Why Voting Is Important to Me

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Everytime there is an election I can’t help but stop and feel grateful for those who fought for my right to vote, and the upcoming provincial election has not been an exception. On June 7th Ontarians will head to the polls for the provincial election and I am so grateful I will be able to cast my vote.

It was a long road for many to gain the right to vote. In 1916, Manitoba became the first province to allow some women the right to vote, but it wouldn’t be until 1960 that all women in Canada had that same right. There were restrictions on many different groups of people including Asian-Canadians and Indigenous peoples until that time.

Without access to the vote, many of these groups’ needs were ignored by the Canadian government. Until women and people of colour gained the right to vote, there was no incentive for candidates to even begin to consider what their unique needs might be. Now that we do have the right to vote, it is our responsibility to hold candidates accountable.

I remember turning 18 and being so excited that I could finally vote. However, since I turned 18, I can hardly recall an election or campaign that truly prioritized issues facing women and other marginalized communities. This year, there has finally been focus on a major issues facing women and those living in poverty - free daycare. This is an incredibly important issue that affects women in a big way, and as someone who hopes to have children, I think about often. When families can’t afford daycare, more often than not it is the mother who stays home with the children and puts her career on hold. As was pointed out in this article published by The Huffington Post, “child care costs are a huge barrier to women's paid workforce participation… [and] the longer they're out of the workforce, the worse it gets. Yet, the more women who have paid work, the faster the economy grows”. Free daycare is an issue that affects women’s work life, their family life, and their overall ability to contribute to their communities.

If women continue to show up, vote, and engage in the electoral process I believe we can keep pushing forward issues that matter to us and to our communities.

Getting involved in your local, provincial, and federal elections is important not just to ensure that your voice is being heard, but it is important to the overall health of our democracy. The truth is, we can’t count on someone else’s vote to represent our needs - we have to get out there and vote for ourselves.

When I think about how hard the Canadian foremothers fought to give me the right to vote, I feel a responsibility to them and their legacy. I am empowered to vote to make sure my needs are heard and to make sure I am represented in all levels of government.

If you aren’t sure how to vote in the upcoming election, you can find out by clicking here.

Dawa Apothecary: Wellness at the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Culture

Sulafa is a trainer, facilitator, project manager, but more than anything else, she is a connector. She is the founder of Dawa Apothecary, bringing her expertise as a health and wellness consultant together with her desire to connect women of colour to a wellness space that is tailored specifically for them. 

At its core, Dawa Apothecary aims to bring together women of colour who are interested in healing and living well. They focus on developing conversations, moments and connections by creating a safe and inclusive space. 

I spoke with the Dawa founder to learn more about her organization and the importance of creating spaces for women of colour within the health and wellness sector. 

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: What is Dawa Apothecary and where did you come up with the idea for it? 

A: Dawa is a health and wellness social club for women of colour. It really focuses on bringing together the intersection between gender, culture, and race. It looks at these things from the perspective that they are intertwined and intersecting areas of our identities. They are not mutually exclusive - particularly for women of colour. I often say that on the streets it’s race that you interact with, within the home its culture, and gender is everywhere else. 

The concept for Dawa was created a number of years ago when I was living in the UK. At that time I was living with a girl who was half chinese and half english. We had been talking about how when we would go to different wellness spaces they felt very exclusionary. I thought that a health and wellness space should be all encompassing and safe, yet they were replicating a lot of the experiences that you might have at work, school, or in any wider setting. At that time I had really dreamed of having a brick and mortar space where I could have women come in and participate in drop in classes, there could be conversations, and philosophical debates. I wanted it to be a space where we could move away from the idea of normative thinking or collective thinking.

You tend to find this idea in discussions of race that there is a normative experience, and that is just not how it is - we all experience life in very different ways. The way we are perceived might be similar, but how we experience that is very different because we all come from different places. So the idea came from wanting to create a space where we could have these hard conversations, but I also wanted it to still be a fun and dynamic space. 

Making it a space where health and wellness was going to be at the center was really important to me. At Dawa we define health and wellness under three areas: moments (which is active learning), conversations (which is talks, round tables, and discussions), and lastly connections (which is about building connections with other women of colour). These three areas moments, conversations, and connections is what Dawa Apothecary is all about. 

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Q: How did Dawa move from an idea to a reality and what events have you started with?

A: Moving from ideation to creation is one of the hardest processes. For me, being a project manager, a lot of it came down to planning. I didn’t want to begin without coming up with an actual execution plan. So I knew that I wanted to do a soft launch first before fully launching.

I worked to really think through it first - to really think about the methodology because I am rooted in the idea that Dawa Apothecary has a methodology. I settled on the methodology: Reflection Through any Movement. So at any Dawa event we do free writing at the beginning and set intentions, and at the end of the movement participants get to reflect on whether they gave themselves permission to be present in the activity. It’s important to me to connect intention to action with each Dawa event. 

The soft launch event in January was a body awareness event. It wasn’t about ‘how does my body look’ but more so ‘how does my body move and feel’. It was a fairly small turn out, and a learning experience for Dawa Apothecary. But the lessons learned at the soft launch lead us into a successful official launch. Dawa has since had 2 community events and they have created a very free, open, and loving space that we look forward to continuing! 

Q: Why was it important for you to have Dawa Apothecary be a space for all women of colour (and not just for one specific race or culture)?

For me this was really important because very often people from hybrid cultures can be left out of specific POC spaces. I come from a hybrid culture myself, so it was personal for me. I culturally identify as being East African and Yemeni, but I also see myself as a black women. However, I understand that there are some spaces that may not perceive me as a black women.

I think it’s particularly important to have women of colour together, because we all have shared experiences that we can heal from together. It’s not about the degree to which we feel oppressed, but it’s about the fact that we all experience oppression. 

It’s also very interesting to me that we live in this diverse city, with something like 50% of the people living here being born outside of Canada, and yet there is almost no intercultural communication. I think creating that space for that intercultural dialogue is something I’m really craving. I want to see people actually building empathy for each other, rather than saying, ‘oh they have it worse than I do’. I don’t want people to have sympathy, I want them to experience a deeper empathy for human experiences - wherever they come from.

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Q: Where do you hope to take Dawa Apothecary in the future?

The long term goal is that within 2 years Dawa will have a coworking space where people who are wellness practitioners can run workshops, and community members can have memberships to access the space.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to building a captive audience, people who are willing to open their hearts to have these experiences. I think that unfortunately women of colour - black and indigenous women being at the forefront of that - have a lot of past stress or even PTSD from a lot of life experiences. I think that, unlike many white women, women of colour don’t believe they are worthy of these great wellness experiences. I want to make sure I build a space for them to know they are worthy of these experiences. 

Q: What is your next Dawa event?

We are holding a Mother’s Day event on May 6th at The Drake hotel! It’s going to be a Mother’s Day speed dating brunch, you come with your mother or anybody who holds that role in your life - but you don’t get to sit with them, you will sit with someone else for the brunch. It’s an opportunity to honour other mothers and people who represent mothering in our lives. It’s about paying homage to what you have and at the same time introducing inter-generational communication and learning about other ways that people have been mothered. 

We also have a storytelling event coming up on May 29th at The Drake Hotel. It is about creating a space for our oral traditions to stay alive. All the speakers at the event will be women of colour, but it is open to anyone to attend. It leans on the fact that so many women of colour come from cultures that have oral traditions, it will be about connectivity and learning through the stories being told. 

Keep an eye on our facebook page for more details about both events!

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You can connect with Dawa online at the following links:
Instagram
- Twitter
- Facebook
- www.dawaapothecary.com

International Women's Day 2018

This past Saturday I joined in Toronto’s International Women’s Day March. This year the theme was Liberation: Honouring our sisters, Celebrating our victories, Strengthening our resistance, on Indigenous land.

The week before the march, the devastating news of the Tina Fontaine case was received. The verdict was released and Raymond Cormier was found not guilty in the second-degree murder of the 15 year old. Ms. Fontaine’s case showed us that once again the Canadian justice system has failed Indigenous women and girls. It was a harsh reminder that Indigenous women and girl must be centered in the women’s movement in Canada. 

As a result of this lack of justice, a rally was planned in support of Tina Fontaine, and the route of the International Women’s Day march was changed so that we would end at the location of the rally and come together in support of Ms. Fontaine and all Indigenous women and girl. It was a small but important change to the march. 

This year, I marched with the YWCA Toronto. I have been a proud supporter of the YWCA Toronto for a number of years, and I recently joined their advocacy committee. It was a great experience getting to march with a group of women committed to making change right here in our city.

Overall it was a powerful Saturday filled with connection and inspiration. It reminded me how important it is to do this work in community. It can get discouraging working away at this alone, but seeing the volume of people who came out in support provided me with a much needed boost of energy.

There is only so much we can do alone, but together we are so powerful! As legendary feminist Gloria Steinem once said: "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

If you want to learn more about the day, it's origins, and this year's theme, you can check out the International Women's Day website here: www.internationalwomensday.com.

#PartingTheRoots with Simone Wright

Simone is a dancer, fashion inspiration, business woman, and activist bringing attention to black histories, black hair, and the black identity in Canada.

Last year, Simone created Parting The Roots, a project which shared archival photos of black hair along with photos of herself, her family and her friends. With each photo she discussed the history, politics, significance, and art behind black hair. She used Parting The Roots as an opportunity to start the education process and to dispel ongoing myths about black hair. She also used her platform to validate and celebrate the beauty of black hair.

I spoke with Simone to learn more about her project and why it was important for her to create the space for black hair history and celebration.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your 2017 project Parting The Roots?

A: Hair has always been something that’s been important to me - even from the time I was a little girl, my hair has been a big part of my life. However, the main reason I started this project was actually because of something that happened at work. It was a negative situation that I wanted to spin into something more positive, and that turned into Parting the Roots.

I was part of a workplace diversity training, and the facilitator was talking about how to bring your whole self to work. She was speaking about how many individuals hide parts of themselves or “cover” parts of themselves to fit in at work. The facilitator mentioned that one of the ways people cover is by changing their appearance. The example that she gave in regards to this was a black woman straightening her hair to “hide” her real appearance. However, she didn’t provide any context to this - I understood where she was trying to go - but she didn’t explain this to the broader group. So for my non-black coworkers, if they saw me coming into work with straight hair one day, they would now be thinking - oh Simone is trying to hide her identity - they had just been told this by a diversity and inclusion specialist.

She didn’t explain the history behind the way black individuals - particularly women - were oppressed and forced to assimilate and straighten their hair. Some work places still have rules preventing women from wearing braids or other natural hair styles. She didn’t explain any of that context.  

When another black coworker of mine emailed the facilitator afterwards and explained to her that you can’t actually say straight hair is hiding or “covering” because there are many reasons why a black woman might have straight hair (I know that some women find it easier to maintain and some just prefer it). This facilitators response was simply that she had read this in a research paper and therefore it was true - there was no apology, and there definitely wasn’t a consideration that the reality may be more nuanced.

After I heard that, I thought no - I need to do something about this! I wanted to put that energy towards something positive. In the end I came up with the idea of doing this project and sharing Parting the Roots online. I really wanted to educate people on the history and significance of black hair and I wanted a space to celebrate it.

Q: What were some of your favourite photos that you featured in Parting the Roots?

A: The first post would actually be one of my favourites. It really talks about the history of black hair. It talks about how in Africa the different tribes would wear different hairstyles for many reasons. The different braids, the different styles - people don’t realize how much was communicated with this. It could indicate the status you held in your tribe, your marital status, your gender, and more. I was really glad I was able to share that history right away in that first post.

It also meant a lot to me that I could share pictures of my mom. I shared her first ever passport picture when she still lived in Jamaica. She had natural hair in that photo, but she actually hot combed it so that it would be straight. When I saw that photo I had to ask her why she straightened her hair. She said she just did it because it was more convenient for her to maintain. This photo really brought me full circle to the comments originally made by that facilitator, and for me this photo gives life to that complex and nuanced relationship many black people have with their hair.

One last favourite is a photo with the caption “Kim Kardashian Braids”. There is a story behind that post - a friend of mine had recently texted me asking if I knew anyone who did Kim Kardashian braids. I honestly didn’t know if she was serious. I said: please don’t ever use the Kardashians as a name for traditional black hairstyles. But it made me realise - wow, people really don’t know about this history. So I posted that photo of a woman from the 1800’s, hundreds of years before the Kardashians, with what my friend had called “Kardashian braids” in her hair - what I would call cornrows. The main point of that post was to help people understand that just because someone wears these styles doesn’t mean they are the owners or creators of it. My concern is that people wearing these hairstyles understand where it comes from, understand the history, and the significance - and acknowledge that.

Q: What do you hope changes in regards to black hair in our culture, especially for black women?

A: This is a very tough conversation - and one that I have with my own friends and family - because some of them still believe that wearing natural hair into the workplace isn’t professional. They think wearing your hair relaxed or in weaves - that’s deemed professional. But my question is: professional to who?

So I hope, for all of us, black men and women - for us to be strong and comfortable in our own skin. I understand that it might be intimidating to some people - but this is why I wanted to do this project - to educate people. And I wanted to educate both black people and non-black people. Everyone needs to know about this. As I said - a lot of black people still feel that natural hair or protective hairstyles (like braids) are not professional. So I want us - especially within the workplace - to have that understanding that professionalism is you as a person - not what’s on top of your head.

I also hope that our culture changes so that our children can be comfortable with the hair that they have. And when they have examples of women in their life sporting a variety of styles - including natural styles - this gives them the freedom to believe that any type of hair is okay. I think it’s really important for our kids to see themselves in their parents, and I’m excited by the growing movement to embrace more black hairstyles.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for people who want to learn more about this?

A: Yes! There are so many resources out there. When I was working on this project in 2017 I actually went to the Parkdale Library because they have a West Indian/African diaspora section - and they have tons of books on this. I highly recommend Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair, by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps.

I would also recommend seeking out a natural hair salon because they can advise you on moving to natural hair if that is something you are looking to do.

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A huge thanks to Simone for taking the time to speak with me and sharing her knowledge. You can view the complete collection of Parting the Roots photos here, and you can follow her on instagram here to see what she comes up with next!