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:

#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.


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! 

Art as Activism: Engaging with Feminist Art to Spur Social Change

This post was originally written for the Canadian Women's Foundation, and can be found on their blog here:

Often times activism is seen strictly as people in the streets protesting with signs and chanting. Although protesting is an important part of feminist activism, it’s far from the only way to engage meaningfully in creating social change.

One of my favourite ways to engage with the fight for gender equality is through my art and through my work with the Feminist Art Conference, a Toronto-based showcase for multi-disciplinary art that touches on themes of rape culture, transphobia, racism, violence, environmental degradation, Indigenous issues, Islamophobia, and more. The conference aims to provide a space for discussion and the exploration of these issues in order to initiate progressive change.

When artists create pieces or projects that are boldly feminist, they not only bring attention to the issues women are facing, they also create a space for discussion to take place. Art can invite questions about social inequalities, and encourage conversation on how we can overcome it. That’s what I love so much about the Feminist Art Conference – it intentionally creates a space for women to feel safe to explore art that tells their stories.

The Feminist Art Conference has been running since 2013. It’s a two-day conference (with smaller art shows and events during the year) which aims to create a space that is celebratory, positive, intellectually engaging, and provocative. It provides opportunities for networking and future artistic collaboration that can inspire social change and empowerment. We believe that the ripple effect from this type of artistic sharing and learning can provoke positive transformations in both our communities and in our minds. In the words of bell hooks, a prominent author, feminist, and social activist, “the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is—it’s to imagine what is possible.”

In my art, I’ve often been quite subtle with the messaging – not painting anything directly political, but rather painting things which were inspired by something political. However, recently, I worked on some of my most outwardly feminist pieces (two of which can be seen above), and I found this to be a great way to engage more directly with social change through art. You can see more of my work, along with 5 other artists, in my first zine Vociferous and Valid

It was a great experience to push myself to make work that was more directly about women’s issues and it created an avenue for me to engage with other women doing the same. I think feminist collaborative projects are the best way art can be used as a catalyst for social change.

So what does meaningful activism look like for me? I continue to engage in the fight for social change through my art, through my work with Feminist Art Conference, by blogging for the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and by taking on other creative, collaborative projects that inspire me and get people thinking critically about social norms.

What does meaningful activism looks like to you? It can take many different shapes – if you’re interested in fashion it could be making, selling, or purchasing ethically produced clothes. If you thrive in a leadership role, it could be volunteering to organize a program with a women’s group near you. If you are interested in policy or have legal connections, it could be lobbying for legislative change.

I encourage you to be bold and use your skills and interests to spur social change. You might be surprised by the people you meet and the conversations that follow!

2017 Highlights

Wow… what a year. Globally and politically it has been a difficult one for many of us. In 2017 I think a lot of us were reminded that we need to get out and fight for the world we want. It was hard, but beautiful, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of the movement for inclusivity, human rights, and accountability.   

Personally, it was a year of growth, learning, adventure, and lots of fun. I spent most of the year living in Ghana and moved back to Toronto in early October. I think the best way to sum up 2017 is with a list of my highlights! 

in 2017 I:

  • Rode on the back of a motorcycle... many times!
  • Participated in the Women's March in Accra
  • Made lots of new friends (who I miss so much now that I am back in Canada)
  • Learned to make Ghanaian food (Well, I tried!)
  • Learned from some of the most brilliant feminists I have ever met at the African Women's Development Fund
  • Danced so many nights away at Purple Pub in Accra
  • Visited Maranatha Beach Camp (3 times!)
  • Traveled to Togo 
  • Spoke at the International Day Against Homophobia in Accra on behalf of the Humanist Association of Ghana 
  • Explored Ghana with two friends from Canada and Turkey (the only people who were brave enough to visit me in Ghana - thanks Amanda and Ece!!)
  • Visited the North of Ghana and met with some amazing organizations in Tamale
  • Attended the Chale Wote Street Art Festival (and marched in their first Women's Procession to demand safety for women in Ghana)
  • Spent my last weekend in Ghana on the Volta River with some awesome pals
  • Launched my first zine: Vociferous and Valid
  • Attended the CEDAW for Change course at Oxford University 
  • Explored London with my friend Anne
  • Moved home to Toronto
  • Was selected to be a volunteer on the METRAC Board of Directors
  • Began volunteering on the YWCA Toronto Advocacy Committee
  • Enjoyed being back with my family and friends in Canada

Click on the photos below for some pics that go along with these highlights!