By Celine Thomas, Jessica Farber & Kim Boucher Morin
In the wake of International Women’s Day on March 8th, there are many reasons to celebrate the incredible progress that has been made by the women that have come before us. But with exposed, and in some places growing, discriminatory discourses, we are reminded that there is much more work to be done to heal the social, political, and cultural cleavages in our societies. This can be seen even within the women’s movement, which has been criticized for catering to a privileged subset of people, leaving out diverse groups and individuals from the conversation and action. As an organization, we believe that progress is only significant if it advances everyone’s interests.
On Tuesday, March 13th, The Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness (SCSC) and TakingITGlobal co-hosted a panel discussion in celebration of International Women’s Day in downtown Montreal: Inclusion and Solidarity: Advancing Women’s Rights Together.
The panel brought together a group of four incredible women, each with unique backgrounds and perspectives to lead a conversation about how we can all work together in solidarity, including:
- Sabrina Sassi, Researcher, Activist and 2015-2017 Sauvé Fellow
- Eliane Ubalijoro, Founder and Executive Director, C.L.E.A.R. International Development Inc.; Professor of Practice, Institute for the Study of International Development, McGill University
- Stephanie Chipeur, Ph.D. Candidate, Faculty of Law, McGill University
- Estrella Maldonado, Cleaning staff, WeWork Place Ville Marie.
After an initial discussion about each panelist’s understanding of the women’s movement, moderator Jessica Farber (Research Analyst, SCSC) asked them to share challenges they have faced in being seen, heard, and respected in their field or otherwise. Stephanie noted that many of the spaces where discussions on feminism and women’s rights take place are not accessible for people with disabilities.
For Eliane, a woman from Rwanda, racial discrimination continues to be a challenge. “I was in a European city in a fancy store and the store woman grabbed the item out of my hand saying you can’t afford this.” Eliane has also run into professional situations where she was not taken seriously because people perceived her as being younger than she actually is.
Building on professional challenges, Estrella recounted how in her previous job, she was belittled and pushed around by her female boss because of her background as an immigrant. However, Estrella decided to stand up for her rights and dignity and leave that job.
Sabrina remarked that sometimes she feels like she is being ‘let into’ spaces of academia, rather than feeling valued as an equal participant in meetings or as a teacher.
The moderator proceeded to ask each panelist to share how they could show solidarity to women around them, despite the diversity of experiences, challenges, and motivations each one faces.
Offering a reflection on the often-inaccessible academic setting, Stephanie spoke about always including the people “being studied” at the centre of the conversation.
“We must ensure that people are allowed to author their own stories,” Eliane added. “The othering can only be eliminated when we have diverse sharing.” She continued to talk about the need to build networks of women from diverse backgrounds, so that we are supporting women from all walks of life.
Building on both women’s points, Sabrina mentioned that what has been most helpful in her trajectory was the women around her who have pushed her to go to places she would not go. She also emphasized the need to transform stories into action. “When we have done the emotional labour of telling our stories, how can we ensure that this leads to action?”
“Small actions matter too,” Estrella pointed out. “I help people whenever I can, and as a mother, I always try to teach my kids to be humble and kind, and fight for their rights.”
Opening the question and answer session, an audience member asked how boys and men can be involved in the movement as well. Sabrina discussed the importance of equal pay in the workplace, stating that “men can support women by being transparent about their salary.” Eliane also described how having support from colleagues and supervisors is crucial. She discovered during her pregnancy how difficult and uncooperative her work environment was, and relied heavily on her partner for support. Estrella echoed that point, saying that partners need to support one another. “That way we can teach our kids how to be better people.”
In closing, Jessica summarized the common threads that emerged from the discussion: that despite the seemingly disparate and diverse challenges and experiences of these four women, they are all motivated by a common desire to create a more equitable and just pathway forward for future generations. We can do this, everyone agreed, by intentionally supporting each other and seeking to invite more voices and perspectives into the conversation.
Ultimately, the women’s movement is about much more than ‘women’s issues’. An inclusive women’s movement means ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to raise their voice. It means advancing the rights of workers, immigrants, low-income communities, people with disabilities, youth, Indigenous peoples, forced migrants, ethnic minorities, and advocating for respect and protection of our natural environment. It also means that no one of these issues takes precedence over another.
Next week, on Tuesday, March 27th, SCSC will be hosting another event, on the inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers in Montreal. Click here for more information and to register!