Women’s Worlds Report: Day 3

On day three I attended a double session focusing on incarcerated women. This is an important issue for me because I’ve always found it disturbing that as a society we put women in cages. And that the institutions where these cages are located – prisons – aren’t transparent, making them the perfect setting for all kinds of abuses.

The session was hosted by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a feminist, prison abolitionist organization. Their main concern centers on human rights abuses against women in Canadian prisons. And let me tell you, these abuses are rampant.

In the session we had the opportunity to hear from a young woman who was sentenced to several years prison as a young offender. Recently released and working for CAEFS, she recounted her experiences as a youth in prison, she dealt with: multiple people being shoved into cells meant for one; security over-classification which led to her illegally being transferred to an adult maximum security prison; lack of access to health care and counselling; withdrawal for days on end of access to basic necessities such as showers, clean laundry.

But what was most striking about her story was that she went into prison having no knowledge of her rights. They were not explained to her. Further, when she did stand up for herself and file grievances against wrongdoings she became known as a trouble maker –not a good thing when your release is dependent on how others assess your behaviour.

This is a rampant problem and CAEFS has been doing some great work in collaboration with women prisoners to ensure that women know their rights. Together, they have put together a handbook called Human Rights in Action they available for women both in the federal prison system, as well as provincial.  Regrettably, they are not easily accessible to prisoners as they are considered contraband.

In the session we also learned about a similar Australian organization called Sisters Inside (SIS). The presenter, SIS founder Debbie Kilroy, has a remarkable life story which includes incarceration and being witness to Queensland’s only murder in a women’s prison. In addition, for her work with SIS she has received the Order of Australia.

SIS is currently running a campaign on strip searching as sexual assault. This is based on the argument that strip searching is a brutalizing and degrading practice which is often committed against women who have histories of abuse, particularly sexual assault and/or incest. They argue that strip searches have also failed to prevent illicit drugs and contraband from entering institutions.

In first year Political Science I learned the quote “rights are rights are rights are rights”. And there are serious violations of human rights going on in prisons daily. As Canadians we need to be aware that these problems are only going to get worse as the federal government has plans to force through an omnibus crime bill in the fall featuring a slew of tough-on-crime policies.

Interesting tidbit of information: all Members of Parliament can tour federal prisons, so I encourage you to write to your MP and encourage them to go look at the conditions within prisons and speak to the prisoners. In addition, the organization Canadians for Fiscal and Social Responsibility is running a postcard campaign encouraging MPs to vote against this legislation, you can print the template here.

-E. Cain

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FFFF: iPad

As a new iMac user, I am now allowed to make fun of Mac users without seeming like I’m just jealous. I love this video from 2nd City Network, showing how a girl responds to a guy who’s trying to use how cool his iPad is to hit on her.

FYI, I’m not condoning destruction of property, even if the person is a jerk.

Happy Friday!


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Women’s Worlds Photo Gallery

Thanks to YWCA Canada for providing these photos of the Women’s Worlds international feminist conference currently being held in Ottawa.

[nggallery id=womens-worlds]

Photo Credit: Nicole Gutowski (YWCA Canada)

The first picture comes from “Living Beyond Shelter”: the YWCA’s panel session on their report Life Beyond Shelter which calls for coordinated public policies to end violence against women and support them while transitioning into safe and healthy lives. Check out their companion video project interviewing women with lived experiences of violence.  The project has 21 videos which are available on YWCA Canada’s YouTube channel or on  DVD.

You can find many more photos of the conference at the Women’s Worlds Flickr stream here.


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Women’s Worlds Report: Day 2

E. Cain continues her coverage of the international feminist conference Women’s Worlds, being held this week in Ottawa.

On second day of the conference, the sessions I attended centred on one of the issues I am most passionate about – women in politics.

First up, I attended a session on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities which was led by several city councillors from across Canada, including trailblazers Pam McConnell and Marianne Wilkinson.

Despite the common misconception that women are more likely to participate at the municipal level, the reality is that only 24% of elected councillors/mayors are women and we would need to elect a whopping 1,414 more women municipally across Canada to reach 30% (a critical mass)! Clearly, there is much work to be done and the FCM is a great starting place. They run a variety of programs to encourage women to get more involved politically: they will be rolling out a National Mentorship program across the country; and they offer scholarships for female college, university, and also high school students interested in politics.

Next up, as this is an international conference I seized the opportunity to learn about women’s political representation in other countries.

In a presentation by Dr. Parvathy Appaiah from University College (India), she pointed out that in India, the world’s largest democracy, women’s representation stands at a dismal 10.8%. However, I was interested to learn that Indian women have been organizing for over a decade to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill, legislation which would reserve one-third of seats in government for women. The Bill was first introduced in 1996 and was reintroduced several more times until 2010. Over this time it received much opposition from male Members of Parliament; the following are actual quotes from debate transcripts on this Bill:

“The women who involve themselves in politics are those with short hair cuts, women with short hair aren’t women at all.”

“Once the Bill passes, it will be mothers in the Lok Sabha (translation: Lower House) and fathers in the kitchen.”

Despite this opposition, the Bill finally passed the Upper House in 2010 with an overwhelming majority. However, it has yet to be implemented as the Upper House holds fewer seats and has much less clout than the Lower House. It also seems somewhat counterintuitive that is has taken so long to pass this Bill as similar legislation has already been implemented for local councils where at least one-third of the seats are reserved for women.

The next presentation by Dr. Kabahenda Nyakabwa focused on women’s representation in Ugandan politics where women occupy 35% of seats in government. To me, what was most interesting in this analysis was her observation that women’s electoral success has not contributed to the empowerment of women at the grassroots. For instance, there has not been increased attention to issues that impact Ugandan women, like maternal health, access to contraceptives, safe abortions, etc. In addition, this increase in women’s representation has exacerbated the urban-rural divide, with female politicians coming mostly from the urban centres.

This last presentation reminds me of Jessica Valenti’s quote: “A woman candidate isn’t always a woman’s candidate.” But, I must say that coming from a Canadian context where gains have been painstakingly slow, I admire the progress India has made in pushing for a concrete solution; as well as the achievement which Uganda has made in reaching such a historic high for women in politics – it stands as an important symbol for women of the next generation that politics is an area they can (and should) pursue.

-E. Cain

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

Women’s Worlds Report: Day 1

This week I am thrilled to be attending the Women’s Worlds Conference in Ottawa and Gatineau; an international conference featuring 1,800 delegates from 84 countries. It is a week of historic proportions as this conference is expected to be the largest gathering of its kind in Canadian history.

All are here in the National Capital Region to discuss one thing – feminism. And let me assure you that there is no shortage of feminism-related issues to discuss. Personally, I spent several painstaking hours weeding through the extensive program trying decide which sessions to attend. I look forward to sharing with you some of the cool happenings at this conference.

Things kicked off Sunday night, with the Opening Ceremonies at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, QC. Overall, a great night filled with food, great connections, song and dance. The Minister for the Status of Women took to the stage to deliver greetings and was booed by some in the crowd when she made the claim that Conservatives were supporting women’s organizations and taking unprecedented action to support Aboriginal women and girls, and combat violence against them. But it wasn’t all bad for her because the next day she ended up with a great piece written on her in the Globe by Jane Taber.

The next day, the official start of the conference, I attended a session focusing on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This Commission was established to share the truth of the impact of residential schools on the Indigenous people. A horrific black spot in Canadian history, best described by one of the presenters as a trauma – where children were taken from their families to be assimilated in church-run institutions far from home. Many suffered abuses at the hands of those who were responsible for their wellbeing.

One presenter from the Native Women’s Association of Canada spoke about her work as that which affects the heart, and as she ran through her presentation called Arrest the Legacy, focusing on the crisis of over-incarceration and discrimination against Aboriginal women and girls within Canada’s criminal justice system, it was clear why.

The numbers are staggering. And contrasted with the government rhetoric from the day before, it is unacceptable.

Going forward, I encourage you all to look into these organizations and find ways to get involved. Also, for those in Ontario, the Minister of Education is currently conducting a review of the school curriculums and I encourage you to contact her and encourage her to include the history of residential schools. Manitoba is the only province that mandates this to be taught to students.

-E. Cain


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 2 Comments

The Round-Up: July 5, 2011

  • Racialicious celebrates Queer Indigenous Voices Week with an interview with Daniel Heath Justice.
  • Feminist Fatale takes her gamer girl perspective to look at the Supreme Court ruling against banning sales of violent video games to children.
  • Susana at The Mary Sue talks about the kick-ass women pilots of WWII.
  • Ms. Magazine Blog reviews “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities”.
  • The article I wrote last week responding to Carolyn Bennett on women in politics has been re-published with edits at Huffington Post Canada if you’d like to check it out.
  • A church in New Zealand created a Gay-Dar billboard to protest the Anglican Church’s discrimination against gay clergy. Towleroad reports on the billboard’s vandalism.
  • Melanie at Feminist Fatale relates a shocking story of a woman who had complications with her breast implants and talks about the social implications of implants.
  • I’m no longer looking forward to seeing Horrible Bosses after this interesting discussion of the rape jokes in the trailer (via Bitch Flicks).
  • Kelsey at Bitch Magazine Blogs has this week’s Pop Pedestal dedicated to Arrested Developments Lucille “Two” Austero (Liza Minelli).

Got any links you think should’ve been included? Add them in the comments below!


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The Julyna Controversy

by Jarrah Hodge

Chances are you’ve heard of Movember, where guys grow facial hair to raise money for prostate cancer research, but have you heard of Julyna yet?

Inspired by Movember, Julyna is designed to be a month-long campaign in which women shave their pubic hair into creative designs to raise money to fight cervical cancer. Participants can donate and register at a page set up by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Critiquing anti-cancer campaigns can be a bit of a taboo, but the more I learned about Julyna the more it made me really uncomfortable. The idea of discussing my pubic grooming habits with  coworkers and family, much less using it to raise donations from them, might feel weird to some women, although less weird I’m guessing than actually adopting the “David Suzuki” bush design.

But the other reason it doesn’t sit well with me is that while Movember frees men from grooming duties, Julyna makes women spend more time and money on theirs. If you’re in Toronto, they’ve even partnered with a salon that will do any of their suggested designs, including the “Heart”, the “Side Part”, the “Moustache”, and “The Rising Sun”, for $60. I’d be interested to know if there was a reason they didn’t feel they could ask women to just stop waxing and shaving down there for a month.

(Interestingly, that is apparently what the idea’s founder, nurse Vanessa Willson, originally suggested. But she was shot down: “The reaction I got was ‘absolutely not’,” she laughs. “Even the committee members said ‘we’ll do it because we’re ballsy women, but nobody else is going to do it’.”)

The campaign is sensationalistic and objectifies women, which becomes no real shocker when you see that the Canadian Cancer Society has partnered with MTV and Molson Canadian for the campaign.

Huffington Post Canada quotes Meredith Dault, a Queen’s University grad student who is studying the increased popularity of pubic hair grooming. She says the campaign is “sexing up cancer.” She told the Montreal Gazette, “It all sounds very Sex and the City to me. Men get to grow ironic moustaches — which they probably want to do anyway — and women have to go through the pain of shaving or waxing. … it seems a little off to me.”

The response to the related Huffington Post poll shows that the response to the campaign so far is extremely divided:

Huffington Post Canada poll results as of July 4

When I posted the initial story on the Gender Focus Facebook page commenters had similar reactions to mine:

I think this is dumb and ineffective.

My first peeve: Pubic hair doesn’t grow in the vagina; so why call “Design Your Pubic Hair Month “Julyna”?

Shaving designs into our pubic hair won’t raise money. Donating money and raising awareness for the cause raises money.

This just smells like lazy faux activism to me.
I hope people decide to do something productive like hand out fliers and information about cervical cancer instead of shaving shapes into their bushes.

And another responder commented:

It bothers me…it’s trying to sexify cancer. It just strikes me as ineffective and unnecessary. There’s nothing sexy about cancer.

The folks behind the campaign argue it’s all in good fun for a good cause. And Willson did start the campaign originally as a way of celebrating our pubic hair. But there are other ways of participating that don’t involve stepping up your pubic grooming.

For cervical cancer, there are other campaigns to get involved with. I volunteer doing postering and social media amplification for LACE Campaign, a BC Cancer Agency program that runs an awareness campaign each fall encouraging women to get Pap smears.

And if you want to get in on the Movember game, some women fundraise during Movember by not shaving their legs or by dyeing the hair on their heads. Another option would be to wear a fake mustache around during that month or to stop using bleaching products or depilatories for women who have visible upper-lip hair.

So for now, I’ll be sticking to volunteering that doesn’t involve people visualizing my pubic hair while I’m asking them to donate to my cause.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 4 Comments