international women’s day

IWD Talk on Intergenerational Feminism

photoby Jarrah Hodge

Last Friday I had the honour of speaking at the Vancouver and District Labour Council’s International Women’s Day celebration, at a packed house at the Fraserview Hall, on the topic of intergenerational feminism. I was the second speaker following retired CUPW activist Marion Pollack, who shared her experiences fighting sexism in the labour movement in the 1970s and working with the labour movement to fight for equality and women’s rights in the broader community.

I followed up with a talk about building intergenerational bridges in the feminist movement and looking at the issues we are still battling, like pay equity, violence against women, and a range of insidious messages that tell girls and women how they need to look and behave in order to be considered valuable and legitimate.

If you’re interested in seeing part of my talk I’ve put a video online – note my camera had a glitch at the beginning so the actual video starts at about 0:50 and the intro section of my speech is partly cut off. I think it’ll still make sense though.

I’m also including the transcript here, after the jump because it’s quite long. You can’t see my Powerpoint in the video so if you want any clarification on what slides I was using to illustrate my points, just comment below. It was really exciting for me to get to speak at this event that I usually attend every year, and I was really pleased with the positive feedback I got from several people in the audience. Overall, it was a pretty great International Women’s Day.

Read more

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

International Women’s Day Ottawa: Where Fun and Feminism Meet

iwdottawaby Jarrah Hodge

If I was in Ottawa this Friday, March 8, I know what I’d be doing: going to what looks to be a really fun and creative, superhero-themed celebration of International Women’s Day.

I chatted with Kate McInturff, one of the people on the event’s organizing committee, about the plans for this year – their fifth event – and their experience putting on engaging and entertaining IWD events over the past four years. The idea to take a new approach to celebrating International Women’s Day came when a couple women from local groups attended an Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum that got them thinking about different ways to have conversations with people and bring them into feminism. They got to brainstorming and pulled more people and groups in to help organize.

“The group that came together was really diverse, including folks from international NGOs like Oxfam and Amnesty and the Nobel Women’s Intitiative, Inter Pares and also folks from local organizations like Harmony House, Planned Parenthood Ottawa…the thing that was really interesting and kind of dynamic was that we had women’s organizations from all those different levels,” said McInturff.

That first year they came up with something that was out of the ordinary for an IWD celebration: they invited people to come and debate about the relevance of feminism today. They interviewed people about their confusion over what it means to be a feminist or misgivings about adopting the term and helped clarify terms. Being so open really brought people in: the event sold out the 375-person venue at the National Archives.

“I had people I knew who said, ‘I was never sure if I was a feminist or not but that sounded interesting so I think I’ll come’,” said McInturff, “I think asking it as a question and opening it up, making it clear that joking would be allowed…all of that really drew people in. We had a really diverse audience: men and women, folks of all ages, folks from different kinds of ethnic backgrounds, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, just a really nice, diverse group of people.”

Since that first year the group has continued to come up with innovative IWD ideas, including a “Canada’s Next Top Feminist” event and a feminist year-in-review component.

This year’s theme is Femicon and is centred around feminist superheroes and feminist comics. They’re collecting video submissions from women answering the following questions: 1. What is/would be your feminist superpower?, 2. What do you keep in your cape?, 3. What is the dark force you are battling? and, 4. Who is/are your feminist superhero(es)? and the responses will be edited into a short film for the event.

They even have a celebrity submission from This Hour Has 22 Minutes star Geri Hall:

McInturff outlined the rest of the program for me: “Doors open at 6:00 pm at the National Archives and there’ll be free food. We’ll have a traditional welcome from an Aboriginal elder followed by the short superhero video.  Then we’ll have this fun, Oprah-style ‘What the F?’ panel doing a feminist year in review, then award the Femmy awards to our fabulous winners, and then DJ and dancing, mingling and more snacks.”

The Femmy Awards are given out to five or six individuals who’ve been nominated for making a contribution to women’s lives in the capital region and it’s usually a diverse group of winners making many different kinds of contributions.

McInturff says she thinks the events draw lots of people because there’s “a lot of room for humour, not taking it too seriously, having it be a fun moment and a chance to celebrate. We have a dance party and give some awards and food. I think that chance to socialize and do something fun and celebratory brings people in. It’s free – we pay for everything from donations so the whole thing is self-sustaining.” They also try to increase the accessibility by making the event as bilingual as possible and providing free, on-site childcare.

Check out the International Women’s Day Ottawa Facebook page for more event information. And if you’re on Twitter you can follow the group at @IWDOttawa.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 1 Comment

Canadian Girls Face Interconnected Life Challenges


Participants in a Girls Action Foundation leadership training session, 2012.

by Jarrah Hodge

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, the Girls Action Foundation has released a new report about the situation facing girls in Canada. Beyond Appearances: Brief on the Main Issues Facing Girls in Canada contains findings from a close review of population surveys and academic literature and shows that girls in Canada face serious and interconnected life challenges, at rates higher than the general public might expect.

I spoke with Saman Ahsan, Executive Director of Girls Action Foundation. She has worked with and on behalf of girls for most of her career.

“There were a couple of statistics that I found really alarming: one was the proportion of girls who try self-harm. In BC we found one in five girls had attempted self-harm in the previous year and that really showed me that the mental health of girls in Canada is something that needs attention,” said Ahsan.

“Another statistic I found alarming is the rate of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. It’s shocking that as a nation Canada can just sit by. I don’t think action is being taken at the level that needs to be done.”

17% of reported missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada were under 18 years old.

Ahsan summarized the situation facing Canada’s nearly 3.6 million girls today:

“Girls are facing a lot of issues that are very intertwined – all the issues they’re facing such as mental health, violence, their career and educational prospects, their physical health – are intertwined and reinforce one another.”

For example Ahsan said many girls experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as a result of experiencing violence and feeling unsafe at school. Some of the most disturbing stats in the report were around violence: 46% of high school girls in Ontario reported being the target of unwanted sexual comments or gestures. Four times more girls than boys are sexually abused and 75% of the time it is by a family member or friend. The situation is even worse for girls with disabilities. Read more

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Abante Babae – Advance Women

Philippine Womens Centre IWDHanane Benzidane has been a member of the Philippine Women’s Centre of BC since 2009, and now sits on the board. She is also a host for Tinig Ng Masa (The People’s Voice), the Kalayaan Centre’s weekly radio program on Coop Radio. A passionate labour and community activist, you can catch her on air and on the streets highlighting issues and policies that affect workers, women and youth in the Filipino community. She believes in the positive, transformative power of collective voice and action.

Over 30 young women, workers and their allies gathered at the UFCW 1518 hall on Saturday March 10, 2012 to celebrate the 101st International Women’s Day. Organized by the Philippine Women’s Centre of BC, Abante Babae! (Tagalog for ‘Advance Women!’) was a full day of educational and creative workshops intended to educate and empower women of colour in the community about the successes of the women’s movement and the continued struggles we face.

When a group of Filipina women came together back in February, in an apartment living room to plan this event, we all came together out of a need to combat racist, sexual and economic violence committed against transnational working women in our community. With systematic abuses of our women involved in the Live In Caregiver Program, to the effects of sex trafficking and prostitution of women and girls in our community, and the disproportionate amount of our working class woman relegated to low waged labour despite high education levels, we knew we wanted to take action. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 1 Comment

Introducing Feminism F.A.Q.s

Feminism FAQs Title Screenby Jarrah Hodge

This International Women’s Day I wanted to do something special. IWD is a chance for us to reflect on the movements we’ve made toward gender equality as well as considering the work that still needs to be done. Something I’ve been asking myself over the past year is how I can help take the next step. I’m really proud of my work on Gender Focus but I wanted to add another element that would help myself and other feminist bloggers with the myths we always hear about feminism, and the frequently-asked-questions people who are respectful but hesitant about calling themselves feminists.

At Geek Girl Con last summer I attended a vlogging workshop with the amazing Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency and Maile Martinez of Reel Grrls. It hit me – it’s hard to find a more accessible medium than vlogs. After some brainstorming I decided to launch a series of short videos dealing with the feminism F.A.Q.s we always hear.

Here’s my first installment, which answers the question: “But…aren’t we all equal now?/Why do we still need feminism?” I thought it was an appropriate topic for IWD.

I also created a Facebook album of easily-sharable images with stats on why we still need feminism. Take a second to check it out and share your favourite on your Facebook profile or page.

Because the videos are designed to be less than 2:30 in order to be accessible, they’re going to be a little bit general and they will inevitably leave some things out. My hope is that they will prompt even more questions and engage feminists and potential future feminists in respectful dialogue.

Just from the first video I’ve learned some lessons about editing and flow that I’ll be trying to apply in future. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think, and if you have a question you’d like to see me answer in a video, please comment below!


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 7 Comments

Blog for IWD: Women in Science

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day I’m participating in the Gender Across Borders Blog for IWD. Follow their live-blogging of the event here. You can also follow the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #blogforiwd. This year’s theme for IWD is “Our History is Our Strength” and GAB is asking specifically:

  • What does it mean to have equal access to education, training and science and technology for women, and how do we get there?

The way I see it, there are two reasons women are still underrepresented in science and technology: the first is underrepresentation of women in these fields, including in popular culture representation, and the second is women’s continuing material inequality.

Let’s look at issues around representation. Although research by the Canadian Youth Science Monitor showed an equal number of youth of both genders interested in pursuing careers in science, recent UNESCO data shows a lack of women scientists worldwide, and US and Canadian organizations recognize the underrepresentation as a continuing challenge. In the male-dominated field of Engineering, the peak of women’s enrollment in Canada was in 2001, when they made up 20.5% of undergraduates. Women make up only 30% of the doctoral degrees awarded in Engineering and Natural Sciences.

When some science facilities create a hostile climate for women and our schools and universities fail to actively recruit women into science we create a vicious cycle, with young women unable to see themselves reflected in the cultural ideal of what it means to be a “scientist” or an “engineer” or to pursue other technology-focused professions. When I was in high school I got the message loud and clear: it isn’t sexy for girls to be smart. This message is compounded by representations in popular culture, with shows like The Big Bang Theory and even sci-fi shows like Star Trek, to some extent, reinforcing the view that science is men’s terrain.

But even if we had more woman scientist characters on TV, it wouldn’t change the material factors that deter women from scientific careers. In Canada, the lack of a universal child care program might make women think twice before taking on a career in science or technology, where some institutions might not help employees balance work and family responsibilities. And 21 years after the Montreal Massacre, when female engineering students were gunned down for being female engineering students, the threat of violence against women who take on “male” roles hasn’t completely abated. While we haven’t experienced another shooting of female science students, many report experiencing hostility from male classmates and professors, as well as from coworkers later in their professional lives.

It’s an understatement to say both of these problems are exacerbated for women of colour.

In a great article on Racialicious today, Latoya Peterson recalls an experience speaking up at a feminist event: “You said things are so much better for women- but you are only talking about white women. Outside of Oprah, where’s our progress, on or off screen?” While women overall have made some gains in science and some women have been recognized for outstanding achievements, by and large it is white women who are increasing their representation, and they are also the ones most recognized for their achievements.

In her book, When Everything Changed, Gail Collins interviews a woman of Latina descent who started a job at IBM in the 1990s. She recalls a male colleague who told her she had to spend more of the time during her presentations explaining how she was like the white men in the room, how she had gone to the same schools as them and earned the same degrees, because, her colleague said, “Right now they’re spending the first 10 minutes wondering, who is this Latina woman?” If young white women find it hard to find role models in science, young women of colour – especially Aboriginal women - have an even harder time, and this is a serious problem.

And educational and income inequality also disproportionately affects women of colour, making it more difficult for young women of colour to pursue post-secondary education, much less ones in science and technology. We can’t talk about encouraging women and girls in science and technology without talking about addressing these issues.

Dr. Indira Samarasekera

So how do we address these issues? On the representation front, it’d be great to see more women scientist characters in pop culture, particularly women of colour. It’s also going to be up to women who have succeeded in science to put themselves out there as visible role models, to take on mentorship roles, and to help institutions change their cultures and actively recruit more women.

Innovation Canada came out with a great video in honour of International Women’s Day called “Women’s Work”, which features the stories of five Canadian women scientists: Dr. Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta; granting council President Suzanne Fortier; Ethnomusicologist Charity Marsh; Evolutionary Biologist Maydianne Andrade; and Biomedical Engineer Molly Shoichet. It would be great to see more videos like this more widely disseminated.

The material changes needed are more difficult. We need government to work to increase women’s access to child care, to support women pursuing post-secondary education in the sciences, and to make sure our school system is encouraging girls in the sciences. We need particular effort to address racial income inequality and racist attitudes that make it harder for people of colour to continue their education. These are difficult needs to address, but not impossible, and entirely worth fighting for.

So Happy International Women’s Day, with a particular shout-out to all the women who have taken on the male-dominated field of science and technology. Let’s celebrate our achievements while recognizing the challenges ahead.


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