Sauvé Forum Series Event Celebrates the Power of Women to Effect Social Change

Kim Samuel, Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University

On February 8th, the Jeanne Sauvé Forum Series on Social Connectedness and International Development was renewed for Winter 2017, with an event exploring “How the Activism of Women is Building Connectedness and Community”.

The Forum Series, created by Kim Samuel in collaboration with the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, explores the root causes of social isolation, along with strategies for building social connectedness through international policy and program development. It began last fall with weekly discussions at the historic Jeanne Sauvé House in Montreal covering a variety of topics, from the ongoing refugee crisis to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The Series is also closely linked with Professor Samuel’s fourth-year seminar course on social connectedness at McGill University, the first of its kind.

The February 8th Forum Series event was inspired by the extraordinary women’s marches that occurred on January 21st across the United States and around the world — but, in particular, the organizers’ broader mission statement, “We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”

Opening the evening, moderator Kim Samuel set the stage with remarks linking the role of women in current social and political movements to those of the past, from anti-war and peace movements, to universal suffrage, civil rights, social and economic equality, and environmental protection. As she put it, in each case, “the voices of women lifted all voices.”

However, Ms. Samuel noted with concern that today we are faced with “some of the most troubling rhetoric and fear of differences among people we’ve witnessed in a very long time.” Fortunately, she added, there are “building blocks of social connectedness” that can help to overcome this process of “othering” and the “building of walls instead of bridges between peoples.”

Ms. Samuel also drew the attention of audience members to the recent act of terrorism in a Quebec City mosque, emphasizing how leaders and ordinary people alike, including the Muslim community, found the courage to reject hatred and “gather together in love and solidarity” following the attack. In particular, she highlighted the calls of women like Sheema Khan, who, in an article in the Globe & Mail, encouraged all of us to become “soldiers of inclusion”.

Following Ms. Samuel’s remarks, Julie Kon Kam King, Associate Director of Programs at Equitas, shared remarkable stories of women’s empowerment in various parts of the world. Among those was the story of Nawres Chriti, a 24-year-old Tunisian woman who works to educate marginalized youth about human rights. Among her focuses are women’s participation in Tunisian public life, early forced marriage and sexual harassment. Ms. Kon Kam King also shared details about a woman from Senegal named Maimouna Diop, who works to encourage hundreds of women in her community to participate in public decision-making. Through this process, an increasing amount of local attention has been drawn to issues like domestic violence.

The second panelist, Dr. Éliane Ubalijoro, Professor of Practice at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development, encouraged women in the audience to nurture their self-love and self-confidence. She emphasized that, in order for us to achieve greater gender equality, particularly in the workplace, women must not only be competent, but also confident in their knowledge, ability and identity. As an example, she noted that currently only 7 percent of major technology companies are led by women and that this needs to change. Dr. Ubalijoro also shared a very personal story about her experience feeling tremendous isolation and fear while she was a student in Montreal in 1994 as members of her family struggled to survive the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide.

Dr. Éliane Ubalijoro, Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University

 
During the open discussion, a central concern amongst young women in attendance was the idea of “imposter syndrome” — the condition in which a high-achieving individual cannot internalize his or her accomplishments and is plagued by a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. In response, Dr. Ubalijoro explained that this is a common psychological condition and that women need to support one another in order to help overcome it. Other areas of discussion addressed how women can support refugees and defend against attempts to stigmatize entire groups of marginalized people.

The Winter 2017 Series will feature two more events: March 9th, on the holistic approaches of Harmony and Indigenous Peoples Worldviews, and April 3rd, on the issue of food security. These events will run from 5:00 – 7:00pm at the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation (1514 Docteur-Penfield Avenue in Montreal). Hope to see you there!