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Image of a south asian woman with mid length brown hair in a blue dress. Plants in the background.
Author, activist Farzana Doctor. Keynote at the Equal Futures Network Summit, June 2022. Photo provided.

Farzana Doctor is driven by purpose. This sentiment, that comes from a place deep in her heart, has guided her throughout her adult life. From activism to entrepreneurship, feminism to writing poetry, purpose becomes her sherpa to climbing her Everests. This relentless pursuit to seek and see change is why we will see her on June 7th as the keynote speaker at the the Equal Future’s Network summit in Ottawa, on the evening of June 7th.  She will be talking about one of the issues that has been gnawing at her and many women in her Dawoodi Bohra community – Female Genital mutilation (FGM).


Is Doctor’s main goal to include this issue on the agenda as one connected to the whole gender-based violence?

 “Generally, people think FGM is a weird thing happening in a weird country. They think it doesn’t affect them. They think it’s an issue happening over ‘there’. “It’s no different from the rape culture, sexual harassment, women earning less than men, forced sterilizations against indigenous women.” Farzana feels the need to put it in context and make women aware of how common it is. Female genital mutilation takes place in 92 countries, according to Doctor. White, Christian, American survivors are coming forward to talk about it. Until 1977, it was covered by health insurance in the US! She stresses that it’s a world-wide issue used to control sexuality. It’s about policing women and non-binary people’s bodies.  “I feel there are white, Canadian Christians who’ve also suffered this. They just don’t talk about it.” She hopes that by helping women understand it this way, it will cease to be a foreign issue


Did she become a feminist?

“I was a feminist, probably in my teens.”  She was raised in a very patriarchal family. Supported and encouraged, but there was unfairness. she knew as a young girl this was not OK. So she started getting involved, taking up her first job in a woman’s shelter at 18. She then began taking up cudgels against other issues… violence against women, anti-racism, LGBTQ rights.


Does she give feminism a platform?

Feminism is embedded in her writing, which has always tackled issues of social justice. Her feminism is also part of her training. Doctor is a part time psychotherapist. “You’re in tune with people’s interiority…it’s easier to think of the emotional issues of the characters. It’s about observing people. Most writers are keen observers.” Her novels mirror this.  6 metres of pavement is a story of redemption that answers a crucial question: How do you get over the worst mistake of your life? She loves these kind of questions. In her novel Seven, where she tackles FGM, her protagonist Sharifa has no memory of what happened to her and therefore travels to India to find out. “I have encountered people with all 3 ways of remembering: People who remember zilch, people who have patchy memories and people who have a memory like a film this is based on reality. Then when it dawns on you, you look back and patch the pieces.”


Drives Doctor who is also an entrepreneur, to get the most out of her day?

She attributes it to meticulous structuring. Mornings are devoted to writing, afternoons and early evenings are reserved for treating clients. Above all,  she relies on self-promotion. Even with a publisher, “You need to be everywhere, if you want to get your books read.”

Her determined efforts have led her to work hard at self-promotion. “I’m very DIY. What’s the point of just being published? People have to see something 5 or 8 times, get engaged, before they start reading.”  She is aware there’s a lot of competition and that some good writers may end up having a smaller readership.  They’re tentative about shining too bright. Not Farzana Doctor. She had CBC, CHCH and the Globe and Mail feature her all in one week!

“Authors have to figure out how to spread the word and have an impact.”


Folks does she rely on to help her publish?

Getting a publisher is still a struggle for her, despite having published 4 novels and one poetry collection. Even with the help of an agent, it took a year to get her poetry collection published. Next on the list is a self-help book. How does she straddle so many genres? She feels more confident and therefore finds it easier to branch out.  She felt good stretching her writing to poetry but discovered it was a lot of hard work. Her collection You still look the same, written in her 40’s, is divided into 4 sections, each beginning with some psychotherapy homework and haiku.


Would she have got her material if she hadn’t suffered the angst of being brown, bullied and brow-beaten by a patriarchal society?

While what she went through gave her organic material, “I’ve seen enough injustice in Canada. So I would have still ended up writing”.

While FGM is an issue she’s been obsessive about, she thinks activism can make you burn out faster.

Maybe, one day, she’d put it aside and focus on someone else’s issues.

Right now, FGM is still mission unaccomplished.


Is Farzana Doctor? she is the Tkaronto-based author of 4 critically acclaimed novels. Her debut poetry collection – You still look the same (available on Amazon and indie bookstores) encapsulates her feisty forties. It has, unsurprisingly, received a lot of love. Farzana has been raising her voice against Female Genital Mutilation (FGMC) for seven years; even dedicating her book Seven to this explosive subject. She has also written on social work and diversity-related topics. All this, while being a part time psychotherapist.

Publisher’s Note:  To hear Farzana Doctor speak about her book Seven, and her writing process, check out this episode of the THE FINE PRINT.  Also check out Doctor’s review of  Lauren McKeon’s book, No More Nice Girls here. 

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The Complexities of Kinship, Feminism, and Marriage

In September, LiisBeth associate editor Lana Pesch launched The Fine Print: a one-hour, author conversation series in the Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC). The Fine Print explores the author’s process, purpose and what it means to be a changemaking writer.

In the first episode, Pesch spoke with social worker, activist, and writer Farzana Doctor about her new book Seven—an award-winning novel that explores the tensions between modern and traditional customs, specifically the ritual of khatna (female genital cutting).

Watch our favourite moments from the conversation in this YouTube compilation.

Publisher’s Note: Interested in watching the entire conversation? Easy. Just join the Feminist Enterprise Commons here. Annual fee is $149 USD.  In January, February, and March, The Fine Print will be in conversation with scholar, writer and musician, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson about her latest book, Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies; author, speaker, and activist, Jael Richardson about her new novel, Gutter Child; and Shaena Lambert, author of Petra.



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The New Measure of a Womxn: Wielding Power

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash


Yesterday, while at a local theatre, I waited in line for the gender-segregated washrooms. As usual, the queue for the women’s went straight out the door and halfway down the hallway, while the men’s looked almost empty.

Most of us have grumbled about this poor architectural planning, but after spending this past week with Lauren McKeon’s No More Nice Girls: Gender, Power, And Why It’s Time to Stop Playing by the Rules, I labelled the problem differently: this is yet another example of how the world is designed for cis men.

No More Nice Girls, Lauren McKeon. Released March 2020 by Anansi Press

No More Nice Girls is a well-researched and infuriating (in all the right ways) book about power and how women’s and non-binary people’s power is routinely undermined. It’s packed with statistics on how marginalized people are taught to shoehorn themselves into a system intentionally designed not to fit. With an intersectional lens, the author lays out the way power inequities play out in politics, the economy, law, media, science, technology, city planning, and other areas.

McKeon challenges the myth that more women need to just work harder (and be “nice” while doing so) to reach for the top of existing power structures. Here’s one of the shocking statistics: when women CEOs do manage to reach the top, they earn $0.68 to every dollar their male colleagues make.

She also takes on the #GirlBoss trend, which encourages women to contort and bend instead of working to change the system. “They must be a boss, but not bossy; authentic, but Insta-trendy; real, but not harsh; beautiful, but effortless; killin’ it, but not thirsty; busy, but glowing with Goop-ified self-care; vulnerable, but just the right amount; tough, but just the right amount; confident, but not extra; warm, but not weak; decisive, but not rude; your bitch, but not bitchy.”

What interested me most about No More Nice Girls were the examples of how power might be reimagined and redefined, and how this power can lead to social equity.

For example, what if we viewed power as breaking silence and healing from trauma? Citing Tarana Burke, #MeToo’s founder: “What we’re doing with #MeToo is building something that doesn’t exist. Literally. It’s an international survivor-led and survivor-focused social justice movement.”

Power can also look like projects that intentionally decentre cis men and focus on the needs of women and non-binary people. McKeon offers anecdotes about the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and the co-working space The Wing, all of which were created to be safe spaces and “where men no longer write the rules.”

But feminism is a work in progress, and McKeon raises essential questions about who gets included and excluded in these spaces, urging feminists to challenge their intersectional praxis: “In many ways, the women-only movement has mirrored the challenges of feminism itself: the centering of biological definitions at the expense of transgender women; the exclusion of Indigenous women and women of colour from its most visible and influential positions; claims of battling tokenism while institutionalizing that same philosophy in its own histories and organizations.”

Another chapter is devoted to the power of feminist entrepreneurship, such as Ali Ogden’s Bon Temps Tea Company, which gives micro-grants to women to encourage and support their feminist work, and Taran and Bunny Ghatrora’s Blume, a chemical-free period-product subscription box that includes politicized information about menstruation. These and other examples spotlight ways in which “a feminist-first enterprise that’s built with sincerity can phenomenally change the economic landscape.” They can create kinder workplace cultures that value mentorship, collaboration, staff wellness, and are trauma-informed. Among other things, they can include breastfeeding rooms, child care, and be more intentional in their hiring practices.

McKeon ends with reflections on Women Deliver, a global feminist conference that took place in Vancouver in 2019. Moderators closed main-stage panels with a question about how speakers would use their power. McKeon optimistically writes, “This question was a way of reminding everyone there that they did have power, now, even if it didn’t always feel like it—even if their power didn’t look anything like traditional power…. All of it put a drop more power into this new bucket. It evened things out. It remade the world.”

No More Nice Girls made me ponder the ways I use my power. I’m an author working within a publishing industry context that is still racist, sexist, ableist, and heterosexist. I do my best to mentor, share space (and when appropriate, make way for others), amplify the work of marginalized writers, collaborate to create opportunities, and push from the outside to help steer the slowly moving literary ship in the right direction. It’s easy to grow cynical, to question whether these efforts drive real change, or are just drops in a bucket. But McKeon’s optimism made me reconsider the power of this work. Could it remake the world?

I know that it’s possible to design washrooms to be accessible, safe, inviting, and not segregated by gender. It’s possible because people have done the advocacy and work to design them. Now it’s time to use our power to disrupt oppressive systems and create a world that includes all of us.

Farzana Doctor is the author of four novels, including the forthcoming Seven (Dundurn, August 2020).

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