impact on children. too, has been disproportionate. In education, for instance, boys fared marginally better, as compared to girls, and no national-level data is available on children from the transgender community. The impact on education is such that 10 million girls around the world are expected to be forced to drop out of school because of the pandemic, according to the Malala Fund.

Volunteers organise and distribute medical material for sex workers in Kolkata. Image courtesy: Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee.

“Sex workers and entrepreneurs,” mentioned Anshu Gupta, founder of Goonj, about areas we overlook in our efforts to return to pre-COVID conditions.

Shri Nagendra Nath Sinha, Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, too spoke about the issue of livelihood and women in the villages, and how it’s doubly hard for them to access livelihood generation programs.

Alak Jana, integrator from PRADAN, touched upon the growing threat of climate change, and how it’s evolved into a development challenge, citing agricultural droughts as an example. Even here, all I could think of was the impact on the woman farmer; the impact on the fisherwoman whose stock depletes every year; the woman who becomes a water-wife for the sheer lack of resources.

Such was the case for every other critical conversation at this convention; be it the experiences of Adivasi women participants in the Usharmukti programme, a women-driven programme focusing on water and soil conservation strategies; or the migration challenges brought on by the global pandemic, at scale; or the compounded issues to safety and security faced by women within their very homes.

Also Read: Reclaiming Sexuality and Sexual Health in Deoghar, Jharkhand

The Takeaways

“Collaboration with one another is not an action, it is an absolute condition for success.”

R. Dasarath Ramudu, Director, Disability Inclusive Development Sector at Rural Development Trust said this.

What was also discussed, and perhaps should have been given more focus to, was what kind of collaboration.

The issues that we’re faced with at large, today, are faced by minorities – women, Dalits, Adivasis, trans-people. The fabric of participatory research mandates that they be the center of any conversation, not just in tokenism, but in a meaningful way, contributing, shaping and changing, while the rest of us stand back, offer a platform and support.

That the future for success and redirection of our futures to pre-COVID conditions is rooted in collaborations is undeniable. But that CSO collaboration must be feminist, not in the sense the word is used in popular culture, but on a deeper level, achieving social, economic and political equity and equality for all.

The proof of success? Why, the very Usharmukti programme and its various successes, in improving the environment, and, by extension, livelihoods.

At Samagam 2020, Shri Narendranath Damodaran, Executive Director of PRADAN said “Collaboration should be seen as a win-win situation for all.”

My hopes rest with events such as Samagam (2021 edition), and with CSO collaborations worldwide, the course of action adopted is feminist. Then, there’s no eventuality but a win-win.