women’s worlds

Reflecting on Women’s Worlds

Thanks to Sussanne Skidmore for writing this reflection on her week at the Women’s Worlds Conference earlier this month. Sussanne is a BC GEU activist, feminist, and lesbian from Prince George, BC. You can find her on Twitter at @SussanneS.

I consider myself very lucky to have been able to attend this year’s Women’s Worlds Congress on behalf of  BC GEU component 12 Administrative Services Component. The  conference theme was Inclusions, Exclusions, Seclusions: Living in a Globalized World. Each day brought us a new sub-theme – Day 1: Breaking Cycles, Day 2: Breaking Ceilings, Day 3: Breaking Barriers and Day 4: Breaking Ground.

The Conference was attended by over 1800 women from all over the world. It was inspiring and motivating to be surrounded by women from all over the world, women from unions, universities, women’s organizations, business women, women of color, radical feminists, anarchists, lesbians, students and women with disabilities.

There were three priority areas of the conference: facilitating intergenerational discussions, honouring Aboriginal women’s knowledge and culture, and rendering the event accessible to women with disabilities. Through in-focus sessions and concurrent sessions these issues were critically looked at, discussed and debated by the congress delegates. As a feminist lesbian woman I tried to reach out and participate in a wide variety of sessions to expand my knowledge and understanding of women’s issues through out the world.

I participated in the following sessions: Transnational Lesbian Feminist Activism and Globalized LGBT Rights discourse, Profile This! Muslim Women and Trans People’s Resilience through Art, Smashing through the Old Boys Network: Effective Lobbying for Women’s Rights, Combining our Strengths: A Partnership between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Women, Redefining Political Spaces: A Global Conversation on Women’s Rights, Political Participation and Representation, Bloggers without Borders, Ethics of Responsible Travel Blogging, The Loveliest Girl in the World, Social Media: Responsibilities and Opportunities for Women, and Connecting Indigenous Generations through Oral Stories and Performance. The long list of options of sessions that delegates was so full and diverse that it was very hard to pick which ones to go to and they all offered so much that it was hard to choose.

Women’s Worlds has left me with so many great experiences and so much knowledge but there were definitely a few things that stuck in my mind. One of those things was that it is so important that as feminists, as women to come together and recognize our differences and diversity. We need to celebrate those differences and use them to work together to reenergize the feminist movement so that we can move forward and build a world where women’s rights are taken seriously and women all over the world can know freedom. The other thing I really took from this was that we must build bridges, we must recognize our differences amongst women and find our commonalities so that we can  work together as a united force of women all working towards common goals.


Note from Jarrah:

In case you missed it, you can catch E. Cain’s re-caps of Women’s Worlds here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.

And for critical analysis of the conference’s problems, including it’s anti-sex work focus, I recommend the following articles posted at the Shameless Magazine blog:


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Women’s Worlds Report: Day 4

My closing Women’s World report focuses on Norwegian feminists and their successful struggle to pass a law that penalizes the client in prostitution. This was a ‘hot topic’ at the conference as there were three different sessions dedicated to discussing the steps taken within Scandinavian countries to combat prostitution – therefore, I felt it warranted its own blog post.

I went into this session fully open to listening to experiences and work of these feminists; but in the interests of full disclosure, my own personal view falls in support of decriminalization of prostitution. I have blogged on this issue before, specifically looking at Iceland and the strip club ban.

The session which I attended was given by Ana and Ana from Ottar, a radical feminist group which uses direct action to achieve political gains. They have been very active in Norway for the past ten years working to further their agenda which includes abolishing prostitution and the sex industry. It’s also worth noting that their neighbours in Sweden share a similar philosophy as they’ve had laws in place penalizing the client in prostitution since 1999. Further, Iceland has passed legislation banning strip clubs.

As Ottar does not lobby politicians, it was very interesting to learn about some of the tactics they have employed to further their agenda. Some examples:

To draw public attention to the buyers of sex acts, they would have one feminist pose as a sex worker and while she was distracting the client in his car, another feminist would run up and with a stencil and spray paint onto the car I pay for sex” (the media loved this tactic).

In another campaign they made posters with faces of prominent male politicians and in large letters wrote: “Does this man pay for sex?”, then at the bottom in smaller letters wrote: “probably not” (and then went on to describe their mission). The objective here was to bait politicians into getting angry and going to the media so then Ottar could have a platform to explain their agenda to Norwegians.

Ottar also blocked off roads leading to red light districts with huge banners which explained their agenda – a good way to get attention of both the media and the police (they were all arrested).

They also held demonstrations outside of strip clubs where women would dress up in skeleton suits holding signs which read: “Why go inside, we are baring it all out here?” They were actually successful in closing down one strip club by scaring the clients away.

Over time the result was that Ottar was able to form a grassroots movement which, in turn, put pressure on politicians. Ultimately it was in 2009 that their hard work paid off and Norwegian Parliament passed legislation criminalizing the buyers of sex acts – offenders faced either jail time or a steep fine. However, while there was a lot of celebrate for Ottar, the hard work wasn’t done. Currently they are organizing to push for legislation banning strip clubs in the country.

For me, leaving this session I was very inspired by the way in which Ottar was able to organize to affect change. However, my main criticism is that it appears there was little to no consideration of the impact of their agenda on sex workers. This came up in the Q&A session and the presenters said that very little has been done by the government to create exit strategies for sex workers. To me, this is extremely problematic as the state is cutting off the livelihood for these women without providing any kind of support.

For those who are interested in learning more about the work of Ottar, they have written a book entitled The Nordic Approach. I bought it at the conference and look forward to reading it, stay tuned for future blog posts.

-E. Cain

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

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

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics Leave a comment

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