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Photo by: ANDREW LISHAKOV on Stocksy
“woman screaming loud behind transparent foil”


The Canadian (one of over 200 general elections in the world this year) federal election is on and therefore the mudslinging has begun. Hauling out frightening homophobic and misogynist speeches from one leader’s past, deeply hurtful racist blackface photos from another’s, with more to come, for sure. I hadn’t planned on digging into the election in this newsletter, but with the trajectory of Canada’s future at stake, how can I not?

To me, elections are like spring cleaning. They are a time when we pull things out into the light and re-examine our priorities: What do we want to keep and what we can live without. We conjure Marie Kondo and think about which candidate or party (left-brain analysis aside) sparks joy. We move aside the heavy furniture and take the parliamentary rug out for a good shake— even a beating—in the open air. Not surprisingly, a lot of crud can accumulate in four years.

If we think about elections in this way, my over-riding question in Canada’s upcoming federal election is this: Do we need a new rug or are we better off cleaning up and repairing the one we already have? Can that rug still be useful, can it even give us joy?

In my own efforts to stay informed, I found lots of election analysis and tools which name their idea of key issues and where each party stands: CBC’s Canada Votes, the Globe and MailVice Magazine’s “Everything You Need to Know About…..” series, and the Maclean’s magazine election issue.

But not one of these mainstream sites name women’s equality or gender equity as a key election issue. Incredible, considering women and women-identified people represent 53% of the population. You will see Indigenous issues, crime, students, immigration, manufacturing, and climate change. But gender? Nada. Childcare crops up on one or two, but surely that is an issue for all genders and not the sole concern of women.

As the YWCA “Up For Debate” initiative points out, there has not been a leaders debate on women’s issues in more than 35 years. What were we concerned about then? Reproductive rights, domestic and sexual violence, economic equality, equal political representation? Those issues remain deeply relevant even though, yes, it’s 2019.

So how do we find out where the major federal parties stand on reproductive rights, pay transparency, gender-based violence, closing tax loopholes that benefit only men, the chronic state of funding instability undermining women’s organizations and social movements, or how innovation and economic development dollars continue to favour male-led industries? What about their commitment to new pay-equity legislation, using gender-based assessment tools in policy making, or support for the new Equality Fund and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund?

We tried. We found almost nothing. We at LiisBeth, together with our readers, obviously need to work on changing that. In the meantime, we gathered what few articles and sites that might help you rate the federal parties on issues of particular concern to women and, really, should concern everyone:

If you are ready to take action, we recommend you send a letter to election candidates to tell them you care about gender equality. The Canadian Women’s Foundation has made this action simple. Click here to send a letter now.

So, in sum, does the current rug still spark joy, despite all the crud? 

As for me, I watched Ontario, the province I live in, vote out a deeply unpopular female Liberal premier (who made mistakes, but by many accounts delivered on good policy) and replace her with a male Conservative, carny-style premier and team who campaigned on a buck-a-beer promise. Frankly, it’s been dark time here ever since.

All I can say is there are a lot of people who wanted a new rug, got one, and are now wishing they could get roll it up and toss it out, or at least get rid of the beer stains.




Clockwise from the top: Cynthia Erivo at TIFF 2019, Melody Kuku, Annabel Kalmar, Sarah Kaplan, Cherry-Rose Tan


Margaret DeRosia curates a list of five must-see films for feminist entrepreneurs that screened at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) earlier this month. 4 min read

Feminist entrepreneur Melody Kuku’s personal story of resilience redefines the meaning of strength, and is an example of how writing poetry can be an outlet to overcome crisis. 3 min read

Is direct trade the new fair trade? Daphne Gordon discovers why tea producers around the world are partnering with the Canadian-based tea distributor Tea Rebellion. 3 min read

And find out how corporate social responsibility is being reshaped by changing demographics in a Q&A with Sarah Kaplan about her new book, The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation. Feminist Freebie alert! Be the first to comment on this article on LiisBeth and recieve a free copy of Kaplan’s new book! 4 min read

Where can tech entrepreneurs get mental health support? Cherry-Rose Tan shares her story with Mai Nguyen that has inspired others to do the same. 3 min read

Leslie Kern / Photo by Mitchel Raphael


City planning isn’t a new idea. Neither is thinking about how cities, neighbourhoods, communities could be set up in ways that support other sorts of social ideals, including feminist ones. Yet urban planners continue to exclude women’s needs and point of view which leads to isolation, employment barriers, and unsafe streets. When will this change? What impact does this planning have on not only women…but everyone?

Leslie Kern’s second book, The Feminist City: A Field Guide is a collection of essays that invites readers to question the design of urban spaces and ways cities can be more inclusive and safe for everyone.

Here is a 2.5 minute audio clip  of Kern reading from the book. For the 6 minute version, click here.

LiisBeth spoke with Kern on the phone last week from her home in New Brunswick.

Check out the full Q&A here. 4 min read.


Join LiisBeth and Jane’s Walk TO on September 29 in Toronto, for the city’s FIRST-EVER feminist city Walk & Talk. Walk tickets are free. Panel $15/pp. RSVP here. Feminist Freebie!  We are raffling off three complimentary copies of Kern’s new book at the panel talk! But you have to be there to win!

Photo by Daniel Lepôt


Vanessa Trenton of Toronto WON the 2 x Venus Fest tix.

AND Paulina Cameron, CEO for Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) is receiving a A FREE copy of CV Harquail’s book, Feminism: A Key Idea to Business and Society

HUZZAH to you both!


Dr.  Ellie. Cosgrave | The Feminist City | TEDxUCLWomen
[Trigger Warning: mentions of sexual assault]


In ‘The Feminist City’, Dr Ellie Cosgrave uses urban planning to disrupt our thinking about how designing decisions impact different groups based on categories of identity. By weaving in personal experiences and supplementing them with the industrial realities of civil engineering, Ellie shows us how we can recreate the city to enable diverse peoples and bodies to get the very most of the places we live. Through centralising feminist and social justice ideas, Ellie explores how we can fundamentally transform our cities to ensure that no one is excluded from public spaces, or from the resources and opportunities cities have to offer. (Source:

Better Way Alliance on Twitter @BetterWayCAN


It sounds like common sense that employees who are treated fairly would be good for business. But not all employers are created equal. And sometimes common sense…ain’t so common.

But the Better Way Alliance brings together Canadian business owners who value decent work, for everyone’s bottom line and the health of Canada’s economy.

Gilleen Pearce at Better Way Alliance told us the site is starting off as a small murmur but she hopes to build it up with businesses across Canada signing on. “The goal is to prove that support for decent work is building within the business community,” said Pearce, founder of Walk My Dog Toronto, a dog walking service with committed, trained staff who use compassionate positive reinforcement walk methods for your fur babies.

If you believe in a $15 minimum wage, add your name to the growing list of like-minded Canadian businesses at

You can also join the Better Way Alliance conversation and share your story, your mindset, and your ideas about paid sick days, safe workplaces, fair scheduling laws and others ways to build and support Canada’s economy in a fair and just way.

Sign up to be profiled for free here. LiisBeth did!

WMRCC Executive Director Esther Enyolu (Far left to right), Iffat Zehra, and worker cooperative founders including  Sandra Davis and Janet Bennet Cox.


The theme at this year’s Econous 2019 conference (a conference organized by Canadian CED Network in partnership with Community Futures Ontario) was Communities Leading Innovation. Keynote speaker Ted Howard, co-author of a new book, The Making of a Democratic Economy: How to Build Prosperity for the Many, Not the Few, set the tone by asking the 500 attendees why it was easier for most people to imagine the end of earth than the end of 20th century capitalism.

Damn good question.

Luckily, the conference featured two days of workshops and panels that made envisioning a different kind of economy easier.

Of the many ideas and experiments that were shared, one that stood out was an idea by the Women’s Multicultural Resource & Councelling Centre, based in Durham, Ontario; Help entrepreneurs create worker cooperatives.

This two-year project, launched in March 2019 is led by Iffat Zehra, an expert in the field. So far, over six women-led, worker owned cooperatives have been established under her guidance and grown as a result of her ongoing mentorship. Startup co-operative range in size from 5 to 20 women who are all trained in seven principles and as co-owners, the ten-steps of developing a co-operative. The co-ops range in types of industry but include personal support services for seniors, interpretation, cleaning, art, and sewing.

Given increasing inequality and precarious work places, it is not surprising to hear that worker co-ops are growing in number across North America.

Sadly, innovation and startup incubator ecosystems do not offer specialized training for entrepreneurs in how to create co-ops of any kind let alone worker, platform or consumer co-ops. Standard startup curriculum and innovation ecosystems at this point, still remain focused on neoliberal informed wealth creation for owners, versus wealth creation for the local community, co-creators and workers.

If more of us ask for training in co-operative startup formation, perhaps this will change.

Free downloadable! To see if your enterprise idea is right for a worker co-operative model, download a free self-assessment here.

Selene Vakharia, SMRT Women


On a recent trip to Whitehorse, Yukon, LiisBeth had a chance to catch up with Selene Vakharia, co-founder of SMRT Women, a growing women’s entrepreneur network who recently received $28,000 from the federal government’s Women’s Entreneurship Fund to help them build an online academy that aims to support women entrepreneurs in the far North by offering online bootcamps and courses. Vakharia is also a partner and co-producer of “She/Ze Leads the World” the first women’s leadership conference in the North being held November 19 to 21 in Whitehorse, Yukon. Keynote speakers include Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO, and Paulette Senior, CEO and President of the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Vakharia says one significant barrier to growth for many women entrepreneurs is limited business experience and a mindset that limits their imagination about what’s possible for both them personally and their enterprises. “We also noticed that when women try something and fail, they tend to translate that into: I suck at everything. Women are really hard on themselves. So they really benefit from participating in networks and groups. They also tend to be reluctant to spend money or invest in their business or invest in themselves in terms of coaching or learning because of the fear they will never make the money back. Confidence and experience is a huge issue.”

Given all the new federal support for women entrepreneurs this year, are things getting better? 

Vakharia says: “Making more resources available to women is great, but it’s only a part of the answer.” For example, what good is access to startup money or empowerment programs when you are dealing with domestic violence (The Yukon one of the highest rate of domestic violence incidents per capita in Canada), mental health issues, or unaffordable child care options. When a new minin operation opens, research indicates a connection to an increase in alcoholism, sex trafficking, and sex worker abuse. Sometimes even being outspoken or having an opinion in a small community can be unsafe. We need a multi-pronged approach if we want to see women entrepreneurs thrive and generate new economic growth.

You can’t just throw money at women. You have to change the culture, and the system too.”

Vakaharia moved to the Yukon from Toronto without having ever set foot in the North.

No lack of confidence there.


Last month we announced our two new board members. This week we’re sharing GrowthWheel’s tips for entrepreneurs on how and why to form a board and the value of diverse opinions when starting or scaling up your business. Good advice in the PDF here.

What is the Feminist Enterprise Commons?  

A new NON-ZUCKERBERG, safe, secure, online community where feminist entrepreneurs and changemakers who are building enterprises or working on side hustle projects can find others doing the same, learn about leadership and enterprise design, operations and growth in a like-minded feminist context, share stories, tools, learnings, stress test new ideas, source goods and services from each other, and above all, feel supported as enterpreneurial activists.

What is the definition of an enterprise?

According to the dictionary:
1. A project or undertaking that is especially difficult, complicated, or risky
2. Unit of economic organization or activity especially: a business organization
3. A systematic purposeful activity, i.e. digital media production is the main economic enterprise for visual artists
4. Or readiness to engage in daring or difficult action; showing initiative; being enterprising

What is a feminist enterprise?

All of the above along with express operational focus or mission related to social and gender justice.


Photo by Daniel Lepôt of Team Canada in a 60-person formation skydive outside of Farnham, Quebec in August, 2019.
Lana Pesch is in the white helmet and teal rig on the bottom left of the formation. Read about the all-women skydiving record she was part of in 2018.
Feats like these takes TRUSTFOCUS and TEAMWORK.
All attributes we revere at LiisBeth.
Every paid subscription helps us with grant applications, paying new contributors, and bringing these newsletters to your inbox.
And we do this work for YOUour readers & our community.
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Lean Out offers a new and refreshingly candid perspective on what it’s really like for today’s corporate underdogs. Based on both in-depth research and personal experiences, Orr punctures a gaping hole in today’s feminist rhetoric and sews it back up with compelling new arguments for the reasons more women don’t make it to the top and how companies can better incentivize women by actually listening to what they have to say and by rewarding the traits that make them successful.

In Lean Out, Orr uncovers:
Why our pursuit to close the gender gap has come at the expense of female well-being.
The way most career advice books targeting professional women seek to change their behavioir rather than the system.
Why modern feminism has failed to make any progress on its goals for equality.
More than fifty years since the passage of the Equal Pay Act, the wage gap still hovers at 80 percent, and only 5 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women.

This book is a must-read for insights on the impact that reversing systemic gender biases can have on creating more diverse, healthier workplaces for both women and men.” –Joanne Harrell, Senior Director, USA Citizenship, Microsoft

An everyday working woman with a sardonic sense of humour, Orr is an endearing antihero who captures the voice for a new generation of women at work. Lean Out presents a revolutionary path forward, to change the life trajectories of women in the corporate world and beyond. —

The book helped LiisBeth contributor Daphne Gordon make sense of her own ambition. Read Gordon’s take on Lean Outhere.

To go along with our theme of city building and the design put into public spaces…this book is Number One in addressing the politics of where we’re allowed to “go” in public. Adults don’t talk about the business of doing our business. We work on one assumption: the world of public bathrooms is problem- and politics-free. No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail our Private Needs reveals the opposite is true.

No Place To Go is a toilet tour from London to San Francisco to Toronto and beyond. From pay potties to deserted alleyways, No Place To Go is a marriage of urbanism, social narrative, and pop culture that shows the ways – momentous and mockable – public bathrooms just don’t work. Like, for the homeless, who, faced with no place to go sometimes literally take to the streets. (Ever heard of a municipal poop map?) For people with invisible disabilities, such as Crohn’s disease, who stay home rather than risk soiling themselves on public transit routes. For girls who quit sports teams because they don’t want to run to the edge of the pitch to pee. Celebrities like Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen have protested bathroom bills that will stomp on the rights of transpeople. And where was Hillary Clinton after she arrived back to the stage late after the first commercial break of the live-televised Democratic leadership debate in December 2015? Stuck in a queue for the women’s bathroom.

Peel back the layers on public bathrooms and it’s clear many more people want for good access than have it. Public bathroom access is about cities, society, design, movement, and equity. The real question is: Why are public toilets so crappy? — Coach House Books


  • Appropriation Alert! Did Al Ries and Steve Blank, two engineers who made millions by articulating and branding the Lean Startup methodology which is now taught as startup gospel everywhere steal their ideas from feminist thought leaders? Find out more here.
  • Celebrated journalist Sally Armstrong is the CBC’s 2019 Massey Lecturer and argues that improving the status of women is critical to our collective survival. The Canadian tour‘Power Shift: The Longest Revolution’, starts September 25 and The book version of the 2019 CBC Massey Lectures, Power Shift: The Longest Revolution, is published by House of Anansi Press. Available as of Sept. 17, 2019.
  • Greta Thunberg isn’t the only one making waves about our climate crisis. Here’s ELLE’s list of 26 other women leading the charge to protect our environment.
  • The Government of Canada has launched the Canada Business App to help business owners navigate services, get recommendations tailored to your business, find answers on how to scale up, access new markets, and more. LiisBeth met a government rep on site at this press conference last month in Toronto and said they welcome any feedback on the app. Give it a try and give them your feedback.
  • Whaat? Can it get any weirder? Today, it seems more men than women proudly call themselves feminists. Why? Likely because women still fear repercussions from both men and women, while men have realized it makes super promotable–or perhaps a the very least more dateable). Regardless, studies show that over 58% (men and women) of the world’s population identify as feminist.  Still,  Apple programmed Siri to avoid the word “feminism“; In a cowardly move, Apple brass have ceded cultural terrain on basic gender equality to far-right sophists. #shameonyou

That’s a wrap for Dispatch #55!

This is our BIGGEST newsletter and online magazine features release yet! When you combine this with the fact we have added three new amazing board members this year, a new editorial assistant to ensure queries are answered more quickly, will be launching a new online network (Feminst Enterprise Commons) and have created a feminist city walk in Toronto in partnership with Jane’s Walk that at present has 160 people signed up (Yikes!), all we can say is that we are clearly entering into a new phase of our community’s growth and development.

Thank you for being there, being with us, encouraging us, and calling us out when we do something stupid! 

If you do not currently support LiisBeth with a paid subscription or one-time donation, we hope you will consider doing so. There are less than four 500 reader+ feminist publications in Canada. We are the ONLY intersectional feminist publication in the world dedicated entirely to examining entrepreneurship and innovation via a feminist lens.  And one of a few media outlets that are women-led/owned.

We are a source of fair income for feminist writers, academics, and grassroots thought leaders. And we are feminist economy boosters open to partnering, collaborating and learning new things.

Also, remember, if you have a story tip, email us a We are currently accepting queries for January and February.

See you after the Canadian election (Oct 21st). International readers–wish us well.  The next release is scheduled for October 25th-ish!

Peace Out,


Transformative Ideas

Feminist in the City


Leslie Kern/Photo by Mitchel Raphael

Part memoir, part theory, and part geography, Feminist City: A Field Guide is the latest book by Leslie Kern. It delivers a fresh perspective with feminist intersectional ideas to inform urban development. And Kern is not alone. People like Ellie Cosgrave of the UK’s Urban Innovation and Policy Lab, Madrid’s mayor Manuela Carmena Castrillo, and Lucinda Hartley of Australia’s Neighbourlytics have been advocating for urban change for years.

Kern is an associate professor of geography and environment, as well as program director of women’s and gender studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. As an academic, she writes about gender, gentrification, and feminism, while teaching urban, social, and feminist geography.

Her book, Feminist City, will be published by Between the Lines on October 24, 2019, just in time when Canadians will be venturing out into their own neighbourhoods post election, in need of an inspiring read that will ideally help them think about their streets and parks in a new light.

LiisBeth spoke with Kern on the phone from her home in Sackville. We talked about what she thinks a feminist city could look like, her influences, and the wider impact that a feminist city could have on society.

LiisBeth: Tell us a little bit about how the book came to be. What was the catalyst?

Leslie Kern: In my day job, I get to be a feminist urban geographer, and I really love taking that approach to cities. I love teaching that material, I love writing about that material. So much of it is, for me, really connected to the things that women and other people in cities really experience on a day-to-day basis. It’s not just abstract, theoretical things that only academics are interested in. It’s about what it’s like to try to cross a busy intersection, or to access public transit. The catalyst for me was thinking, How can I bring some of these insights and ideas and provocations from the scholarly field, and bring it to a wider audience in ways that I think will allow people to connect to their own experiences of living in, travelling to, working in cities?

Did you have an “aha” moment? One where you were in a class and thought, “This has got to be bigger?”

I just started writing it in my head, almost as a thought experiment. If I was going to write about this, what would it sound like, what would the stories be, and then thought, Why don’t you actually write it? In a broader sense, I think coincidentally, the Me Too movement really exploded just at the time that I was writing the book. That seemed like an exciting coincidence where so many people, mostly women, but many people were standing up and saying harassment of all sorts is rampant, it affects our lives in dozens and dozens of ways, some visible, some invisible. It has a huge impact on the presence of women and other marginalized people in politics and art, and education, culture, science, and all of these fields. I was thinking, yeah, from a geographer’s perspective, the kind of harassment that women face in public spaces, but also private spaces like workplaces and educational institutions and so on, is all sort of tied together, thinking about what kind of spaces we can access, where we feel that we belong, where we have to kick down doors just to get in, and where we might be pushed out of. It felt like a great moment to bring that geographical perspective to this issue that so many people were talking about.

Those are external influences on your thought process. Were there any writers that influenced you?

There’s been a really productive boom in feminist public writing recently, maybe the last decade or so. People like Rebecca Solnit, who also writes about a lot of urban issues. She writes about the experience of different sorts of cities, inequality in cities, policing and violence, all sorts of things. She’s a big influence.

People like Roxane Gay, Rebecca Traister, Tressie McMillan Cottom are feminist public intellectuals who do such amazing work weaving stories of their personal experience, starting from their realities, their lived realities as women, as Black women, as women living in cities in some cases, and connecting that to really deep, critical, social analysis.

Listen to a 6 min reading by Leslie Kerns from Feminist City:

In your opinion, why hasn’t this [creating feminist cities] happened sooner?

Any society, and any of the built environments that societies create, such as cities, they reflect the power relations that exist in that society, and I think we know who has traditionally or for a very long time held the power. We’re talking about wealthy, propertied, able-bodied, cis, white men. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the urban environments that we have are really set up to support their success, their power, their daily needs.

In order for something like a feminist city, or the principles of a feminist city to evolve, you really have to have a lot of social pressure for that to happen, whether that comes in the form of activism, or legal changes, or other kinds of social movements, or just the wider entry of women into positions of power in cities and government, policymaking, architecture, design, all those sorts of things. It’s sort of a slow moving process.

Do you think a feminist city wasn’t at the forefront, or did the idea exist back in the 1960s and 1970s?

I do talk about this in the book. Feminist ideas for urban design, neighborhood design, and household design have existed for a long time, and they actually go back to the 19th century. Women, particularly coming out of socialist movements and so on, were thinking about the ways in which the built environment was set up, and in many ways it was to isolate them, to keep them busy with unpaid domestic work, to keep them from sharing their domestic labour with other households, to keep them out of the spheres that were properly designated for men, the public sphere, politics, education, science, and so on.

It’s not a brand new thing to be thinking about how cities, neighbourhoods, communities could be set up in ways that support other sorts of social ideals, including feminist ones.

Interestingly, you can actually look back in time and see women coming up with their own ideas for how neighbourhoods could be structured to really reshape the household, and reshape women’s labour, and make more time for women. Over time, some of those things have just been lost, other trends have been more dominant, and of course I think it’s fair to say that the feminist social movements of the 20th century have been really focused on things like legal change and equality in the formal, legal sphere.

Vienna is an interesting example of a city where what they call gender mainstreaming has really been put into practice. The idea behind that is that any kind of city policy, or planning, or new urban design plan, whether that’s a park, or a new neighbourhood, or transit lines, those have to be first looked at through a gendered lens. What that means is asking, How might this affect men and women differently? Will it increase gender equity, or will it maybe decrease gender equity? With the aim of explicitly increasing gender equity in cities, cities like Vienna that have done gender mainstreaming are making sure that all of their redevelopment and new design projects support that vision. That has tended to mean things like more public transit, and better access to things like child care, and other sorts of social services that are better integrated with home environments, and all those sorts of things.

When you say it like that, it just seems so obvious.


Whose behaviour do we need to change, and how do we do that?

We could look at this on a very day-to-day, interpersonal level in terms of the regular relations that people experience in cities, and certainly things like harassment and violence come to mind as major factors where we could think about, okay, there is an actual behaviour there that needs to change.

Of course, we also have to think about the systemic level, where it can be difficult to point to individuals and say, there’s some conspiracy to be sexist, or racist, or homophobic there, but over time we can look at patterns of choices and decisions that are made at city hall, and in planning offices and so on, that either uphold the status quo or challenge the status quo. To change that, then we have to use the power of social movements, of our vote in electoral politics, and education as well would be an important component of that.

How do you convince politicians, planners, and the general population that this is the right thing to do?

Unfortunately, arguments that are in favour of equality and inclusion aren’t always enough to sway people, even though we might think ethically they should be. We can turn to arguments that emphasize the wider array of benefits that can come, so that it’s not fixing things just for women, but what about everybody else?

A lot of feminist urban research is about starting from a gender lens, then the kinds of improvements that you might make to the city can affect people more widely. Like how do women with strollers get around the city? If you want to improve that, then you’re going to be improving access for disabled people, for the elderly, you’re going to be probably creating a more accessible public transit system which is good for the environment. There’s all of these sorts of associated benefits that impact a wider swath of society than just women. Of course women are 50 percent of society, but you can make arguments around sustainability, environmental sustainability, that when you pay attention to gendered concerns which often do have a lot to do with things like access to public transit and so on, that if you want to encourage people to use public transit more, and you want to make it safer, harassment-free, affordable, accessible, then you’re promoting that goal of sustainability at the same time.

If you can show how these feminist, gendered concerns intersect with other issues, then maybe we can make a little more headway with those people in power.

I hope that my book is one of many voices that talk about these issues more generally. I tried to touch on some things that maybe aren’t talked about as much, even within feminist urban research. Talking about friendship, women’s friendship, and cities, and how that sort of relationship and certain kinds of spaces can support that relationship.

What will it take to create these cities in terms of resources and timelines and budgets? Combined with that, what do you think a feminist will look like?

To me, a feminist city has to be one where issues around safety and freedom from fear are prioritized. There are certain kinds of changes to the physical environment that can facilitate that, but it also has to be a wider social commitment to equality and non-violence. A feminist city, I think, has to be one where public space in general is safe and accessible, not just for women, but for people of colour, for homeless people, for queer folks, for trans people, for disabled people. A public space where everybody feels welcome and everybody feels that they are contributing to the city through their presence.

It has to be a kind of city where the heterosexual nuclear family is not presumed to be the default. When we think about the kinds of housing that we build, or that we’ve been left with over decades of suburban building, the kind of homes that we have are designed with that default in mind. That is increasingly not the norm in most people’s lives, or it’s not the norm for their entire lives, given divorce, later-in-life marriage, same sex relationships, polyamory, singlehood, all sorts of blended families, all sorts of different household forms. A feminist city has to be one where different kinds of households can flourish, and not feel that they’re being pushed into a box that wasn’t made for them.

Is there anything that you physically envision?

Green space could be an example, but communal and collective spaces for things like growing food or preparing food. More shared spaces for things like child care, more spaces for people to come together. At the moment, we look around and we think there’s a lot of public space, but a lot of it is privately owned, it’s patrolled by private security forces. It’s not really all that public, and it can be quite difficult to actually engage in different forms of social relations there, for example, cooking for people. We could think about spaces that exist within the built fabric that we have, but that are able to be used for a wider variety of purposes.

A library is one of those places that fulfills so many sorts of social needs in society, and yet we’ve seen it be really under attack by austerity-leaning governments that see those sorts of public spaces as easy funding cuts. We know that they’re about so much more than books.

Do you think the rise in co-working spaces is a precursor to what could happen?

I think those spaces can be good examples of the kind of flexibility that can be helpful for people, especially women, who are trying to juggle multiple roles, both their paid work roles, their community roles, their home roles, their parenting roles, all those sorts of things. Co-working spaces might provide locations where people can easily go to work. They are the sorts of spaces where the people who use them can maybe create their own culture and rules and norms about what goes on there, rather than a corporate-derived culture.

What do we stand to lose as a culture if feminist cities aren’t created?

We stand to lose out. Or maybe we should say continue to lose out, because I think we could argue that we’ve long lost out on so many contributions from women and other marginalized people in terms of public life. Their contributions to politics, education, culture, art, science, business. If we continue to have built environments that are both physically and socially inaccessible or unwelcoming, or that just make people’s everyday lives really fearful or really difficult, then they’re not going to be in those spaces that we need them to be.

Not to end on a doom-and-gloom note, but let’s face it, climate crises are already here, as are crises of inequality. And cities are really going to be on the front lines of having to deal with those crises. Cities are not going to either survive or thrive if we don’t figure out ways to address those problems, and to address the ways that those things intersect together. We know that the future is a little bit fragile right now, and if we keep going forward doing the same things that we’ve always done, it’s not going to make for a very bright future for anybody.

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Join LiisBeth and Jane’s Walk TO on September 29 in Toronto for the city’s FIRST-EVER Feminist City Walk & Talk. Get tickets for the event here.

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Creating a Feminist City: We Rise by Lifting Others

Imagine equality. (Photo Think Urban, Women’s March on Washington, 2017)

What if we could rank cities according to how desirable they were for women and gender minorities to live, work and play? And what if this equated with sustainable economic growth for all? If we could pinpoint and, hence, strengthen factors that would attract women and in particular, women entrepreneurs and investors, to move to a city, what might those factors be?  Consider:

  • Safety in all areas of a city, during day and night.
  • Refuge sites and high quality support for victums of gender violence. (or better yet, declining numbers)
  • A thriving diverse women-led entrepreneurship ecosystem.
  • Equal wages (Ontario has a 31% gap).
  • Equal gender representation on corporate and non-profit boards as well as city council.
  • Affordable and accessible daycare.
  • Vibrant, inclusive mentor networks.
  • A five block feminist and social justice centered enterprise district.
  • A thriving feminist art, music, media and culture scene.
  • Subway stations and main streets re-named after prominent women and gender minority leaders.
  • Subsidized feminist summer and March break camp programs-for all genders.
  • Plenty of green space for recharging and connecting root chakras with Mother Earth.
  • Progressive attitudes towards women in all sectors including civic affairs, the legal system, and reproductive health.
  • A self-identified feminist Mayor.
  • (Add your idea here)

Sounds attractive? Welcome to The Feminist City.

Poster for Un Habitat Student Competition 2016

Why The Feminist City?

We bet women (and their families) from around the world would flock to The Feminist City—to live, work, invest, and thrive. And we bet men would gain too. As would gender nonconforming folks and others from diverse backgrounds.

In addition, the economy would experience a much needed spark. There is a strong business case (jobs, tourism dollars, quality of life) behind the idea that The Feminist City would produce incredible economic development opportunities—cities could do themselves (and us) a big favour by trying to become one.

Progressive Politics Produce Economic Benefits

At the turn of this century, when cities were looking for a competitive edge or ways to save enfeebled economies, urban theorist Richard Florida, extending the brilliant work of urbanist Jane Jacobs,  seemed to provide the answer: Find ways to attract the “creative class” who were deemed to be the force capable of reviving rusting, industrial age economies. Creative-class infused cities would later become the economic heroes of the times. The Harvard Business Review hailed his book, The Rise of The Creative Class, as the major breakthrough idea of 2004.

Who comprised this creative class? The “super creative” ten per cent epicentre of this class or worker included scientists, engineers, university professors, poets, novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, and architects”. (Note: All male-led fields). But essentially, the bulk of the creative class folk were primarily socially marginalized people considered to be dreamers, sketchy or undesirables in prior decades. Florida proposed that cities that invited diversity and were were more tolerant of outliers were and would continue to be, more economically resilient and successful. At that time, his indicators for tolerance was measured by how friendly a city was towards “unconventional people – gays, immigrants, artists, and ‘free-thinking bohemians’.”

Florida did not consider gender equity as part of his original creative class formula. In fact, he didn’t consider the health of the local feminist ecosystem as a key driver of economic success in subsequent updates of his theory—that is, until 2012.

Now, with gender inequality persisting and mother earth being pummelled to breaking point (Coincidentally? We think not!) Feminism has remerged from the deep like Godzilla (who is female by the way) to level the field and fight the dark blue scourge. Florida took notice and reflected this in his most recent work. As did others interested in saving economies gasping for air. Advancing women has suddenly become the neoliberal capitalist equivalent to trading bitcoins—perceived huge potential for outsized returns and fast.

Today, many national governments and multi-national corporations are betting that advancing equality for women and girls will fuel new economic growth. Consequently, more people than ever before in history are working to advance gender equity in all sectors. However, the idea that progressive pro-women urban development policy can attract high-growth, next-gen industries, new tourism dollars, and make our cities more livable/visitable for all genders is only just now starting to catch on at the municipal level.

Buh-bye Creative Class? Welcome The Feminist Class!

As evidence, progressive female urban planners are increasingly organizing and working together on about at how to make cities better for women and girls. Their tactics include getting more women involved in urban planning, shaping policies that advance gender justice, and designing more inclusive, safe public spaces. In step, progressive economic development officers are working on strategies to attract high-growth, women-led enterprises.  In other words, they are talking about criteria and strategies for creating a feminist city.

The media has also jumped on the idea by writing about what cities are best for women. In 2014, Bustle, a U.S. based feminist magazine, identified the eight best cities for women to live in in the United States. Editors considered factors like the gender wage gap, laws related to reproductive health, and the depth and “breadth of the city’s historical foundations of progressive feminism in the city.” The list of cities included San Francisco (CA), Austin TX), Philadelphia (PA), and New York City (NY). While these cities have earned a reputation as being female friendly, local governments don’t market themselves as such nor do they demonstrate any specific commitment to gender equity or the advancement of women and girls. They still have a long way to go to being truly feminist cities.

A Tale of Two Cities

Across the pond, Spain’s capital of Madrid is actively marketing their commitment to gender equity and feminist ideals in an attempt to boost tourism—and their annual growth rate in that sector already generates hot green envy amongst peers.

The Mayor and City Council of the city of 3.6 million has declared straight up, loud and proud, that Madrid is a feminist city. And they back it up with action. Just over a year ago, the City Council created the Department for Policies of Gender and Diversity “in order to coordinate efforts to eradicate the perverse effects produced by our patriarchal society.” Says Mayor Manuella Carmena Castrillo: “It is a task that involves all branches of government, even if these are themselves fueled by such a culture.”

Madrid’s effort to advance equity and inclusion is multi-faceted. The “Espacios de igualdad” (“Spaces of Equality”) are 13 projects located in districts around the city that “act as a place of reference for citizenship.” The “spaces” offer workshops and activities to raise awareness of how a culture transmits inequality. They have legal, psychological and professional development initiatives to train all citizens on how to promote gender equality and transform the culture.

The city has also launched two extra-curricular educational programs — “Escuelas de Empoderamiento (“Schools of Empowerment”) and Escuelas de Igualdad (“Schools of Equality”)—that “raise awareness and mobilize the population around issues of equality by disseminating the great contributions brought about by feminism and implications around the concept of gender.”

We could go on. But let’s stop and think about how such initiatives might fly in North American cities. In LiisBeth’s hometown of Toronto, a city similar in size and scale of influence to Madrid, it’s nearly inconceivable to imagine the current mayor or council, both conservative leaning, seizing on feminism as an opportunity.

Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, recently spoke at Move the Dial, a big-budget, Silicon Valley style event to promote women’s participation and advancement in STEM sectors. In a fireside chat with Canadian tech entrepreneur celebrity Michelle Romanov, Tory boasted about his team’s success in luring another hollywood-style bro-owned and led tech conference-Collision–which featured Eva Longoria (acress from Desparate Housewives) as a draw in 2017-to the city for the next three years. He said that a big attraction for organizers was Toronto’s diverse talent pool in STEM. In fact, he mentioned Toronto’s diversity—we counted five times—as a primary draw for people and companies who come to Toronto. Because Toronto is home to people from some 230 different nationalities who negotiate life here, eat each other’s cuisine, and live side by side largely peacefully.

But the city is far from being a beacon of a gender equity progress. Step one in creating a feminist city is making cities safe for women and girls and every six days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner in Canada—Toronto, as Canada’s most populous city, shares this burdensome stat. Only 30% of Toronto’s new city council are women. Toronto’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion website lists 10 specific equity initiatives—but not-a-one related to gender equity.  None of Canada’s TSX top 60 companies—the majority headquartered in Toronto-are headed by a woman. There are only two independent women-led entrepreneur co-working and incubator spaces in existence within city boundaries. Rather than working to shore up women’s entrepreneurship ecosystems, especially in the human-centered economy sectors, the city closed EMBER, the city’s only women-led/women-centred startup incubator program, in 2016. If you type the word “feminism” into the City of Toronto’s website, you get two hits (Madrid=3020 hits).  As a result, Toronto’s tourism and economic development strategy (Read: tech, tech, more tech, nothing but tech. Did we say tech?) looks like it is stuck in the 1990s—the decade the internet went mainstream. All this is unfortunate and dated if Madrid is any indication. Time to run toward where the ball is going-not where it’s been.

The city of Madrid is not perfect. But it takes action. In April, thousands across Spain took to the streets to protest the lenient sentencing of five men in the violent, video-taped “wolf pack” gang rape of a teen attending a bull running festival in Pamplona. Thousands of men and women across Spain took to the streets to protest. The ruling was seen as especially out of touch with the Madrid’s feminist leaning societal values. Madrid responded by banning the men from travelling to Madrid (where the victum was from), and stepping up initiatives to ensure the safety of women and girls in its streets. This included setting up “puntos violetas” purple coloured posts during city festivals where anyone feeling unsafe could get help or advice. The city has also funded a new hotline and specialized network to respond to gender violence. The “Neighborhoods for Good Treatment” initiative includes signs and door hangers for businesses and homes to signal they are safe spaces.

How a city responds to gender-based violence says a lot.

Last spring, Toronto also experienced a high-profile horrific case of gender-based violence—a man driving a van intentionally veered off the road and onto a sidewalk, targeting women. He managed to kill 10 people, eight of whom were women. On social media, the 25-year-old van driver had declared himself an incel (involuntary celibate) and was angry at woman for not wanting to have sex with him.

Torontonians held emotional vigils and flags few half-mast. But there was no follow on city funded initiative launched to advance safety for women and girls or promote gender relations dialogue in response. Surprisingly, Toronto has only one rape crisis centre for a city of 2.7 million. People wait for up to 18 months to get help. Furthermore, its meager funding is currently on the line.

That’s chilling, really.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And lack of action around ensuring safe cities for women might soon hurt those municipalities who continue along a similar path. It’s not a situation a feminist city would accept.

Going Forward?


Image from Messurbanism Blogspot

Move over creative class. It’s 2019. Today’s activists, still closeted intersectional feminists of all genders are the new  transformational urban “undesirables”. And listen up L.A., Berlin, Tokyo, London, Melbourne, Cape Town, and Toronto—embracing feminism and working to elevate gender equality can supercharge your economy—and more importantly, transform the lived experience of your citizens, in amazing, positive ways previously unimagined.

Imagine the sign on the highway as you cross into city limits: Welcome to The Feminist City: We Rise by Lifting Others. Please Take Our Values Home.

#womenaresafehere #transpeoplearesafehere #genderqueerpeople are safehere. 

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