THE FIRST ASSEMBLY OF INTERNATIONAL NETWORK OF WOMEN PHILOSOPHERS, sponsored by UNESCO, was held on December 14th and 15th 2009 in Paris, France. A Summary Report by Dr. Rozena Maart
The First day, December 14th, 2009
We received a warm welcome upon our arrival from Moufida Goucha, Chief of Human Security, Democracy and Philosophy, and the members of her team. Packages bearing each of our names were handed to us and we were immediately ushered to a large meeting room where everyone who was to be in attendance at the Assembly gathered. There was excitement, joy, and a great sense of anticipation, as participants introduced themselves, found their seats, learnt the working of the microphone and sought out one another upon the recognition of names displayed at the rectangular tables, putting a face to the name of an email exchange that had taken place prior to the gathering. This was not simply a meeting of minds, we were later told, but a meeting of women with influence in their field of work and in society—women who have made a contribution in the world through Philosophy, and who were continuing to broaden the parameters of Philosophy.
As per the schedule for Day One, as decided upon by the Committee composed of several Founding members, this day was devoted to addressing questions related to the functioning of the Network as well as its orientations and upcoming activities— this was the description noted on the written documents we received in our packages, the details of which were also made known to us ahead of time. The agenda that was sent out was accompanied by photographs of the group of Founding members deeply engrossed in working out the programme for this historic event. We all observed some of the organisers engrossed in conversation about when to start. We started one hour later as they felt that it was better to wait for late arrivals as several people only arrived in Paris the morning of the conference.
The opening and introduction to the Assembly was performed by Pierre Sané, the Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences for UNESCO. He spoke eloquently about the need to promote Equality and the possibility of doing so through this network. He extended a warm welcome to everyone in attendance, adding that for the longest time Kofi Annan and his esteemed colleagues have been talking about the lack of women-directed initiatives within UNESCO ; that they had all faced embarrassing moments with male colleagues who often thoughtlessly pursued projects without consulting or including women in the decision making process. Pierre Sané did however make it quite clear, "for UNESCO this is first and foremost a network of Philosophers." Pierre Sané began to talk about the ethical and intellectual challenges of the particular division, as Philosophy forms part of the Section titled, "Human Security and Democracy and Philosophy."
Moufida Goucha took the floor after Mr Sané and extended a welcome from her position as Chief of the Human Security, Democracy and Philosophy Section of UNESCO. She began by providing us with the historical background of the International Network of Women Philosophers and noted some of its aims and objectives. These included, among others, to extend solidarity to women in the field across the world and to establish close links with one another by the creation of a data base. Ms. Goucha was quite forthright in her assertion that the Network help to disseminate philosophical knowledge and practices, and described the women in attendance as "women of influence" who had already brought about change not only by being present at such a historical gathering but whose presence is testimony to the fact that they have overcome challenges in Philosophy— a discipline that has so openly gendered us.
Barbara Cassin, one of the founding members of the International Network of Women Philosophers, took the floor after Moufida Goucha. She spoke from the title, which was noted as “Fundamental and Founding problems of the International Network.” Ms Cassin posed several questions, which she informed us where also asked at the formation of the Network and which thus allowed her to speak to the issues. She urged us to reflect on these as she believed that they would continue to pose problems. She cited them, and I observed that the questions were also written at the back of our folders. She, none the less, verbalised them : (a) what exactly is meant by ’woman philosopher’ ? (b) Is it different, and if so in what respect, from a philosopher woman ? (c) Is it different from a man philosopher ? (d) Is there a distinction between male philosopher and a female philosopher from the point of view of philosophy ? (e) If so, what is it ? If not, from what point of view is this distinction relevant ? "These questions are weighty," she added, reading from her paper, "as they are banal and they cannot be avoided." It is ultimately how these are treated, she noted, as she cited new ones, some of which she also asserted arose when the first meeting of Founding members took place. She cited them : (f) what are the differences between women philosophers and men philosophers ? (g) Do we then respect these differences ? (h) What differences do we want to respect ? (i) What is the concept of Philosopher ? (j) What does it mean to say woman Philosopher ? Ms Cassin offered some of her own experiences and asked that during the introductory period, which was scheduled for the afternoon session that participants reflect on these questions. Ms Cassin spoke at length about women from different countries getting together and what it meant to be in another country to visit and observe. Ms Cassin spoke briefly about the second day where two panels had been organized around the theme "what do men think ?" I observed a collective sigh across the room. Ms Cassin added that the panels scheduled for the second day were meant to be somewhat provocative. Ms Cassin then offered further insight as to how she thought the network might work, noting that she was aware that the question of who is a woman Philosopher is different in every country around the world. We all eagerly went on our first coffee-break.
We returned to the Assembly room for the session on “Structure and Functioning—Statute, National and Regional Committees,” which was chaired by Rachida Triki and Genevieve Fraisse. During this session the co-chairs spoke to ideas put forward by the Founding Members as to how the International Network of Women Philosophers might work, noting particular issues around regionalism and the national, observing that there could be problems around these structures too but that ultimately we had to gather our thoughts and put forward ideas for the small and larger functioning of the International Network. There were some suggestions offered by members from the floor that as an international network we meet every other year and that the regions [north, south, east, west] meet more frequently, perhaps on an annual basis and to possibly break it up even smaller in certain regions, allowing gatherings to take place with greater frequency.
Bridging People—Who’s Who & Electronic Bulletin. This session took place in the afternoon, following lunch. The participants were asked to introduce themselves and to reflect on what had been said in the earlier session. To my knowledge, there were 74 women in attendance although slightly more were expected. The Network’s membership is estimated at 1304 and there was mention made that perhaps 15 or 20 more women were expected for this particular gathering. Given the fact that Ms Cassin spoke for 30 minutes it left the participants at the Assembly with less that one minute to each introduce themselves. The participants spoke about their work in Philosophy following a circular method to ensure that everyone had an opportunity to speak ; they noted the placement of their work in Philosophy in the country where they worked and lived, not always in the country of their birth, and presented some of the difficulties that accompanied their work environment. There were participants who talked about their work in philosophy in areas where violence was still rife, such as Colombia, and areas where Philosophy as a department was still under threat and thus where they as women were under a double threat— the latter seemed to be echoed by several participants. Some of the participants introduced themselves in view of their work in places where Philosophy was new and others noted their contribution in contexts where African and Indian Philosophy were still outside of the mainframe of the canon. I was particularly interested in the introductions and elaborations offered by the African, Muslim and African-American women — many of their accounts echoed my own. I was delighted to see a Canadian woman from British Colombia among the participants ; she introduced herself as Dorinda Bixler, a consultant and mediator, who spoke of her delight at being part of such a network as her work was focused on the decision-making process in the medical setting, which her background in Philosophy aided her. As I introduced myself, I spoke to the whole concept of being a woman—as was requested in view of the morning’s contribution by the organizers—and spoke of how my experience of being a woman is situated in ways which speaks directly to my experience as a Black South African, and as a Canadian, and that the position I inhabit as a woman is always determined by relations of White colonial domination that often speak directly to the participation of White women, the very women who speak of feminism and solidarity ; that I do not and cannot occupy the space of woman in ways which I have heard others speak of because it is simply a reality that I am not privileged to enjoy ; that my experience in Philosophy in the Anglophone Canadian world has been marked by White women who claim their feminism yet aid and abet White men in their claim to colonial power and domination. The end of this session was followed by a coffee-break.
The segment following the coffee break was centred on the Network’s Future Orientations. Monique David-Ménard was one of the co-chairs for this session. Nkiru Nzegwu was meant to be a co-chair but she did not attend even though her name was on the programme. Monique David-Menard put forward her position on the relevance of Psychoanalysis for Philosophy and thus for the Network. During the Introductory period she talked about psychoanalysis and now further elaborated on this aspect of her work in Psychoanalysis and Philosophy as the chair for this session. There was some discussion as participants put forward ideas about what they saw as possibilities for the network, some of which includes science. There was also a comment made concerning the fact that not all women philosophers are feminists. This session asserted the fact that the Network could be diverse in scope and vision as long as the core concern, women in Philosophy and the work carried out by women in Philosophy, remained the central theme.
The last session, titled, "A Woman and her Philosophy : About the work of Nicole Loraux," started one hour later than scheduled due to the lateness of the opening session. This session was composed of a power-point presentation, which was delivered by Guilia Sissa, who works in Classics and Political Science and was educated in France and currently works in the United States. Nicole Loraux was a French Classical scholar who combined classical learning with philosophy, rhetoric and cultural anthropology. Some of Nicole Loraux’s publications include, The DividedCity, The Children of Athena, The Experiences of Tiresias and Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman. Giulia Sissa focused on Nicole Loraux’s writings and presented the now deceased feminists’ work on the role of women in Ancient Greece. This presentation concluded the events for the first day.
The Second Day, December 15th, 2009
The second day of the Symposium was centred on the theme "What do men philosophers think of women philosophers ?"
- The opening session was chaired by Ramatoulaye Diagne Mbengue and Francoise Balibar. The co-chairs were introduced by Moufida Goucha. The co-chairs each made brief comments about the gathering, the fact that the second day of the gathering addressed itself to what male philosophers’ thoughts of women philosophers then handed over to the first speaker, Ali Benmakhlouf.
- Ali Benmakhlouf, a Philosopher from Morocco, who many of the women at the gathering knew, spoke from the title, "About a Certainty without Criteria." Ali Benmakhlouf is known for his work in Islamic Philosophy and Political Philosophy, in particular Human Rights and Ethics. He evoked Wittgenstein in his talk, whilst also drawing on Fichte, to illustrate how Wittgenstein engages the reader by asking the reader come up with a definition of the word game . . . Fichte is concerned with subjectivity, with the pure "I" and Ali Benmakhlouf evoked this aspect of Fichte to address the significance of women in Philosophy, especially Fichte’s certainty of Human Freedom. Ali Benmakhlouf spoke from a highly intellectual position and delivered his address as complimentary to women at the Assembly—this he addressed within the larger frame of Rights, and Certainty. His manner was gentle although persuasive. His talk drew heavily on Philosophical texts, and at times he referred to the role of women in Islam and referenced various segments of the Koran. He drew on concepts in Philosophy to address the ways in which these very concepts have held women accountable to the world they live in. He proceeded to evoke Fichte when he noted the Ethical I – that there is a Formal me, according to Fichte and that it is linked to the material me – the body. He then linked this back to Ayesha in the Koran – that she was considered mad because she did not have a husband – noting that women philosophers have made a great contribution to Philosophy and more was yet to come. His talk was well received by women at the Assembly, if we can count on smiling, happy faces, which sought out one another then directing them at the speaker.
- Souleymane Bachir Diagne was the second speaker on this panel ; his talk was titled, “What I have Learnt from my Two Sisters—Philosophers.” During his talk, Souleymane Bachir drew upon his relationship with his sisters—he used the term to note family relations and also his political sisters, acknowledging how he learnt the significance of women in philosophy from two sets of sisters. His reference to one such a political sister, a participant in attendance, drew smiles and interest from several of the women present. Souleymane Bachir drew on Machievalli’s The Prince, noting that the Prince inspires fear – not love – for it is much easier to master someone who has fear. He also touched on his position as an African academic in the United States, how he was continually drawn into conversations on topics of racism as though he always had some insights to offer . . . feeling very much that those who asked the questions where keen to remind him that he not forget that it is his place to respond to racism . . . that he not situate himself as a philosopher but someone who had to respond to racism—this was surely his experience and therefore he had to be willing to share it. He noted how it constantly served as a reminder that he did not belong in Philosophy . . . how he was to be understood on the grounds of his experience of racism not for his academic knowledge . . . but an experience which was meant to subjugate him. Souleymane Bachir further talked about the experiences of women in Philosophy departments, and women academics in general, quoting the result of research done by Sally Haslanger (a professor at MIT), who noted a series of categories where evidence of the maltreatment of women professors by their male colleagues was as clear as daylight. He cited some of the criteria noted by Sally Haslanger, some of which noted the number of hours women academics worked compared to men and the positions men occupied in universities compared to women. During the discussion segment of this panel, Kathryn Gines, a Philosophy professor from the Unites States, noted that there were several categories of Sally Haslinger’s research that she would like to elaborate on, including categories like office size, teaching load, access to grants, etc. She continued by asking how Souleymane Bachir felt about being asked to speak at an International gathering on Women in Philosophy, to which there was an outburst of laughter. Mr Souleymane Bachir Diagne responded positively and his response, which was not lengthy but quite brief, was met with positive comments all around. We proceeded to our mid-morning coffee break.
- The second session of the day was chaired by Eun-su Cho and Susana Villavicencio. The two women spoke very briefly and introduced Françoise Julien and Charles Malamoud.
- The talk by Françoise Julien was titled, “Woman” – “Philosopher” : Where is the Meaning Located ? Françoise Julien is known for his work on contemporary Philosophy and what is known in French as Occidental Philosophy, some of which makes reference to Europe’s relationship to China. He presented a lecture, with little to no reference to the topic of women in Philosophy.
- "Sometimes a Woman raises the right question," by Charles Malamoud, followed the talk above and offered the second segment of the presentation of this second session of Day Two. Charles Malamoud is known for his work on Indian Philosophy and he spoke on his work in a rather instructional manner.
- The Third Session was designed to foster debate, and was chaired by Nicole Dewandre and Barbara Cassin. Both the co-chairs spoke about the possibility of debate that the day’s presentations evoked ; how it was meant to offer a range of ideas pertaining to the wide-ranging areas of expertise the male philosophers had and their interpretation of women philosophers within these areas of work. They introduced Alain Badiou as the last speaker of the day.
- Alain Badiou is known around the world for his work on Politics, Democracy and Philosophy. He spoke on the nature of democracy, the concept of truth and the ways in which women have been conceptualised outside of most concepts in Philosophy and outside of the discourse on democracy.
- Moufida Goucha and Barbara Cassin chaired the closing panel. They talked about Regional Networks and made suggestions as to how they may work. The question of various committees such as Security, Equity, Statistics, etc. was raised. It had been along day and many were anxious to speak yet there was little time left. There was mention made that the Journal, Philosophical Tribune would serve as a vehicle for highlighting the work of women who are part of the network ; that the Journal would have an impact in making women in Philosophy more visible. The closing statements of the participants were brief due to the lateness of the hour, and were filled with the possibility of greater things to come.