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Meet two OISE scholars who are working to build a more just and equitable future for women 

March 8, 2019

Dr. Kiran Mirchandani with her most recent published work

Dr. Kiran Mirchandani with her most recent published work, "Low Wage in High Tech: An Ethnography of Service Workers in Global India."

For International Women’s Day, OISE is spotlighting Professors Kiran Mirchandani and Jamie Magnusson – two OISE scholars who are working to build a more just and inclusive future for women.

Both Mirchandani and Magnusson teach in the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education’s Adult Education and Community Development program which emphasizes research and community engagement in adult education and social justice learning.

From organizing queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and women of colour sex workers to improving workplace conditions for women in low wage jobs, here’s how Mirchandani and Magnusson are making an impact.

Kiran Mirchandani: Challenging workplace inequities and inspiring others to rethink the meaning of work

Kiran Mirchandani is a professor of adult education and community development. Her research and teaching focuses on gendered and racialized processes in the workplace, critical perspectives on organizational development and learning, criminalization and welfare policy, and globalization and economic restructuring. Her work is based on qualitative interviews with transnational service workers in India and workers in precarious jobs in Canada. 

Could you please tell us a little bit about your research?

Many women and girls around the world are forced to work low-wage, poor-quality jobs in sectors where sexism, racism, abuse, and harassment are rampant and normalized. They experience their jobs as demeaning, insecure, violent and tedious rather than as opportunities to enrich their lives. My research highlights the realities faced by the individuals working these jobs, as well as how and why employers create and perpetuate these poor working conditions.

What do you hope to achieve with your work?

The workplace is such a big part of peoples’ lives and has the potential to be a positive place. It can be a place where individuals are learning, growing, engaging in new ideas, expressing their creative and innovative potentials, and connecting to their communities, groups, and organizations.

With my research, I want to challenge workplace inequities so that women can learn, be creative, contribute socially, and experience fulfilment when they are at work.

How do you want to drive this change?

We need to go back to the basics in terms of how we think about work, the role of the state and what we expect from organizations. The purpose of working is to be fulfilled, connected, and involved.

To do this, we need to hold corporations accountable for the quality of work they create for their employees. They need to do more inspections, be more proactive and reject standards that don’t provide decent work. We need to have states and organizations that are committed to creating wealth-sharing as well as egalitarian structures at work that lead to better quality jobs, both locally and globally.

It is my hope that my research will start a dialogue around policy changes and encourage government and organizational action to challenge workplace inequalities, as well as inspire others to think about work in a different way.

What advice do you have for the next generation of young women who want to become researchers or educators?

Get involved in your community and identify topics for study that are of significance. Don’t be afraid to pursue and tackle a big, systemic idea and develop deep knowledge in one aspect of it.

Photo of Jamie Magnusson

Jamie Magnusson: transforming communities and promoting harm reduction initiatives that centre sex worker safety and wellbeing

Jamie Magnusson is an associate professor of adult education and community development. Their research looks at how urban poverty is organized, and the ways in which urban communities – in particular queer and trans Black, Indigenous and women of colour – can reclaim urban spaces from processes such as gentrification. Magnusson is also an activist with experience organizing among queer and trans communities and sex workers.

You’re not only a researcher, but also an activist and community organizer. Can you tell us about the focus of your current work?  

I work in a Toronto neighborhood called the Downtown East where some of the poorest people in the city live, and where some of the most aggressive gentrification is occurring. My work focuses around organizing with Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous and women of colour who are being displaced and criminalized by this process.

What does gentrification look like in the Downtown East?

There are two characteristics of this process. First, public housing is torn down and the property is sold off to private developers who build multi-purpose condos. Second, surveillance and security of this ‘revitalized’ area becomes greatly intensified. This militarized security adds speculative value to the gentrified space – but at the expense of criminalizing poor women who are being squeezed out of their housing and livelihood.

Tell us about your work. How does it respond to the impacts of gentrification on women in the Downtown East?

My current work involves promoting harm reduction initiatives that centre sex worker safety and wellbeing. At a basic level, this involves creating pedagogies and practices that keep queer and trans women relatively safer while doing sex work. For example, women might share information through a “Bad Date Book” to circulate details of individuals that may pose a threat to sex workers. This can serve as a warning system so that sex workers can avoid persons who fit descriptions on the list.

At another level, these pedagogies fit into a broader vision of community building which involves reclaiming urban spaces from an economic imaginary that values wealth-making over community wellness. Through community building, women can participate in coalitions that challenge gentrification and they can add their own voices to ideas about how to create safe and nurturing communities.

My long-term goal is to transform communities so that they centre the wellbeing and self-determination of women.

What advice do you have for the next generation of young women who want to become researchers or educators?

Academic knowledge can reproduce unjust systems. Rather than the academy, I encourage young researchers to look to social movements to learn how to position their research. In doing so myself, I’ve realized the importance of focusing on collective struggles that seek to transform how we organize our daily lives in a more just and loving way.