Women’s March shines a light on gender inequalities on campus

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Change the (weather) cycle (too, please) Gillian Massie

Effective activism requires action, collaboration

Advocates for the Women’s March tromp across the ground of the Legislative Assembly in ankle-deep snow, carrying signs and chanting “gender equality!” as they walk. Like the deep snow they step through, the fight for women’s rights has been heavy and dragging.

Maya Rivera, the organizer of the Women’s March, leads the troop of participants through the snow.

“I think that my mission here today is to raise awareness for different women’s issues in Saskatchewan […] when it comes to women and equality,” said Rivera. “The goal is to spread the word of intersectional feminism and get those wheels in motion.”

Intersectional feminism is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American law professor, in 1989. Intersectional feminism acknowledges that race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, wealth status, and/or religion impact the inequities that women face. While women may suffer from various inequalities, all inequalities extend to different depths. On UN Women, Crenshaw describes intersectional feminism as “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.”

“Drawing attention and recognizing that woman’s life, such as her race, or ethnicity, her age or ability, gender or sexuality affect her more in different ways,” said Rivera. “A Black trans woman is going to face more discrimination than me as a White female. As a privileged woman it is my responsibility to stand up for women in different minorities to amplify their voices.”

Participants of the march held up signs saying things like “change the cycle.” The theme of the march was a message that stands up against gender-based violence against women: “We Won’t Back Down.”

“In Saskatchewan, we are the worst for domestic violence in the country,” said Rivera. “We have a huge issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as well as two-spirit people.” Many women in Saskatchewan face issues of gender-based violence. These issues are heightened for women in different minority groups. President of the University of Regina Student Union Hannah Tait shares concerns of racism on campus.

“Women who wear religious symbols have been targeted on campus,” said Tait. “The stories are horrifying.” Tait says that working towards a safer campus is creating places where women can comfortably exist without risk of harassment. URSU Advocacy has been a major player in reaching out to minority student groups to create a safer space of women.

“I meet with women in many different communities and especially women who come from outside Canada that are in different ethnic and religious groups,” said Basmah Almosallem, URSU’s VP of external affairs. “I also encourage them to create a sense of community for other women around campus.”

Tait is the first female student union president in over five years who says she has used lots of time to highlight women’s issues on campus. Part of her role is to create equity for all women.

“In my position, supporting women of different races and ethnicities is important and mentorship programs can help them help other women,” said Tait. “It’s also important to pass the microphone. I know that in my identity as a White woman I will never be able to understand what women of colour go through, and that they will always face many more barriers than I will.” Tait has also spent time collaborating with universities across the province. “I have been in conversations with the student union president at the University of Saskatchewan and we were working on some advocacy in terms of legislation around reporting on sexual assaults [in] on-campus reporting,” said Tait.

Raiha Shareef, president of the U of R Champion’s of Change club, spoke to emphasize the importance of women working together. The club’s first goals were to end period poverty on campus by providing free period products to students on campus. For the last two years, 12 period product dispensers have been implemented into women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms around campus. Her advice for students who want to advocate for gender equality: collaboration.

“From the power of collaboration, my club was able to get an investment from our university for gender equality, for more work still needs to be done,” said Shareef. “Collaboration is a powerful tool for any silent injustice. We need to work together now more than ever. Let us support each other. Let us reclaim our power.”

Shareef also said many women’s issues have become normalized, where women are expected to deal with the problem themselves rather than receiving support. Period products can come at high additional costs for those who menstruate, sometimes eating up budget that could have gone to groceries or bills.

“The active denial of a woman’s oppression is not something new. We know this,” said Shareef. “It’s unfortunately common in our education, our policies and our systems to perpetuate gender inequality, all while claiming that it does not exist.”

Dr. Marlene Smadu, chair on the University of Regina Board of Governors, attended the event with a sign proclaiming “Raise HER, Raise the whole community.” Smadu is a co-founder of RaiseHER Community, a women’s organization that helps women from the roots up to become leaders in the community. She comes to support women and the U of R Champion’s of Change Club. Smadu said that providing menstrual hygiene products is essential in supporting those who menstruate on campus.

“Period products seem like a low priority, but then you need to remember that it effects 50 per cent of the population at the University of Regina,” said Smadu. She has been walking in women’s rights marches since the late 70s, and said that each year makes her “even more hopeful.”

“I think the passion, energy, and enthusiasm is the same [as other marches I have been too]” said Smadu. “I was asked when I was in a job interview if I planned on getting pregnant. You can’t do that kind of thing then and you cannot do it now, but they still did it because I was a woman.”

Like the stormy conditions on March 5, the road to achieving gender-equality is long and winding. While inequalities may have been lessened, there is still a long way to go to end discrimination against women.

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