What International Womens Day means to Toronto feminists

International Womens Day (Friday, March 8) can mean a variety of things for different women. For some, the day is.


International Womens Day (Friday, March 8) can mean a variety of things for different women. For some, the day is a reminder of how far weve come in achieving equal rights in politics, the workplace and at home. For others, its a sign that our work is not over, and that we must continue to carve out spaces and lift up all marginalized folks.

Some women will go to the IWD march or concerts and parties with friends and allies, while others honour themselves with a day of rest and self-care (after all, smashing the patriarchy is hard work).

We asked 11 Toronto women what IWD means to them, what issues they see as important in the fight for equality and who are their feminist icons.

Community and political organizer

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

Adding a non-specified and/or X option on passports, birth certificates, health cards and other legal documents dislodges the binary codification of male/female, man/woman rooted in patriarchy, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Resistance persists, but forward momentum is gaining.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I usually go the IWD rally and march. This year, I am part of CUPE Ontario Womens Committee as a newly elected member. As a trans woman, it gives me great joy to have participated in womens committees and marches for almost 20 years. After, I plan to head over to Buddies in Bad Times for Goddess Day, a celebration of women artists, photographers, writers, poets, filmmakers and performers.

Who is your feminist icon?

Georgina Beyer, the first out trans person ever elected to a federal government from New Zealand Cynthia Peterson, the first person to intervene in the Supreme Court of Canada and use lesbian to refer to herself in the first person and currently, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Libby Davies.

Street nurse

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

Working in the area of homelessness, I watch a continued infringement on one of the most basic human rights of women and girls. When it comes to shelter, we should be screaming at the top of our lungs at the conditions in the family motels, shelters and warehouse respite sites that leave women and their children in outrageous conditions.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I’ll be going to the Toronto IWD march and rally with friends. I’m looking forward to the sense of solidarity.

Who is your feminist icon?

I just lost my feminist icon: my mom, Jean. She truly made a mark on me as a person and especially as a nurse. As a very young girl I watched her fight for the rights of others to good education, union jobs, health care and more.

Novelist and poet

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

There are so many urgent and important issues, but can I get on my soapbox for a second about one? Canada needs a National Action Plan to protect kids at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and to support survivors. A 16-year-old in Vancouver, Malaika Somji, has started a petition to ask for this.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I’m a member of WeSpeakOut, a global group of Bohra women resisting a form of FGM/C practiced in our community. As their proud Twitter (@speakoutonfgm) handler, I’ll be sharing messages on IWD.

Who is your feminist icon?

I’m going to be sentimental and say my mom. Back in the 70s, when I was bullied as a child, she went to our Oshawa constituency office and talked to Ed Broadbent about racism in schools. That act of power was great role modelling and helped to spark my own activist tendencies.

Author

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

We need to make sure that equality means just that equal across the board. As in: all women should have the same rights. All women should have the same access to health care, professional opportunities, levels of protection and respect. Right now, all women don’t. So we can’t consider ourselves real feminists if that feminism isn’t intersectional, and we can’t assume that our singular experiences are shared ones.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I’m working! Isn’t that exciting? (Pause for reverence.) My friend and I are heading to the 60th anniversary of Barbie, which would truly impress eight-year-old me. And personally, I’m looking forward to finding out whether or not anyone else pretended their Barbies were Zack and Kelly back in 1992, or whether I was the only one who used her Barbies to act out the Star Wars trilogy.

Who is your feminist icon?

I think about my Nana quite a bit. I think about the women in my family and my friends. I am in awe of all of them, and they inspire me endlessly. Is that a cop-out answer? I don’t care!

Founder of We Talk Women

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

Gender-based violence. How can we focus on breaking the glass ceiling when women (and girls) are being killed on average every 2.5 days? Rape crisis centres are wildly underfunded and were not investing in prevention in a meaningful way. The worst part is that ending violence against women is de-prioritized and funding is heavily impacted by whos in power.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I went to hear Tarana Burke speak on March 5. Her work is so important! Ill be speaking at a school and discussing womens rights, gender norms, intersectional feminism and the womens marches. Im also on a panel about the marches on March 8 and then attending the IWD march with my little pup in tow on Saturday.

Who is your feminist icon?

Its impossible to pick one when there are so many incredible women who have paved the way historically and are lighting the way now. These days, Ive been making more of an effort to learn about historic women leaders and Audre Lorde has been a source of inspiration.

MPP for ParkdaleHigh Park

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

Pay equity. Women, particularly Indigenous and racialized women, need to be paid what they are worth to ensure we have economic justice.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I will be attending the Ontario NDP Womens Luncheon as well as the IWD rally and march. Also, with my local ParkdaleHigh Park NDP riding association, I will be hosting a training session on community organizing, particularly for racialized youth.

Who is your feminist icon?

My mother. Shes the fiercest feminist I know and the biggest influence in my life.

Writer and body-positivity activist

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

Toxic masculinity is the leading factor in gender-based violence. These attitudes and belief systems are physically harmful and dangerous for women, trans and non-binary folks. We need to start more conversations about gender-based violence, and we need to see our government step up and put money into programs and resources to help survivors.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I attended the event with Me Too movement founder Tarana Burke on March 5. On Saturday, I’m planning to check out Handlebar for Queer Rock Society Live Karaoke with a bunch of friends, because what says “IWD” more than queer karaoke?

Who is your feminist icon?

Roxane Gay and Lindy West, who are both writers who take on feminist issues, body politics and pop culture so beautifully.

Artist

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

I am most concerned by the erasure of transgender voices and women of colour as a result of white feminism. More locally, the rollback of the sex-ed curriculum terrifies me.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

My day will consist of listening to Lizzo on repeat and reading some Sara Ahmed. I always look forward to seeing everyones posts on social media about what IWD means to them!

Who is your feminist icon?

I simply cannot pick one. I am so thankful to Alok Vaid-Menon, Rachel Cargle, Emma Sulkowicz and Ericka Hart for their work.

Professor of chemistry and biology at Ryerson University

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

A huge issue is the complacency, complicity, ignorance and lack of awareness by men. Gender equality benefits men in so many ways, from quality of relationships and workplace safety to standard of living and length of life. Men need to get in the game be allies, advocates, inclusive and change-makers for their sons and daughters, partners, businesses and workplaces. Apathy and the failure of men to understand their responsibility, power and potential in advocating for and effecting real change towards gender equality is a huge challenge. This is not a “women’s issue. This is a human rights issue.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I will be following all the various activities taking place in Canada and beyond particularly in science on social media and amplifying the voices, highlighting the activities and celebrating the achievements of as many women (particularly in STEM) as possible. In terms of events, I am a keynote speaker for the Ontario Energy Association’s International Women’s Day event in Toronto.

Who is your feminist icon?

I have a pantheon of feminist icons! But since I went to see Tarana Burke speak in Toronto, let’s go with her.

Founder of Bechdel Tested

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

One is that a woman is murdered every 2.5 days in Canada. This violence isn’t related to organized crime. The common denominator is misogyny and its an epidemic. In a society where women can’t walk around safely at night, we’re grossly desensitized to how horrific the situation actually is regarding violence against women in this country.

Another is income inequality not to be confused with pay equity. The ways that poverty impacts women are very clear. There’s a massive effect on physical and mental health, safety, career and more. Without much stronger social supports like universal childcare, an effective mental health network and affordable housing, women are trapped in a dysfunctional and violent system. The only way out of this is electing a socialist government who will finally address the underlying causes of the problems that equity-seeking groups struggle with.

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I’ll be at the Resilience Gala with Jully Black, benefiting the Daily Bread Food Bank, which is organized by one of our previous Bechdel Tested panellists, Farheen Khan. On Saturday, I’ll be at the march, and at night I’m hoping to hit up Queer Rock Societys karaoke party at Handlebar.

Who is your feminist icon?

I generally look up to local feminists using their voices to sound the alarm about violence against women: Mohini Datta-Ray, Anne Theriault and Farrah Khan are all heroes of mine. Judy Rebick is a living legend. She’s done tremendous work for women in Canada and I’m so inspired by her.

Grassroots organizer, frontline worker and yoga instructor

Whats the most important issue facing women and gender equality in Canada right now?

Economic justice is connected to racial justice, which is connected to gender-based violence. The fact that we are about to face health care reform in Ontario as announced by Doug Fords government is a huge cause for concern for gender equity. How will the cuts and changes affect womens health, trans health services and reproductive health? How will centralizing services effect marginalized communities?

How are you celebrating IWD this year?

I will be attending an IWD event hosted by Peel Committee Against Woman Abuse and teaching two trauma-informed yoga classes. I will also be taking care of myself after the event, because as Audre Lorde reminds us, self-care is a radical act.

Who is your feminist icon?

Frontline workers, activists, parents, folks who show up to protest our problematic government are all icons. I would also include Dainty Smith & Ravyn Wyngz two beautiful black femmes who have created so many spaces for healing and connection through art and movement. I took their body-affirming program, Body Love at the 519 and found healing from past traumas.

@michdas

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