32 years in India and Bangladesh Almost every Christmas spent in Landour A true member of the Woodstock family
Marty Alter Chen Class of 60 Woodstock Distinguished Alumna
Marty is part of a long line of Alters Both my paternal grandfather and an uncle were principals of Woodstock, four generations of my family have taught at Woodstock (including my daughter), and three generations of my family have studied at Woodstock.
“Woodstock School is, in effect, part of my genetic make-up.”
I learned from the coolies, the mochis, the darzis who would make us shoes and clothes patterned on those we coveted from US catalogues, the box-walas who peddled their wares, the subzi-walas, the kabari-walas, and, especially, the dudh- walas how much effort it takes to earn a living in India.
From all of them, I drew inspiration for what was to become my life’s work: promoting economic opportunities for the working poor, especially women, in India and beyond.
Further education After graduation she studied for a year at Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow She then went to Connecticut College, New London, CT, where she obtained a BA cum laude in English Literature
Living in India and Bangladesh During the 1970s and much of the 1980s, she lived with her husband and their two children in Bangladesh (where she worked for a local NGO) and India (where she was the field representative of Oxfam America covering India and Bangladesh).
To Harvard University In 1987 she joined Harvard University, where she works at the Kennedy School of Government.
Since moving to Harvard, Marty has.. Undertaken three field studies in India Carried out policy research on issues relating to the working poor Taught courses on international development Provided advisory services to international development agencies
Served as the Horner Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Co-founded a global research policy network on the working poor in the informal economy
Publications Marty has written or edited ten books She has contributed 16 chapters to other books, and written over 30 other articles and monographs.
Widowhood in India Two of Marty’s books, Perpetual Mourning: Widowhood in Rural India, and Widows in India: Social Neglect and Public Action were major influences on film-maker Deepa Mehta, whose trilogy “Water” focuses on widows in Bengal.
Deepa told Marty that her book provides all of the inspiration and validation she has used in advancing the truthfulness of the film's message about widows in India.
A tribute Renana Jhabvala, National Coordinator of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) “I have known Marty since 1978 when she first visited us in SEWA and we got to know each other. She came with a group from the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, all of them committed to learning about how women can get out of poverty and have a voice of their own.”
“With Marty’s help landless women in Gujarat got cattle in their own names, joined milk co-operatives and eventually learned to run those co- operatives to their own benefit.”
“Today Gujarat is proud to have nearly a thousand women milk producers co- operatives.”
“When Marty went to the US, her heart remained in India. She used her position at Harvard to give legitimacy to the concerns of the poor.”
“She used her intellectual skills to write in the language of the policy makers what the poor were saying.”
“The poor women now had a voice among the intellectuals and the policy makers.”
“She has become a bridge, bringing together activists, policy makers and academics to address issues of poor women. Through her efforts she is creating a powerful international force in favour of poor women in India.”
“Marty has used all her skills, her intellectual abilities, her work positions, her social circles and her emotions to promote the cause of poor working women in India. Her achievements for the poor women of India are remarkable.”
Posts held Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University Co-founder of WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) a global action-research network Visiting Professor at SEWA Academy, Self- Employed Women’s Association, India
Field representative of Oxfam America covering India and Bangladesh Advisor for United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Former Head of Women's Program, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee Advocate for Indian woman suffering from the plight of widowhood
She highlighted the position of women in drought, which led to policy changes in drought relief. She helped form women’s self-reliant economic organisations which have been a model for others and are alive and strong over 25 years later She made people aware of the plight of widows in India Lifetime achievements
She translated poor women’s issues into the language of policy makers internationally which has led to making them visible and to major policy changes for them. She is building a coalition which will make poor women’s voices heard in all the important policy forums.