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Allied Arts & Media Systems

Opening the Door for Men?

On September 29th, the Gender Equality Coalition of Ontario is hosting its second  one day, virtual and in-person “Intentional, Intersectional, Inclusion” conference at Fanshawe College in celebration of Gender Equality Week 2022.

But who founded this new organization? Why now? And what’s the difference between feminist organizations and gender equality organizations?

To find out, we spoke with Dr. Amanda Zavitz, the Coalition’s Leadership chair, small business owner, former small-town truck stop waitress, scholar, Marxist, labour activist, mother of two, conference lead and professor of sociology and women’s studies at Fanshawe College for over 20 years.

LiisBeth:  Tell us about the coalition—how did it get started?

Zavitz: So the gender equality coalition is an Ontario registered nonprofit organization based in London, Ontario. Linda Davis and Danny Bartlett co-founded the organization in 2019 because while there are several women’s advancement groups in the area, there was no organization that fought for gender equality for all genders, including men. The coalition is funded in part by the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE). Any individual or organization can become a member. At present, coalition members include Champions of Change (London), Urban League (London) and Unicef (Western University). 

I joined as Chair of the nine person (five women, four men) board in 2020. Coalition members believe that gender inequality, patriarchy, colonialism and white supremacy also negatively impacts men. In feminist spaces, we focus on women and talk a lot about the social construction of femininity being damaging, but we also think that the social construction of masculinity is equally damaging for men and boys. We believe this gap needs to be addressed.

LiisBeth:  What does the gender equality coalition do that feminist organizations don’t already do?

Zavitz: I think that one of the things our coalition achieves is that it helps us move beyond the ill-informed, but still broadly held stereotype that feminism is anti-men. It invites a broader, intersectional conversation about gender and creates a space where we can talk about how its social construction impacts all genders. So by simply saying that we think that men are affected by gender inequality as well, we create a space where men, including queer and trans men feel as though they can be part of the feminist conversation and be heard. Since we’ve started, I’ve noticed it really does allow all people, men, women, gender, diverse to let their guard down and feel as though they can be part of a conversation about challenging gender constructs together.

LiisBeth:  The idea of gender equality organizations, for many feminists, is problematic. Some feminists see it as watered-down, corporatized version of feminism (all genders matter) which detracts from the real and more dire, urgent work of ending the systemic oppression of women. Thoughts?

Zavitz: I don’t necessarily disagree, but we ultimately need to have gender equality for all in order to realize the ultimate feminist dream, or at least to move the feminist movement forward sustainably. I don’t see the two things as separate. So, I get what feminism is. I understand the importance of women-only, women-led spaces. Women will always be the torch bearers of the fight. I am an active participant in the feminist movement, but we need an evolved feminist movement that has gender equality for all at its roots.

If we look at where we are today, rollbacks included, we actually need to have a feminist movement that’s more inclusive of men. Not because men need help getting equality, but because men are also impacted by gender constructs in ways that allow them to justify their role in the perpetuating harms and prevents them from participating as informed allies in the feminist movement. The gender equality space can serve as an alternative gateway for men who are keen to learn more about feminism—and want to amplify its work.

LiisBeth:  Men have always been part of, or served as allies in the feminist struggle. There were men supporting the suffragettes, men marching alongside women in the 1960’s and again in the women’s march of 2016. Allyship between male-led social justice organizations has always been there. And look where we still are.

Zavitz: That’s true. If we look today, we find some men still marching alongside a lot of women. At a recent protest against sexual assault at Western university where I work, men were included in the organizing. There were some men that were marching alongside a lot of women.

We are not saying men have not been allies or supportive of feminist work. But not enough of them have signed on to tip the scales. What’s different about our organization is we’re willing to understand the extent to which men, your average Dick and John, have also been impacted by systems of oppression and make this part of the feminist conversation. We know that today’s definition of masculinity remains toxic for men and boys. By creating a space where all genders can talk about this together, we believe we can mobilize higher levels of allyship.

There’s been so much debate about what feminism is and what feminism isn’t. For me, feminism is about ending inequality and all kinds of systemic oppressions. And if we really understand that, then we know we have to include men in not only the discussion, but also in the movement.  I argue in class that the next wave of feminism should be a much more gender-diverse, collective movement; An inclusive, intersectional gender movement of both individuals and allied organizations that work together intentionally to dismantle power structures that are actually killing us all.

Intentional, Intersectional, Inclusion conference speaker line up, September 29th, 2022. Click to register.

LiisBeth:  Wow. OK. We hear you! Now tell us what you are most excited about regarding the upcoming conference.

Zavitz:  Oh, so many things! But I will mention two.

First, our speaker lineup is incredible. Secondly, our activists-at-large program design feature.

On the speaker front, we have Jeff Perera, a well-known North American activist who talks about the construction of gender, helpful versus harmful ideas of manhood, race and masculinity, the importance of empathy-building and who calls on men to help end gender-based violence. We also welcome the incredible Dr. Raven Sinclair who will provide an indigenous perspective on gender equality, and Teneile Warren, playwright, community organization, plus intersectional equity educator, transformative justice practitioner specializing in anti-Black racism education who will talk about how gender was built on the foundation of racism.

The activist-at-large idea is a new exciting experiment! Here we invited well-known, and lesser-known feminist, anti-oppression activists and authors to participate in the conference, not as speakers but as people charged with the task of mingling with the attendees and participating in, versus leading, round table discussions. We want them to share their wisdom but also encourage connections that continue to develop well beyond the event. We believe that this is better done on the floor rather than mediated by the stage. Among those attending as activists in residence are Joseph Pazanno, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) professional, strategist, and attorney, Judy Rebick (socialist feminist, reproductive rights), Nora Loreto (feminist and union organizing) and Lori Fox (queer, working-class rights and anti-capitalism).

Oh! And we also have a terrific panel discussion focused on the future of feminism.

It’s going to be a great day!

LiisBeth:  It sure sounds like it! And we will be there. Thank you for speaking with us Dr. Zavitz!


Publisher’s Note:  This is a sponsored feature. Thank you to the Gender Equality Coalition of Ontario for its support of LiisBeth.com. You can still register for the event. Price is $25.00 for students or $75.00 for general admission. 

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Our Voices

BCE has five women on its board; will that help Lisa LaFlamme?

Photo of woman helping another women climb a cliff. Background is a sunset.
U_Photo on Shutterstock.

In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the 50-30 Challenge, a new initiative in partnership with Canadian businesses and diversity organizations to accelerate diversity actions and improve equity for women and BIPOC identified folx. It calls for all (for profit, nonprofit, cooperatives etc.) organizations to aim for 50 per cent women and 30 per cent BIPOC and or 2SLGBTQIA representation on their boards and in senior management. 

The assumption is that if you change who is at the table, equity will seep into the organization like a teabag in hot water. Some hope it might also change the table itself. With diversity, so it goes, oppression will be dismantled—at least in the workplace; the result is a less extractive, life-sucking economy. 

But does increased representation of oppressed groups, in this case, women, on corporate boards result in less oppression in the workplaces they govern? 

The high-profile ageism + sexism-based taser-like firing of prominent journalist and TV news anchor Lisa LaFlamme will give us a chance to find out.

Why The Board Matters

Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) owns Bell Media which in turn owns and operates CTV, as well as brands like Noovo, TSN, RDS, Crave, and iHeartRadio. The whole kit and kaboodle of media brands and distribution enterprises are governed by the BCE board which as of today is made up of 13 directors, five of which are women all of which are over 55 and none have visible grey hair.  BCE is Canada’s 15th largest publicly traded corporations. 

A board’s job is to mostly protect shareholder interests, primarily stock price, return on investment and risk management. They are also charged with keeping an eye out for bankable talent and company reputation. The board are also expected to keep an eye on management. If management makes decisions that hurt the company, the board will, should, step in to protect the enterprise-namely its owners. Which by the way, includes many mutual fund holding Canadians. BCE is (25 per cent+) owned by our major banks, a variety of investment firms, pension funds plus others.   

Last week, a 12-year rising CTV star employee but still newbie Vice President, Michael Melling (age mid-forties), spear-headed and executed a decision that hurt the company: He abruptly fired Lisa LaFlamme, a 58-year-old CTV news journalist veteran who commanded an audience of close to 1 million daily viewers. She had worked at CTV for 35 years. Melling and his team maintained terminating LaFlamme was for business reasons. Everyone, and I mean seemingly  EVERYONE inside CTV and in the industry say it was blatant ageism, sexism plus the presence of an unclean spirit known as grey hair. 

A week later, the story dominated Canadian news. There are over 12 petitions on Change.org calling for retribution (Fire Melling!) or the reinstatement of Lisa Laflamme. Collectively they have secured 167,366 signatures—and the list grows daily. The Deep Dive newsletter reported that one of the LaFlamme petitions “generated twice the number of signatures that a petition for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to end the domination of Rogers Communications Inc.

Meanwhile, Bell Media has quickly erased Lisa LaFlamme’s existence as an anchorwoman on their network and digital footprint. Reports say her phone was immediately disconnected. Bylines erased. Any trace of her—gone from their website. It’s not an uncommon strategy in situations of harassment and corporate wrongdoing.  Senior executives somehow believe that if we unplug a person’s existence online, they no longer exist and the issue will magically go away. 

In a show of solidarity, women’s professional networks and feminist groups across social media networks appealed to their followers (by our estimate, Canadian women’s business networks alone represent over two million women) to drop their personal Bell Media subscriptions as an act of protest and solidarity.

There are, by the way, almost seven million women over 45 in Canada. Women make the majority of purchasing decisions in their household. Any sales manager in any industry knows it’s not wise to annoy them. 

Advertisers are watching closely too. And they should be. We know where their products live. 

The whole thing adds up to a huge business crisis for BCE.

So,we have to ask, what is the BCE board going to do about it? 

More importantly, will the five women (38 per cent) on BCE’s board step up—and out. Will we ever hear from them? If not, why not. 

And what if anything, as board directors, can these women really do? 

A lot.

The women on BCE's board.

Bell-Let’s Talk

For starters, these five women could join forces, re-imagine conventional board protocols, and raise a little collective hell.  

They are all independent directors. It’s not often done but they can individually, or together, bring forward a statement as the women of the BCE board. A statement we would all be interested to hear. 

They can choose to challenge the standard “all for one, one for all” cabinet solidarity protocol—used to silence dissenting views. Sure, they could be dismissed as Directors as a result (and lose their $258K annual director paycheck—a lot to ask). But at least then 15 million women would know the truth about BCE’s culture—even at the board level. 

According to BCE’s Corporate Governance Practices document, they, as a group or individually, can ask to meet with senior management on any and all matters –alone—without male board members present– to create a safer space for employees to tell the real story. Especially women employees. 

They could file a motion to launch a specifically intersectional feminist inquiry into whether or not Melling and his accomplices violated BCE’s own code of conduct which says all directors, executives and employees must undertake to:

  • Perform our work duties and conduct our business relationships with integrity and in a dynamic, straightforward, honest and fair manner;
  • Foster a work environment based on mutual trust and respect and that encourages open communication. 

Violations, according to the Code, can result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. 

And finally, the women directors could work with public relations professionals, and convince them that it would be to BCE’s advantage to let them lead communications on this issue. Women don’t want to hear from another white, male board chair. They want to hear from professional women on big boards—especially those whose bios include working to advance women. 

By all accounts released so far, CTV’s Michael Melling stewarded and executed a decision that has hurt CTV’s reputation, likely caused significant mental health trauma (ironically, given BCE’s commitment to mental health causes) to LaFlamme and other women who work at Bell Media and elsewhere, and set in motion dynamics that can result in a tumbling revenues and impact key talent acquisition for the foreseeable future. 

So far, the women on BCE’s board, for anyone following the story, appear to the public as silent, invisible and ergo, impotent. Leaving us to ask why bother advocating for women on boards? 

So how about it #katherinelee#shielamurray#jennifertory #karensheriff and #moniqueleroux?

Keep Being There

Women who end up being appointed to big corp boards worked hard to get there and they are professionals. But they didn’t get there on just merit—many women, feminist activists paved the way. 

Now it’s their turn to use their power and privilege to send a decisive message that ageism, sexism and the ridiculous teenage supermodel beauty standards many men–and yep, some women–impose upon female professionals in the industry ends here.

So will women on the BCE board leverage this opportunity and their post and voice to make a difference –not just at BCE but across the industry? Or will they quietly continue to collect that $258,000 a year director pay cheque, pour coffee every so often to make the men around the table comfortable with their formidable presence (been there myself) and hope this blows over soon. 

Or, and this is the bigger question, will they remain silent because they are worried they might be next?

Millions of women in Canada are waiting to find out.

Publisher’s Note: This op-ed by pk mutch (also publisher of LiisBeth) was originally published by rabble.ca.  We invite readers to comment on what solution they would like the board to pursue.  Bring Laflamme back?  Implement anti-ageism policy? Please share!

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Our Voices

The Equal Futures Summit Delivers

An image showing four panelists at the Gender Equality Summit 2022. All women.
(Advancing Gender Equality in Canadian Politics Panel, from left to right: Moderator Kylie Adair, Future of Good, Raine Lillifeldt, Interim CEO, YWCA, Debbie Owusu-Akyeeh, Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), Fae Johnstone, Wisdom2Action, and Anjum Sultana, Plan International Canada.) Photo: pk mutch

Big tent gender equality events are high wire acts.

They involve juggling multiple feminisms plus deft handling of picky funders and powerful politicos in the room. It also requires mastering the aerial feat of balancing the needs and expectations of two distinct changemaking cultures—non-governmental organizations (NGOS) and grassroots feminist organizations.

The recent and first Equal Futures 2022 Gender Equality Summit, aced the first two. The latter? Not so much.

NGOs are insiders, researchers, and focus on mobilizing government. They prefer polite, parliamentary style interaction and connecting over LinkedIn. Grassroots feminist organizations are outsiders, revolutionaries, and work to mobilize people. They crave voice, action and prefer to connect in more informal ways—like a hot tub after hours.

Of the 10 leaders of organizations and student attendees interviewed, all agreed that the format and ambience was pretty institutional, meaning top down and polite, with little room for attendee-led discussion or debate. No action plans or collective next steps were co-created. Panel moderators did not make space for questions, comments or counterpoints from the lecture hall’s continuously seated audience, in which case, we could have saved travel costs, and simply watched the moderators and panelists talk among themselves on ZOOM.

However, there were bright spots.

Image of indigenous woman on stage speaking with a mic wearing black and white jumpsuit
Keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, Shaneese Steele. Photo: Equal Futures Network

On the second day, Shaneese Steele, a 28-year-old Mukaade Anishinaabe Kwe (Afro-Indigenous person) took to the stage to lead over 100 BIPOC, Black, Muslim, LGBTQ, Queer and White participants in a two-hour talk about how to be an Indigenous ally. Addressing the diverse crowd of predominately Gen+Z and Millennial folks, Steele began by presenting Canada’s indigenous history. 

Not long after her presentation began, a woman in the back (let us call her Justine) broke the Ted Ex flow and asked for the mic. “With respect” she said assertively, “I have to tell you your definition of Metis people is incorrect.”  Steele received the outburst as a gift. However, there were more gifts to come from Justine: A self-identified Alberta-based, Blackfoot, indigenous activist, traumatized mother of four, forty plus woman at the back of the room who made it clear that she didn’t just study the history with the intensity of a scholar; She had lived it–and still lives it today. Justine didn’t–wouldn’t– let anything slide.  Justine was not going to go unheard. Her interjections were just the kind of thunderclaps needed to change the energy in the room.

Just like that, the two-hour session transformed from being a institutional workshop—to a truly messy, emotional, interrogative feminist space. Many hands went up. Folks of all genders told their stories. Sometimes tears were shed. Steele embraced the flow and transformed from speaker to facilitator.

Indigenous history and the nature of feminist and ally work was not just learned that morning. It was felt.

You can’t get that stuff on ZOOM. It made attending in person worthwhile.

The rest of the summit was more conventional in format and experience.

It featured a stellar lineup of NGO CEOs and other organizational leaders, not one but two Liberal Ministers (The Honorable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (WAGE), The Honorable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of International Development) and a former WAGE Minister, Maryam Monsef. Monsef lost her home riding seat (Peterborough) in the last election. Her message was about rest and the impact of burnout on progress and the sector.

Hella yes to that.

Other bright spots included the incredible knowledge and insights shared by top tier panelists and keynote speakers. Key insights and calls to action include:

Erosion of democracy leads to the erosion of women’s rights

Panelist Meghan Doherty, Director of Global Policy & Advocacy for Action Canada for Sexual and Reproductive Rights says “We cannot rest easy.”

The panel on Health and Gender Equality cautioned participants not to underestimate the impact of this emerging double whammy: The weakening state of democracy coupled with the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion regarding Roe v. Wade will ultimately erode women’s reproductive rights globally. That includes Canada. Citing Poland’s recent decision to create a pregnant woman registry as an example, panelists agreed the number of nation states providing access to safe, affordable, shame free abortions could be expected to decline. The panel reminded everyone that while abortion is a legal procedure in Canada, access can still be deeply undermined if political will was so inclined.

The recent occupation of Ottawa by the so-called, trucker led, Freedom Convoy and rise of the alt right in Canada shows that democracy is also subject to attack in Canada. History, past and present, shows that when democracy weakens, so do women’s rights and freedoms.

We need anti-hate legislation now

“I have been an LGBTQ+ activist for eight years now and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared,” says Fae Johnstone, a trans woman, small business owner, feminist, writer, and Executive Director of Wisdom2Action, an 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Johnstone adds “I don’t think we have fully opened our eyes to the degree of backlash that is coming in the very near future. We know there are far right groups who, today, specifically target school boards, lobbying for policies that are harmful to queer and trans youth.” 

Canada is home to 100,815 people who are transgender or non-binary, including 31,555 who are transgender women. As awareness of trans folks increases, so does trans hate. Panelists agreed that Canada urgently needs to monitor all forms of hate and move forward on creating strong anti-hate legislation.

Let’s shift the relationship between grassroots organizations and institutions

“Grassroots movements have forced us to think differently about policy and I think we need to give these groups more credit,” says Anjum Sultana, Plan International Canada.

Our decades old legacy civil society institutions were a part of our white supremacist, colonialist past, and today, are often still part of the problem. Working more closely with grassroots groups, investing in local organizations, and directly funding these organizations will help us identify, amplify and implement ideas that often don’t get enough credit. “

It’s all connected

“So, Ghana introduced an anti-LGBTQ+ “family values” Bill in August 2021. When you read it, you see right away that it wasn’t homegrown,”says Debbie Owusu-Akyeeh, a Ghanian-Canadian and Executive Director for the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD)

The Bill was, for all intents and purposes, a copy of a similar bill introduced in the U.S. “If this law can successfully pass in Ghana, considered a to be like a social justice golden child in Africa, this type of bill can be fair game for every single country on the continent.

Feminist groups in Canada need to pay more attention to happenings on the international stage because it informs what we may experience here.

An image of diverse women facing forward to hear a speaker talk at a conference
Attendees at the Equal Futuress Summit Evening Keynote Talks. Photo: Equal Futures Network

What happens next?

The Equal Futures Summit, funded and coordinated by Equal Futures Network (a project of CanWaCH)  may not have met everyone’s expectations, but Julia Anderson, CanWaCH CEO, was pleased with how it all went down.

“I was so energized to see how people didn’t just show up, they were truly ‘present’. To me, this is critical as the road ahead is going to require us to continue to work hard together through the ever-growing challenges,” says Anderson.

There will be more big tent events to come.

The Summit reminded us why rebuilding our capacity for effective feminist organizing and creating spaces for learning and dialogue in Canada is both medicine for what harms us today, and a bridge to the future.

The Gender Equality Summit was a strong, post pandemic lock down event where in addition to seeing each other’s feet for the first time in two years, we saw each other’s feet, and together, watch them take a first collective step.

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Activism & Action Our Voices

IS FEMINISM DEAD-AGAIN?

Dragon fly coming out of its nymph shell against black background that says "feminist"
Photo collage by pk mutch

Feminists everywhere are buzzing about Michelle Goldberg’s recent op ed column published by the New York Times, ‘The Future isn’t Female Anymore’.

I circled it three times. Then took the bait. 

Goldberg suggests feminism is fizzling out—along with puffy sleeves and tie-dye sweatpants. And provides reasons for believing this to be true.

I too can see what she sees.

But only if I use a pair of American opera glasses and focus on an American feminist stage (Note: I sincerely grieve for our American sisters). The thing is feminism exists in hundreds of countries around the world. And sure, as a Canadian feminist publisher who monitors trends, I see why American Gen Z, Millennials – ‘Me-lenials’ (a distinct subgroup), are losing faith and yep, even the over-55 comrades in arms are tired. But what they are tired of, in my opinion, is marketplace feminism, #girlboss feminism, and the big one – white feminism.

The thing is, feminism is not just a soprano performance – it’s a whole global opera. And just because the star spangled soprano leaves the stage—or messes up an act, doesn’t mean the whole show is over.

Yes. Bitch closed. The news knocked me back too. But feminist media is a fierce hydra. Capitalism’s axe can and does routinely chop of a Bitch of a limb here and there. But only fair-weather feminists would conclude that that this means feminist media, or feminism on the whole is losing the battle. There remain thousands of feminist zinesters, newsletters, micro publishers, podcasters, and bloggers ready to serve and continue the work of their newest ancestor.

So no, from what I see, feminism is not retrenching. It is, thank Goddess, once again, evolving. Like a dragon fly, coming out of its nymph stage after seven years under pink water. 

Feminism is not a chartable Fortune-500 trend. It is a diverse, living, indeterminate, mycelial-like being. It lives, breathes and thrives mostly underground creating the conditions for deep change. Branches of it need to die so that others can grow.

With the worrisome erosion of democracy everywhere (bad for women and all marginalized folks) and the alt right movement’s growth, it’s about time individualistic girl boss power and corporate-led representational feminism– itchy protuberances that have dominated media, preoccupied elites and North American policy makers over the last 10+ years– gives way to something more relevant for the coming times.

What I see happening now, in my feminist world, is a long overdue revival of radical, socialist, solidarity and grassroots organization-led, feminism; The kind that has marathon legs, knows when to rest, and how to pass a baton because no one or organization or celebrity, no matter how big, can run this race alone.

This feminism prioritizes big picture revolutionary change versus seats at the table. 

For lack of a better, term, let’s call it solidarity feminism. 

Solidarity feminism is prepared to protect its past wins and ready to work collaboratively for new ones like defunding the police, abolition, gun control and ending racism. This feminism is quietly mobilizing millions of progressive micro entrepreneurs, resourcing the experimentation and discourse needed to nourish the emergence of a post-work, post growth, accessible, post capitalist and planet-first economy. Such an economy will enable all to thrive in accordance with their personal or community’s cultural definition of thriving; A peaceful pluriverse.

Solidarity feminism is hella intersectional, inter-movement, and international, because as the pandemic made clear, the fight for gender justice and liberation is all interconnected.

The new, emerging take on solidarity feminism understands that this work moves in sync with natural cycles. A pause from organizing global marches is simply wintering—reflecting, recharging–not the end of a movement.

For me, the future is not – was never – female. It is, and always was, feminist.

There is a difference. You see, feminism does not equate to female. Feminists come in all genders–and to fight what’s coming, and to birth real liberation, we will need all feminists, all grassroots and large feminist non-profits, for profits and NGO’s in every nation, on well funded front lines.

If  Susan Faludi looked beyond U.S. borders, I think she might agree. Feminism isn’t retrenching. It’s morphing. Wisely shedding what is no longer useful; A more relevant kind of feminism for a world facing the triple threat of Covid, climate and conflict is about to take off and fly. 

A part of feminism may indeed be dying. My kind of feminism is just getting started. 


This Op. Ed. was written and published by pk mutch, founder and publisher of LiisBeth.com.

Tired of just reading about feminism? Looking to practice feminism? Or a like minded, feminist community to be part of?  Check out the Feminist Enterprise Commons here.

Recommended Readings: 

(Got another? Please share in the comment section!)

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Our Voices

We Had Better Believe Her!

An image of a young black woman, wearing a flowered dress, hands folded in front of her.
Feminist poet, Alexandra Mandewo. Photo Provided.

Not every 18 year old writes feminist poetry and dreams of going to biomedical engineering school in the fall. Except for Coquitlam, B.C. based Alexandra Mandewo. 

Mandewo won an award at her school for this work. She sent it to us –looking to publish it.  We loved it. Thought you would too.

Here is a little more about Mandewo and her poem. 


LiisBeth: How old are you? What school you go to?

Mandewo: I am 18 years old and go to Pinetree Secondary School in Coquitlam, BC.

LiisBeth: What prompted you to write this poem?

Mandewo: I wrote this poem as part of a social justice poetry assignment for my First Peoples English 12 class. I wanted to write a poem that would inspire and motivate others.

Not every 18 year old writes feminist poetry and dreams of going to civil engineering school in the fall. Except for Coquitlam, B.C. based Alexandra Mandewo.  Mandewo won an award at her school for this work. She sent it to us –looking to publish it.  We loved it. And so we did. 

LiisBeth: Do you write a lot of poems?

Mandewo: I started writing poems this year but I’ve always considered myself a writer. I’ve written many articles ranging from diversity and inclusion to educational disparities. Many of my poems have been about women’s empowerment but also grief.

LiisBeth: Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so tell us about your beliefs as a feminist. 

Mandewo: I do consider myself a feminist- an intersectional feminist. I use Roxane Gay’s description of the foundation of feminism as my definition of a feminist: I think a feminist is someone who supports the choices of women even if they wouldn’t make those certain choices for themselves.

(Click above to hear Mandewo read the poem. You can also download it here. )

LiisBeth: How have you experienced high school in terms of gender equity?

Mandewo: My high school experience has been very unusual due to being a high performance athlete and the pandemic- doing half of my high school completely virtual. I don’t really think I have experienced gender inequity in my classes or in my school.

However, one distinct moment I remember was my first high school career fair. I decided to go to the room where a male engineer was speaking about his field and when I entered I realized I was the only girl out of at least forty kids. Despite this, I tried to actively participate in the discussion but whenever I put my hand up to answer questions, I was never picked.

The speaker went as far as asking kids who had already answered questions to answer another one instead of calling on me with my hand up.

Luckily, this experience didn’t heavily affect me as I am going into engineering in university- but it was my first of many experiences being the only woman in the room.

LiisBeth: Have you ever felt a “feminist snap”? A moment in time when you wanted to shout “That is not right!” Or fair!

Mandewo: The one thing that always gets me is the gender pay gap. Some people argue that it only exists in certain level jobs but research and testimonies clearly shows that it exists in all levels of the workforce. I struggle to fathom how someone can think a man and woman doing the exact same job should be paid differently.

LiisBeth: What do you want to do when you graduate? Interests? pursuits?

Mandewo: I will be attending George Washington University in Washington, DC. Being in America’s Capitol, I will have access to a plethora of organizations looking to help with the advancement of women’s rights. Within school, I plan on taking courses like Women, Gender and Sexuality studies as well as joining groups like Women in Engineering to help uplift other women.

LiisBeth: Thank you so much Alexandra!  You are an amazing young woman!

Mandewo:  And thank YOU for sharing my work with your readers!

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Activism & Action

Inside the Equal Futures Network: A Feminist Coalition Juggernaut in the Making?

An image of about 100 people, 90% women, at the launch of the Equal Futures Network in 2020.
The Launch of the Equal Futures Network. Centre, the former Women and Gender Equality Minister, the Honorable Maryam Monsef (centre). Photo provided.

Leah Sarah Peer, a 3rd year, 26-year-old Montreal medical student and founder of the Peer Medical Foundation (PMF), a fledgling nonprofit that helps folx navigate the Canadian healthcare system, explains the meaning of her necklace: A Swarovski crystal pendant in the shape of a black swan hanging on a lightweight silver chain. Peer says “When I wear this necklace, I think about a swan who is constantly surveying and navigating a lake, having to face challenges, and overcoming obstacles generated by nature. It inspires me to work hard to make a difference while I am on this planet.”

Peer also knows that black swans are rare birds, famously othered in fables, whose survival depends on being part of a larger flock.  

So, when Peer heard of The Equal Futures Network (Network), a new pan Canadian initiative designed to connect, amplify, spotlight organizations working to achieve gender equality—she immediately signed up.  As did over 488 other organizations – in just over a year. 

Network is now arguably Canada’s largest ‘come one come all’ feminist organization since the creation of The National Acton Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), a powerful 700+ network of women’s rights launched in 1971 which served at the forefront of fights for rights for over 30 years.

But to what end? 

Is this just about flocking together? Or something bigger?

Julia Anderson, Chief Executive Officer for the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health CanWaCH, home of the Network initiative, believes the it has incredible change making potential.

“If we want to improve the lives of the most marginalized women, children and adolescents, anyone marginalized due to gender, protect their health and rights, we need to work together.”

Taking a ‘big tent’ approach, Anderson says any organization, business or nonprofit, big or small, working to advance gender equity and equality is welcome to join. Its diverse member list includes the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Next Gen Men, Groupe Femmes, Politique et Démocratie, Intersex London Canada, Women of Colour Thrive, Niijkiwendidaa Anishnaabekwewag Services Circle, the Northern Birthwork Collective, New Brunswick Transgender Health Network,  Shake Up the Establishment—and Queen’s University.

Presently, over 32% of members are based in South Western Ontario; an impressive 19.5% are based in Quebec.

The organization is hosting its first network summit in Ottawa on June 8-9th.  The Honorable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (WAGE), and award-winning, feminist author, Farzana Doctor, and Joanna Griffiths, Founder and CEO Of Knix, are keynote speakers. WAGE contributed $498K in grant funding over 3 years towards the development of the Network in 2021.

THE STATUS OF GENDER EQUALITY IN CANADA

Compared to countries like India, or the United States, especially in this moment, Canada looks like a gender equity mecca. So why fund a new coalition?

The truth is, we too, still have a long way to go. 

No matter what international gender equality index you look at, Canada is rarely the top 10. While Canada has moved up the UN Gender Equality Index ranks from #25 in 2015 to #16 in 2021, other countries with self-identified feminist governments like Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Germany, Australia and surprisingly Hong Kong China (SAR), still lead the global gender equality scoreboard. Especially when it comes to gross national income (GNI) per capita which compares how much a woman earns on average in each country. Using a USD based calculation that adjusts for differences in cost of living, the average woman in Norway earns $66, 494/year. A woman in the US earns $63,826. The average woman in Canada earns $48,527 (27-24% less). When an intersectional lens is applied, the earning gap is even greater.

Pay equity, despite a new federal law, is still not a reality in many sectors and spaces in Canada. Canada’s women’s entrepreneurship programs, world class and successful on many levels, continues to over privilege a small subset of 200 000+ women entrepreneurs with incorporated, scalable (read largely tech-based) enterprise ideas and dreams leaving the rest (62%), largely sole, self-employed, necessity-driven women entrepreneurs with a reported medium income of $19 999K/gross per year, vastly under supported.  

In addition, Canada still has uneven access to abortion procedures—despite legalization.  Women only hold 23.4% of corporate board seats as of 2021—a mere 2.2% increase over 2020. Twenty-eight per cent of women-led households struggle with the affordability, suitability or adequacy of their housing. This is almost double the rate of households led by men. Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner (Statistics Canada, 2019). It costs taxpayers billions of dollars: $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone. Egale, a LGBTQ+ advocacy group, reports 71% of trans people have post-secondary education, but over 50% earn less than $15 000 a year due to gender discrimination.

When we apply an intersectional lens, things are typically worse for racialized , disabled, immigrant women, plus queer and trans folk on every metric examined. According to Census and Statistics Canada Canadian Income Statistics data on average annual earnings: Indigenous women face a 57% gender pay gap, women with disabilities face a 46% gap, immigrant women face a 39% gap and racialized women face a 32% gap.

That said, there has been watershed progress in just this past year. For example, universal childcare, a 50 year+ body of activist work, is now an implementation- ready policy reality in this country. And, new Canadian polls that show that 90% of Canadians want to see gender equality achieved and that 57% of women (and 40% of men) today identify strongly as feminists, plus a feminist government.

Overall, we have indeed made progress, but progress is still unevenly distributed. 

Furthermore, as the recent attack on U.S. Roe v Wade and the implosion of women’s rights in Afghanistan, shows progress unattended, is progress denied. Rights won through hard, decades-long struggle and lives lost easily comes under siege when economic conditions worsen and when political power shifts. Patriarchy is a hydra. Cut one limb off and another one grows in its place. Progress for women, gender equity and social justice requires constant vigilance. 

History shows the antidote, is to be and stay organized. At present, we are not. Not like we used to be. And perhaps that, is the piece of the puzzle that keeps us from getting to the top. 

THE POWER OF FEMINIST ORGANIZING

In financial circles, Black Swans refer to an unpredictable event or set of forces that suddenly coalesce, rise up and remake the world. An example is Brexit or closer to home, the 2008 financial crisis. One could also argue that the creation of a new pan Canadian feminist coalition could be another. 

Does the Network have the potential to be this era’s feminist Black Swan?  

Nora Loreto, activist and feminist author, gives it a maybe. 

Her concern? In this neoliberal age of individualism, women have excelled at organizing empowerment-oriented networking events but seem to have forgotten how to organize, mobilize and wield political power where and when it really counts. 

In her book, Take Back the Fight, Loreto argues we have lost ground as a result and believes the key to avoid further backsliding is to re-skill, fund, and build large  diverse feminist coalitions capable of both defending and moving gender equity and rights forward. Loreto sees the emergence of the Network as a positive step forward. But will wait to see if this network has a required political spine. 

Reinforcing the importance of organizing for political power, Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter (US) and author of The Purpose of Power, writes, “Most people when they think about power are actually envisioning empowerment. Those things are related, but different. Unless empowerment is transformed into power, not much will change about our environments.”

CanWaCH/Network understands the need for and power of organizing, having served as coalition for change builders since its inception. 

INSIDE EQUAL FUTURES NETWORK – WHO ARE THEY? WHAT DO THEY WANT?

Simply, the Network is a project of the CanWaCH organization. But few women’s organizations outside of the health space know anything about CanWaCh.

How did a small, international, women’s health nonprofit based in Peterborough become the lead, pan-Canadian convener, a cross sector, all-call gender equality initiative?

For starters, this modest, 17-person, pan Canadian virtual organization has quite an impressive big-dog-in-the-park track record.  Their achievements include:

  • Serving as the driving force behind a $14 billion-dollar Canadian initiative to deliver and advance reproductive, maternal, child healthcare rights around the world.
  • Playing the role of lead mobilizer and convener for Canada’s participation in Women Deliver 2019, a huge, bi-annual, global conference which attracted 2500 organizations, 8000 in person attendees and another 200 000 participants online to Vancouver; It was the first time the now 12 year-old-event was ever held in Canada. 
  • In 2021, CanWaCH played a leading role in the development of a Foreign Policy by Canadians which involved convening and working with over 400 people. One of the recommendations was that Canada needs to do more to on the home front. Anderson says, you can’t just advocate elsewhere, “You also need to be addressing the roots of inequality where you are in your own backyard.” Plus, if we want other countries to advance women, they must see it, to be it.

“We have demonstrated we have the skill and experience” says Anderson, who has been involved in membership and coalition-based organizations her entire career. “We are also good at attracting resources. We figured that if we managed to create a track record of success internationally, why not leverage our capabilities domestically.”

Is this another association? 

On that, Anderson is crystal clear.  “No. We don’t serve the membership; we serve the impact.”  

CanWaCH, as the host organization is taking a “leaderful” approach to this project.  Which essentially means they don’t see themselves as out in front (traditional leadership), or stepping aside (servant leadership). Instead, they plan to work within, collaboratively, compassionately, trust the process and support network members. The only guard rails are the projects stated values and desired outcome–more gender equality.  

BIRDS OF A FEATHER?

Can anyone join? The answer is: The Network “defaults to inclusion”. Any organization, anywhere on their feminist journey will be welcomed as members as long as they are aligned with stated core values which include: A commitment to intersectional feminism, listening, learning, using power, privilege to challenge oppressive norms and systems, working to advance decolonization and overall, move mountains and help smash the patriarchy.

This means larger pro-capitalism women in business networks who rarely, if ever, show up at a protest with organizationally identified placards will find themselves shoulder to shoulder with grassroots, Marxist feminists who actually organize them -without pay.   

However, organizations we spoke to were excited to be rubbing elbows with each other, no matter what their political stance.

TWO NEW EFN MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS

THe logo for the The Canadian Coalition to Empower Women (CCEW) was founded by The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW)

The Canadian Coalition to Empower Women (CCEW) was founded by The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW)—a group that has been operating in Canada for 90+ years (read Colonial times) as a founding member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women International. Both the CCEW and the BPW recently signed on to the Network.

Co-founder and Project Liaison to coalition’s latest venture, the IDEAS4GenderEquality Project, Sheila Crook says, “When we saw the Network, we said this is an organization we need to connect with. It’s an opportunity to see who’s out there and what they are up to.” Crook was impressed by the organizational diversity of network members—everything from business to civil society, nonprofit, university and union organizations.”

Crook adds “For me, the Network’s existence and uptake acknowledge the fact that there are thousands of organizations in Canada working to advance gender equity in one way or another.  This network will open the door, help us build bridges of understanding and form partnerships that can drive real, systemic change.”

Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce Logo/Ad

The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director, Nancy Wilson, agrees.  “We recently joined the Network network as well.  We represent and advocate for equity for women entrepreneurs, particularly those who operate micro-enterprises or are precariously self-employed. We see this network as a chance to learn and add our weight to any initiative that works to improve gender equity in Canada.”

Wilson and several members of her team will also be attending the June conference. 

CanWaCH CEO Julia Anderson speaking to a group on behalf of Equal Futures Network
Julia Anderson, CEO of CanWaCH, speaks to Equal Futures Network members and CanWaCH members attending an event in Vancouver on May 5, 2022.

IS THIS THE BLACK SWAN EVENT WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR?

Frankly, it’s too early to tell. 

Critics of efforts like this talk about the challenges associated with bringing diverse viewpoints and agendas together in hopes of chiseling the mess down into a tower of power scale political force.  All too often, political differences, histories, egos, cancel culture tactics and lack of resources to participate fully in a big coalition for small organizations undermines the intent: The collaboration tax is real. Systems-generated trauma, often the source of unintended harm and disagreement, is also real. Fostering a true “I have your back; you have mine” sense of solidarity comes with the opportunity to battle-test each other over time-and survive. In other words, it’s slow and messy.

However, right now, Network members seem unified and enthusiastic in their belief that when birds of a feather flock together, good things will happen.   

However, critics say that in order truly dismantle the gender oppression and marginalization mountain, Network members will need to do much more than party once in a while like its 2019 in a big tent.

Black Swan events are known in financial circles for being unanticipated and having gale force impact.

Black swans in nature are also known for having the longest neck, among other species of swans.

Let’s see how far this diverse coalition is willing to stick its neck out to help Canada leap forward and achieve true gender equity and equality – once, and for all time.


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