by Jarrah Hodge
Women’s Forum des Femmes kicks off in the Government Conference Centre just across from Parliament Hill, with Official Opposition Critic for Status of Women Niki Ashton welcoming us “fellow feminists”.
I can tell it’s going to be an awesome day. The room is full of over a hundred women from diverse backgrounds, but a large portion are young women. Ashton announces most of the people speaking today (like me, later in the afternoon) will be Canadian feminists under 40.
Ashton characterizes the situation facing young women in Canada, saying young women are working hard but losing ground. Especially young indigenous women, says Ashton.
But she also says young women are responding: “Young women are using the arts, scholarship, the blogosphere and their voices to fight back.”
“Idle No More is a clear example of how indigenous young people, and particularly young women are changing Canadian history,” she adds.
She finishes her introduction with an outline of the day’s goal: “to build solidarity and strengthen our connections, and in doing so we will send a message that women across generations, regions, and communities are strong in their demands for justice and equality for all of us.”
The first speaker up to the stage was the amazing Erin Marie Konsmo of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Her talk is called Beyond a Triple Bottom Line Approach: Reclaiming for our future generations: Resisting Environmental Violence Through Reproductive Justice.
Konsmo began to elaborate on a theme that will be touched on throughout the day: the interconnectedness of struggles for control of land and control of bodies, particularly women’s bodies. She said the Canadian government and extractive industries have often seen women’s bodies and land as empty things available for laws to be put on.
“Our bodies are not terra nullis [empty land],” Konsmo stated
“I propose a new equation. We must have self-determination of our bodies and also self-determination of our lands,” Konsmo proclaimed.
The interconnectedness of colonial exploitation of land and women’s bodies has a long history, including forced-sterilization of First Nations people and sexual abuse in residential schools. Because indigenous women live with the legacy of colonial violence and appropriation of land, Konsmo says violence prevention and sexual health strategies must include discussions of the land.
To conclude her talk she highlighted some of the unique ways indigenous women and youth are connecting the discussions about liberating the environment and their bodies. NYSHN’s Environmental justice for Metis Women and Youth program, for example, uses sexual health education and the arts to talk about how reproductive violence is connected to the environment.
She also talked about work to support indigenous youth who are two-spirited, queer, trans or gender non-conforming, who face immense amounts of violence, to develop leadership positions in their communities.
“As a young indigenous woman I know that many body contains story of the land…I also know and experience a sexual and gender identity that comes from specific histories of the land and where I come from. These identities are older than the LGBT movement and…were made illegal…your feminisms do affect the land,” she reminds, and adds, “The work you do as a feminist…impacts indigenous people.”
The next panel looked at “Canada’s Inequality Action Plan”, and included moderator Karen Galldin, Shannon Phillips of the Alberta Federation of Labour; Janice Makokis, a lawyer and Idle No More activist; Denise Hammond of the union AMAPCEO; and Sarah Kennell of Action Canada for Population and Development. Read more