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OISE scholars: International Women’s Day – why it matters

By Lindsey Craig

March 1, 2016


No more missing Aboriginal

Above, protestors demand rights for Indigenous women on College Street in Toronto. (Photo: Barb Nahwegahbow, Windspeaker Contributor, Aboriginal Multi-Media Society)


To recognize International Women’s Day, OISE News’ Lindsey Craig led a virtual chat with feminist scholars at OISE for an insight into what International Women’s Day means to them.

Hear about their work on women’s rights, and find out which women inspire them – from ‘the Rosas’ to an 85-year-old friend and activist, who has spent her life fighting for what she believes is right. Read below to be inspired!

Plus - see below for more about our OISE panel.

Thanks so much for joining us today. I’ll start by asking you – personally, what does International Women’s Day mean to you? What personal reflections does it trigger?

Prof. Abigail Bakan:  First of all, thanks for e-bringing us together.  As you know, International Women’s Day is recognized around the world, but we should not take the rights that women have won for granted. The day originated from a concerted effort among socialist feminists, originally known as “International Working Women’s Day”, and many of the demands of that movement in the early part of the last century remain to be won.  While I think about the movement throughout the year, this date, in particular, is a moment to reflect on where we have come from, and on how much more we need to do.

Prof. Kathleen Gallagher:   As with Abbie, the day does demand reflection. For me, it triggers early days of teaching girls at a Toronto high school, when creating a community of critical, young women felt like a crucially important vocation. I also think of my 20-something feminist self and draw a line between that young woman and the mother I now am, thinking everyday about how to raise a son who will help build communities of socially-conscious people, engaged in questions of equality and social justice. 

Prof. Ann Lopez:  I agree with Kathleen – it’s a day to not only reflect on inequalities women have faced in the past, but also consider what we can do to empower women today and into the future. There is a lot of work to be done to achieve equal pay and shatter the glass ceiling in many countries around the world. Personally, I have been celebrating International Women’s Day since my undergraduate studies in Jamaica, where I also worked with women's organizations to bring attention to the plight of women in their fight for equality. And what I’d also like to mention - this day is also of particular significance to me as well because I received my Ph.D. on this day in 2005.

Prof. Jamie Magnusson:  What a day that must have been, Ann! I agree with my colleagues here and would just add that most of all, this day reminds me of how successes in our struggles to dismantle systems of violence against women are experienced unevenly internationally. From my Marxist lens, increasingly, we have a globally integrated system of crisis capitalism that affects women most of all – Indigenous, racialized and poor women in particular.  Currently, as a result of displacement through wars and various social crises and disasters, we are witnessing the ongoing gendering of mass migrations to international mega-cities. And so the struggle continues.

Professionally, what does this day symbolize to you in terms of your scholarly work/work in the community?

AB: I have learned a great deal in my own scholarship, in particular, from the lives and experiences of immigrant women workers in Canada and internationally. Gender, race, political economy and citizenship are part of a continuum, where state power and resistance to that power, are shaped by movements of masses of people of colour across borders. International Women’s Day marks a moment to honour these women workers and their families.

KG:  Yes, that’s right, Abbie. And I think for myself, today is a day that makes me proud to be a feminist scholar. It’s a day that reminds me of all the good work that has been accomplished through research, community action and schools. It also symbolizes how much we need to continue to learn, as feminist organizations and solidarity movements challenge the logic of patriarchy, and as feminist and anti-racist movements and scholarship challenge themselves, pointing to blind spots and vested interests. It’s a day that always makes me want to remember the many people I have learned from in my professional and personal life – and the gains yet to be made locally and globally.

AL:  Agreed.  It makes me think of the ongoing work to achieve equity for all marginalized groups.  The recognition that we all come from multiple locations, with differing identities and experiences is important. Achieving equity is an ongoing journey – even though women have made gains, we cannot get comfortable as there are many countries where young girls and women continue to be oppressed.

JM: Absolutely.  And in the work I do, in particular, I also see much of this oppression and inequality here in our own backyard. For example, I work with youth, women, and trans women in Toronto who have been trafficked in the domestic sex industry.

In the community centre where I lend my services, we build community in a trans-positive women’s-only space. That there continues to be a need for women’s-only spaces is never more apparent than in this setting. International Women’s Day celebrates the historical process whereby we now recognize that women require these relatively buffered safe zones. As the head of the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education at OISE, we are indebted to the struggles that took place historically that we celebrate on this day, to create spaces such as this centre, so that we can continue to innovate knowledge in ways that are meaningful to us and how we are located in our various communities.

What woman/women inspire you today? Why? How? This can be someone in your personal life, your academic realm, a famous figure – anyone who inspires you today!

AL:  I’m inspired by so many women – how much time do we have? (laughs). I would first say, my grandmother, who taught me by example to fight against injustice, and for those she described as “less fortunate”.  She voted in every election in Jamaica (always for the progressive party I might say); hated bigotry and discrimination.  Then, I would say, Nanny of the Maroons, National Heroine in Jamaica who fought against slavery; Harriet Tubman; Rosa Parks; American women who fought against slavery and segregation; Viola Desmond who challenged racial segregation in Nova Scotia; Yuri Kochiyama, civil rights leader and activist. Their courage, bravery and tenacity in the face of untold oppression and discrimination are beyond inspiring. 

AB: Yes – I was also going to mention Rosa Parks, and another Rosa as well. These two Rosas, lived at different times and places. Rosa Luxemburg, who died in 1919, and Rosa Parks, who died in 1977, were both influential in shaping movements that challenged war and racism. I lived through such a movement in the US in the 1960s and 70s.

Rosa Parks

Among many women who inspire OISE experts interviewed here is Rosa Parks, pictured above following arrest for refusing to give her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus. (Photo: @GreatRarePhotos/Twitter)

KG:  You know, there are so many women that come to mind for me, too. If I were to pick one, I think right now I feel most inspired by an 85-year-old friend, who is an anti-poverty and environmental activist and a woman who has become a great friend to my eight year old son. Her name is Ann Emmett and she is a self-taught economist. She has spent the last decade in a lawsuit against the Canadian government for secret meetings in Switzerland in the 1960s that resulted in the privatization of the Bank of Canada. She’s one of the busiest women I know, with commitments to several organizations that aim to hold leaders accountable, and groups focused on the health of our planet. I hope as I age, I can maintain a fraction of the energy and clarity of purpose that she has.

JM: She does sound like an incredible woman, Kathleen.  For myself, I think for this last question, I can’t help but draw on my work experience. I think of the women working toward international solidarity in the fight against violence against women and transwomen. When my sisters organized a ‘take-back-the-streets’ march in 2014 in Toronto, under the banner of “Decolonizing Feminism Globally: From Turtle Island to Palestine”, I could not help but to be inspired. The courage and vision of these women make me happy and thankful on a daily basis that I get to create relevant courses, write relevant scholarly pieces, and participate in community struggles as part of my work in OISE.

Thank you all so much for your remarkable work and for sharing your thoughts in celebration of International Women’s Day.

More about OISE’s feminist scholars featured here: