Ethics of Change International Student Conference

The way we live, and the norms, beliefs, and attitudes that shape our behavior are constantly changing. Much of that change is driven by people who refuse to accept the status quo and rise to ask critical questions about what is right and wrong in how governments, communities, and individuals treat others, including members of sexual, racial, religious, and other minorities, dissidents, people with disabilities, women, nonhuman animals, and the natural environment.

The Centre de Recherche en Éthique (CRÉ) in Montréal, Canada, will unite students from across the globe to come together to explore the ethical considerations around social and political activism, and strategies to achieve local and global change. The conference aims to allow students to exchange ideas across borders and make sustainable connections with each other as well as with the CRÉ.

The conference will be conducted online via Zoom on Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 and 8 December 2021.


Tuesday, 7 December 2021

7 AM (Houston)/8 AM (Montréal)/2 PM (Berlin)/3 PM (Cape Town, Tshwane, Makhanda, Lilongwe, Harare)/4 PM (Dar es Salaam)/6.30 PM (New Delhi)/7 PM (Dhaka): Welcoming remarks by the organizers & Ryoa Chung

8.30 AM (Montréal): Jackson Juma Coy (University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania): The Impact of Adaptive Preference on Tanzanian Women’s Emancipation

9.15 AM (Montréal): Md. Masud Rana (University of Barishal, Bangladesh): Rights vs. Morality: Bangladesh’s LGBTQ Community

10.00 AM-10.30 AM (Montréal): Break/socializing

10.30 AM (Montréal): Nanda Harish (Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, India): Questioning the Culture of Fat Phobia: A Commentary on the Systemic Marginalization of Plus-Sized People

11.15 AM (Montréal): Nkosikhona Baloyi (University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe): What Fuels Mental Health Stigma?

Day ends at 11.00 AM (Houston)/Noon (Montréal)/6.00 PM (Berlin)/7.00 PM (Cape Town, Tshwane, Makhanda, Lilongwe, Harare)/8.00 PM (Dar es Salaam)/10.30 PM (New Delhi)/11.00 PM (Dhaka)

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

7 AM (Houston)/8 AM (Montréal)/2 PM (Berlin)/3 PM (Cape Town, Tshwane, Makhanda, Lilongwe, Harare)/4 PM (Dar es Salaam)/6.30 PM (New Delhi)/7 PM (Dhaka): Katharina Braun (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany): Animal Rights Activism, Undercover Footage, and the Public Interest

8.45 AM (Montréal): Roberta Mbewe (University of Malawi, Malawi): Burden Sharing in the Context of Global Environmental Pollution

9.30 AM (Montréal): Dimpho Moletsane (Rhodes University, South Africa): From Apartheid State to Rainbow Nation: The Great South African Nation-building Project

10.15 AM-10.30 AM (Montréal): Break/socializing

10.30 AM (Montréal): Bianca van Zyl (University of Cape Town, South Africa): The Ambiguous Ethics of Looting

11.15 AM (Montréal): Garth Elzerman (University of South Africa, South Africa): Free Speech’s Value Amidst Intense Calls for Social Change

Noon (Montréal): Concluding remarks by the organizers & announcement of the winner of the prize for the best presentation

Day ends at 11.15 AM (Houston)/12.15 (Montréal)/6.15 PM (Berlin)/7.15 PM (Cape Town, Tshwane, Makhanda, Lilongwe, Harare)/8.15 PM (Dar es Salaam)/10.45 PM (New Delhi)/11.15 PM (Dhaka)


Any student, postdoc, or faculty member affiliated with any college or university anywhere in the world is welcome to attend. Please register at no later than Sunday, 5 December 2021.

The conference language is English. There is no conference fee. Attendance is free.

Abstracts and Speaker Bios

The Impact of Adaptive Preference on Tanzanian Women’s Emancipation

Jackson Juma Coy
University of Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Many social movements aim to support the struggle to liberate Tanzanian women from human rights impediments or violations. These movements include the establishment of various local organizations to defend the rights of Tanzanian women. In highlighting the fact that these movements are ideally required to protect women’s rights as enshrined in multiple national and international women’s charters and enable their intellectual and economic flourishing, this paper explores to which lesser extent these movements have invested in empowering women as individuals. I argue that efforts to emancipate Tanzanian women have remained superficial and limited to academic aspirations rather than concrete changes. Moreover, despite the efforts to deal with the many obstacles that hinder the movement to emancipate Tanzanian women, one fundamental issue has been ignored. The issue concerns the psychological liberation of Tanzanian women at the most personal level, i.e. the courage to break away from familiar beliefs and realities to seek their truth. I will explain how the notion of adaptive preference (cf. Sen, Nussbaum, Khader) helps us understand this phenomenon and how it affects the movement to liberate Tanzanian women against women self-deprivation. I will attempt to show various examples of how Tanzanian women sometimes unknowingly participate in their oppression. Finally, I argue that studying the negative impact of adaptive preference which I believe has been a barrier to achieving Tanzanian women’s emancipation will help us move forward.

Jackson Juma Coy is an Assistant Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania since 2017. He is currently doing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Dar es Salaam. His areas of interest are Bioethics, Feminism, and Business Ethics.

Rights vs. Morality: Bangladesh’s LGBTQ Community

Md. Masud Rana
University of Barishal
Barishal, Bangladesh

For women in Britain, homosexuality was never illegal and from 1967, it was decriminalized for men as well. In contrast, Bangladesh, a part of the vast British Empire before 1947, still has a colonial law on the books that criminalizes “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” Section 377 of the Bangladesh Penal Code makes same-sex intercourse a crime punishable by imprisonment for life. What makes things worse is the rise of religious fundamentalism that considers homosexuality a sin. These two factors, coupled with mass ignorance about sex, a taboo topic, as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights, have pushed Bangladesh toward hatred and discrimination against LGBTQ people. The gruesome murder of Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy in 2016 by Islamist militants is a horrific example of how deadly hatred can be, and shattered the hopes of many in the local LGBTQ community. In the last few decades, attitudes towards sexual minorities have changed dramatically in many places around the world. Numerous countries have embraced empathy and moved to ensure the legal and social rights of LGBTQ people. In contrast, Bangladesh has tragically succumbed to religious bigotry at a surprising speed. In my presentation, I will discuss prevailing attitudes towards sexual minorities in Bangladesh and how they affect people’s right to love and express their sexual and gender diversity. I will further provide a comparative analysis of the legal and social systems in Bangladesh and countries that have already legalized homosexuality, to see if there are any lessons to be learned. I will conclude by discussing possible strategies for building a more just and inclusive society.

Md. Masud Rana, hailing from Rajshahi, a northern district of Bangladesh, is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Philosophy at the University of Barishal. An avid reader and passionate about topics like practical ethics and social injustice, he aspires to join the teaching profession after completion of his studies. Masud is a social activist and currently working as the co-president of the central committee of a charity foundation named “Ucchash.”

Questioning the Culture of Fat Phobia: A Commentary on the Systemic Marginalization of Plus-Sized People

Nanda Harish
Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
New Delhi, India

Against the backdrop of the rising obesity epidemic and unattainable body standards, the fact that fat bodies are discriminated against is unsurprising. According to the WHO, more than 650 million people were obese in 2016. That’s over fifteen times the present population of Canada and the numbers keep increasing. My proposal is a study of the ethical implications of the discrimination of overweight and obese people through addressing an even more ethically questionable root problem – the body itself and the standards that have been built around it by society. Although not officially recognized due to the silence around important statistics on the subject, the presence of fat phobia is abundant not only in terms of desirability, representation and other social standards but also in institutional circles like healthcare and employment. Fat phobia and the unrealistic body standards that are encouraged by popular culture and ‘influencers’ on social media undeniably lead to many mental and physical illnesses including eating disorders, body dysmorphia and depression, just to name a few. Motivated by my personal experiences with healthcare and interpersonal relationships as a fat person, I feel strongly about introducing and maintaining a discourse on the systemic injustice against fat people. I aim to explore the history behind the body standards in existence and why today’s fat phobia is beyond a mere concern for health and classifies as systemic and unethical discrimination.

Nanda Harish is an undergraduate student of philosophy at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi. Their interests include the self and the body, theories of justice, and intersectional feminism. They are heavily inspired by lived experiences to better understand the nature of larger issues faced by people around the world.

What Fuels Mental Health Stigma?

Nkosikhona Baloyi
University of Zimbabwe
Harare, Zimbabwe

In ancient world cultures, mental illnesses were believed to be the result of supernatural phenomena. These included phenomena ranging from demonic possession to sorcery and the evil eye. The treatment for these types of illnesses was unethical and included chipping a hole, or ‘trephine,’ into the skull of the patient, through which “the evil spirits would be released” (Foerschner 2010). Over time, knowledge about mental illness improved, and people came to have a more accurate understanding of mental illness. This paper argues that the stigma around mental health has not fully been abolished and that it still exists in our societies. Zimbabwe, which counts about 1,500 physicians in a population of about 15 million people, currently counts 17 psychiatrists, of whom only 13 are practicing in the country. This indicates a great gap that is heavily fueled by the stigma around mental health. Depression, stress and other mental illnesses are viewed by certain cultures in Zimbabwe as conditions that only affect other cultures. Few people seek counselling when facing depression or bereavement. Someone who has a diagnosis of schizophrenia is laughed at and labelled ‘crazy’ or ‘uyahlanya/unopenga’ in Zimbabwe. The continued use of the stigmatizing terms to describe mental illnesses is one of the main reasons preventing change in our society. The mental images associated with terms such as schizophrenic, bipolar, etc. are unconsciously hindering the shift from earlier, misguided conceptions of mental illness to more recently developed, more accurate conceptions of mental illness. Mental health awareness campaigns and education on how mental illnesses arise will make a mental illness survivor feel relieved, proud and not ashamed of what they went through.

Nkosikhona Baloyi is a biomedical student at the University of Zimbabwe. He is a mental health blogger and advocate. He has volunteered at the Africa Healing Foundation as a mental health practitioner and at Kaizen Champions Trust as one of the leaders.

Animal Rights Activism, Undercover Footage, and the Public Interest

Katharina Braun
Freie Universität Berlin
Berlin, Germany

When creating and disseminating undercover footage from animal facilities, activists and journalists aim to bring animal suffering closer to the public’s eyes. In so doing, they may contribute to the enforcement of animal welfare law and further instigate change in the way we relate to non-human animals. Nevertheless, undercover footage conflicts with the law of most if not all liberal and democratic states. In some jurisdictions, so-called ‘ag-gag’ laws go one step further by purposefully hindering animal rights activism. In other jurisdictions, e.g. in Germany, some courts have examined the contribution that activists and journalists may make to public debate via undercover footage. They further considered trespass on an animal agriculture facility legally justified under the aspects of ‘necessity.’

These diverging responses to undercover footage highlight a profound tension that has not received sufficient attention: given the conflict between positive law and ethical convictions regarding animals, should the law be permeable enough to allow for the creation of undercover footage? In this contribution, I employ normative theory to evaluate the creation and dissemination of undercover footage. The argument combines insights from animal ethics, democratic theory, and comparative law. Specifically, I draw on deliberative democracy and civil disobedience as independent and encompassing variables of analysis to argue that undercover footage (unlike e.g. animal rescue) raises issues of distinctively public and democratic interest.

Katharina Braun is a PhD candidate in Law at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. In her thesis, she analyses legal responses to animal rights activism. She holds a German law degree (1st state exam) and an LL.M. in Human Rights & Social Justice from the University of Connecticut.

Burden Sharing in the Context of Global Environmental Pollution

Roberta Mbewe
University of Malawi
Zomba, Malawi

Global environmental problems raise many theoretical questions as to who should bear the financial burden of mitigation and adaptation. This paper focuses on the question of identifying who between the poor and the rich countries should shoulder the financial burden of either preventing environmental problems or mitigating their dangerous effects. Some scholars have argued for more than proportionate imposition of the burden on rich countries, stating that their industrial activities have greatly contributed to past pollution and global warming. Others have argued for a distribution of emission permits that give everyone an equal per capita share of the atmospheric absorptive capacity. By contrast, this paper adopts what it considers a fair view of distributing the burden among poor and rich countries where all countries have to take collective ownership of the financial burdens in the mitigation and adaptation of the problems because the earth belongs to all. After an analytical review of burden sharing approaches, the paper argues for a combination of the ‘polluter pays,’ ‘ability to pay,’ and ‘the beneficiary pays’ principles. This argument does not support an equal-per-capita principle.

Roberta Mbewe is a fourth year Bachelor of Arts student in the humanities at the University of Malawi, majoring in Philosophy. Her interest in philosophy goes back to her second year at the university when she was introduced to the study of ethics. Roberta spends her spare time listening to music and watching wrestling.

From Apartheid State to Rainbow Nation: The Great South African Nation-building Project

Dimpho Moletsane
Rhodes University
Makhanda, South Africa

In his inaugural speech as President in 1994, Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela affirmed that “never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” For Madiba’s dream of a nation “united in diversity” to come true, all levels of society – from the state, its systems institutions, and its people – must undergo a fundamental change on the level of transformation. To what extent has South Africa realized its post-apartheid nation-building project? In this presentation, it is proposed that South Africa is caught “in-between and in betwixt” a liminal space of change between its apartheid past (characterized by inequality, exclusion, and separation) and its Rainbow Nation future (committed to inclusivity, diversity ,and unity). This presentation will explore racial justice, feminism, LGBT rights, social privilege, disability, class, and migrant rights to show how all these are conceived as facets of the same issue through the lens of Rainbowism. This presentation will discuss Constitutional Rainbow Nation-building and investigates (a) the various ways change has been successful, (b) the ways change has been unsuccessful, and (c) look into radical philosophical underpinnings of Rainbowism and how its commitment towards robust inclusivity positions it as the ideal antithesis of apartheid despite South African society’s current and default inclination towards traditionalism and conservatism.

Dimpho is a South African Masters graduate of Rhodes University. He holds degrees in Philosophy and English Literature. His fields of interest are Political Theory, Ethics, and Artificial Intelligence.

The Ambiguous Ethics of Looting

Bianca van Zyl
University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa

When it comes to the ethics of change, it seems that that which sparks the most debate is consistently centered around methods of protest. It is hard to deny that change requires demand for change, yet the moral boundaries of that demand often lack the sharp, crisp edges of clear demarcation. Arguably the most contentious and most morally ambiguous of the methods for demanding change is looting. Looting is the act of taking goods by force in the midst of social or political crisis. It presents a challenging moral grey area in that looting has the capacity to embody both stealing and pillaging as well as a legitimate act of protest. In my presentation, I aim to elaborate on the arguments which deem looting to be immoral as well as those which deem it to be moral – where the immorality of the act of looting is marked by personal gain and morality of the act of looting is marked by the destruction of property as a political statement which seeks to bring attention to a particular social cause.

Bianca van Zyl is an Honours student in Philosophy at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She has a keen interest in a broad range of philosophical areas of study, including language, aesthetics, and applied ethics.

Free Speech’s Value Amidst Intense Calls for Social Change

Garth Elzerman
University of South Africa
Pretoria, South Africa

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” (George Orwell)

This quote by Orwell illustrates the inalienable value which many place on free speech as a fundamental necessity for any liberal democracy. In this paper I examine the strongest argument for free speech and then present some of the robust arguments for the limitation of free speech. This forms a solid foundation from which I introduce free speech and the modern contentions surrounding it. I investigate recent powerful international protests and appeals for racial and social justice which have called the nature and value of free speech into question. I go on to explore the fierce pushback to these perceived threats to free speech, such as the “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” published in Harper Magazine in 2020. I conclude by pointing out that the various approaches towards free speech are based on similar core values and I reaffirm the importance of free speech in the safeguarding of those core values.

Garth Elzerman is an aspiring philosopher, keen bibliophile, and Egyptology enthusiast. He is currently completing his Masters in philosophy, through the University of South Africa, with a focus on the problem of free will in light of empirical findings. Shortly, he will undertake research involving moral emotions for his doctoral thesis.

I am organizing this conference with Valéry Giroux and Kristin Voigt.