METRAC: Action on Violence

I’ve used this platform to highlight organizations doing great work in Canada before, but I am extra excited to share the work of METRAC. I’m excited because last week I was honored to be selected as a volunteer board member for a 2-year term! So you can expect to see lots more about METRAC in the coming months and years. 

For METRAC, the word "women" includes any persons who may identify, or may have once identified, as feminine, female, cis or trans.

For METRAC, the word "women" includes any persons who may identify, or may have once identified, as feminine, female, cis or trans.

Who is METRAC? They are a Toronto based organization that works to end gender-based violence across communities in Ontario and beyond. They do this through education, research, and policy change. They deliver boundary-breaking services and programs, and focus on education and prevention. To give you a better idea of how they do this, I'm going to highlight a few of the programs they run.

OWJN: Ontario Women’s Justice Network
The OWJN is METRAC’s legal information website. It aims to help survivors of violence and their supporters better understand their legal rights in Ontario. The website offers accessible legal information in a way that reflects the diverse experiences and realities of women.

FLEW: Family Law Education for Women
FLEW evolved from the advocacy efforts of the No Religious Arbitration Coalition. It was a coalition of more than 100 community agencies that came together to advocate against the use of religious arbitration in family law in Ontario. The Coalition’s position was that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed all women in Ontario the right to access public family law to resolve their family law disputes. FLEW provides plain language legal information on women’s rights under Ontario family law and is available in 14 languages and in multiple formats.

Safety Audit Program
METRAC's Safety Audit Program is an action tool to build safer neighbourhoods, schools, campuses, workplaces, transit systems, living spaces, and public spaces. It combines best practices of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) with culturally competent, community development approaches, Participatory Action Research and a gender-based violence analysis. It is a catalyst to reduce sexual violence, assault, harassment and discrimination against women, youth and others at high risk and makes spaces safer for everyone.

ReAct: Respect in Action
The ReAct program builds youth leadership to end gender based violence and violence against youth. ReAct Youth Facilitators create resources and lead interactive after-school programs, workshops, and presentations for youth and educators. ReAct has even gone global and partnered with Girls Empowerment Clubs in Ghana!

It is perfect timing to begin my work with METRAC, as later this month, on November 25th, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence begin.

From November 25th (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10th (Human Rights Day) the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is run all over the world.

The theme of the 2017 Campaign is “Together We Can End GBV in Education!”. The Center for Women's Global Leadership has created a 16 Days Activist Tool Kit, which can be found here. Last year I wrote about ways you can get involved in your own community to help prevent gender-based violence. You can read that post here.

I am so looking forward to working with METRAC over the next 2 years and beyond!

CEDAW for Change

CEDAW: the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women

 

From September 25th to September 30th I had the pleasure of studying at the The Women’s Human Rights Institute (WHRI). WHRI’s home base is in Toronto, but they often take their course on the road making it available to a wider range of students. This year, they worked in partnership with the Women’s Solidarity Fund and the International Gender Studies Centre at Lady Margaret Hall to bring the CEDAW for Change course to the University of Oxford.

It was an amazing experience to learn about something I am so passionate about with such a diverse group of women. We were a group of 28 participants, representing 21 different countries, and the course was run by 3 facilitators from 3 different countries. It was a great mix of experience, perspective, history, and feminisms.

We covered so much ground in the week we were together and learned about many different programs running all over the world. I think the best way for me to write about this course, is to share a few of the things I learned and the ways I hope to use the CEDAW Convention moving forward.

The UN Structure

I entered this course with no background knowledge of CEDAW and almost no background info on the UN itself. Of course, I knew of the UN and I had read many different news articles about it, but I didn’t realize how little I really knew about the UN until I took this course.

The UN is so much more than what we hear about in the news. To get an overview, you can read the UN System Chart here. On that chart you will see the General Assembly, from there look to the Subsidiary Organs heading. Under the Subsidiary Organs heading you will see the Human Rights Council. It is under this council that the CEDAW convention is found. CEDAW is a Human Rights Treaty that is monitored by the CEDAW Committee.

Understanding which area of the UN fits best with your advocacy work is critical to making effective use of their tools and systems.

Engaging with CEDAW through Shadow Reports

We were given so many different tools and ways to engage with CEDAW as a living, breathing document. But for me, the most exciting thing I learned about was the the shadow reports. To explain shadow reports, I need to step back and explain a bit about how the CEDAW convention is monitored.

All countries who have ratified CEDAW are to be reviewed by the CEDAW committee every 4 years. When it is a country’s turn to be reviewed, they are asked by the CEDAW committee to submit a report on how they are upholding their commitment to CEDAW. Of course, governments often try to make themselves look like they are doing better than they actually are. This is where the shadow reports come in. Shadow reports are reports put together by NGOs, non-profit organizations, and organizations working in the areas of women’s human rights. This report puts forward the main issues that the NGOs and CSOs (Civil Society Organization) want to see addressed by their government.

During the review session the CEDAW Committee will consider both the government submitted report and the shadow report. From BOTH of these reports, the CEDAW Committee will develop its recommendations to the government being reviewed (called the State party in UN language).

Keep your eyes on the Feminist Alliance for International Action (http://fafia-afai.org), and the Women’s Human Rights Institute (http://learnwhr.org/) to learn when Canada is up for review next. It should be in the year 2020, however dates do change/get pushed back often.

Engaging with CEDAW year round

If you were getting excited to engage with CEDAW, don’t worry, you don’t have to wait until the next Canadian CEDAW review in 2020! There is so much more that can be done with CEDAW before then.

One of the main ways I hope to get involved with CEDAW before then is by working to publicize the convention itself. Once a government ratifies CEDAW, it is their responsibility to publicize the convention and let their citizens know about their human rights. Unfortunately, this work is very rarely done and often falls to the NGOs and CSOs.

Publicizing of CEDAW can be done through social media campaigns, art, community outreach, running workshops, and so much more! A great example comes from a feminist membership organisation in Scotland. They produced a short video explaining what CEDAW is and how it can benefit women in Scotland. It has over 10,000 views! You can watch that video here.

It is powerful when people learn that they have laws and systems set up to protect them. Ensuing women know that CEDAW exists and is here to protect them is important and urgent work.

It was such a great experience getting to learn about CEDAW with so many inspirational women. It is so easy to become discouraged when working in advocacy, but after hearing about so many unique projects and success stories, I feel energized and excited to keep making change!


What to learn more about CEDAW? I suggest you start by reading the full convention which you can find here.

CEDAW is based on 3 main principles: substantive equality, non-discrimination, and State obligation. If you want to learn more about these, UN Women has explained these principles in 3 short videos that I’ve linked below:

  1. Substantive Equality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI8lNB-XMIk

  2. Non Discrimination: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBdDB5PKrmk

  3. State Obligation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umETapJ4b8o

You can also check if your country has ratified CEDAW here: http://indicators.ohchr.org/

If you are curious about taking the course yourself, all the info can be found here: http://learnwhr.org


A few pictures from the week!

10 Months in Ghana

Things are about to get a little nostalgic (okay.. a lot nostalgic) - you’ve been warned! 

So, here we are. I leave Ghana in just 3 short weeks. Saying that it feels bittersweet might be a cliche... but it is a very true cliche! I said in my very first post talking about moving to Ghana that I wanted to make sure the impact of my work and time here was a positive one. I’ve reflected on my work in a few previous posts, but I wanted to write one final review of these 10 months - reflecting not just on my work, but on my time here overall. 

As you may already know, I spent the first 5 months of my time in Ghana working on a project in the Volta Region. I spoke about the ups and downs of that project here, and mentioned that I would be working in Accra for the remaining 5 months. 

For the last 5 months I worked on a project which laid the groundwork for Crossroads’ expansion in Ghana. I connected with 6 new potential partners, and met with all 4 existing partner organizations. I reviewed the work we are doing with each of the existing partners, and explored what we might be able to do with the 6 proposed organizations. I took a critical look at our programming and made recommendations to Crossroads about what I think are the best next steps for their work in Ghana. It’s been a rewarding project, and I’m really happy with the work I’ve been able to do and the recommendations I’ve made. I am excited to keep an eye on the partnerships and projects here in Ghana as Crossroads expands their work based on my reviews and recommendations.  

Outside of my work I’ve continued to connect with the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), Young Feminist Gathering (YFG), and the Humanist Association of Ghana (HAG). With each group I’ve been able to connect with great people and attend meaningful (and fun!) events. 

Through my involvement in the Humanist Association of Ghana (HAG) I was given the opportunity to speak at the International Day Against Homophobia in Accra. It was an amazing day, and an honour for me to speak to that community here. HAG also sent an open letter to the Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Prof. Mike Oquaye after he made some deeply homophobic remarks. Together we defended our open letter online, even after we received hundreds of negative and hateful responses. I’m so grateful to have been a part of the HAG community these past 10 months. I met some seriously amazing people through HAG and I’m going to miss our meetings and social events so much! 

In my last 5 months, I also continued to attend meetings for the Young Feminist Gathering - which allowed me to connect with awesome women in Accra each month. Recently, the women of YFG worked with Sionne Neely, to organize the Mami Wata Procession during the Chale Wote Street Art Festival. We used the procession/march to reclaim public space for women. As Sionne said, the march was held to show that “we claim the right to express ourselves fully in public without harassment or intimidation.” It was a really special day and a great end to my time with the women of YFG. You can see some photos of the march here

Beyond my involvement with community groups, I also made an effort to improve and increase the reach of my writing during my time in Ghana. I didn’t have great success with this during the first half of my time here, but in the last few months I was able to make some great strides forward. I have now been published on the Canadian Women’s Foundation Blog, the Toronto Feminist Collective Blog, and the Feminist Art Conference blog. I am also set to have my second piece for the Canadian Women's Foundation Blog posted online in September! I’m so pleased I’ve been able to share my writing with a wider audience and challenge myself to write with more purpose. 

And on top of all that - I just had a lot of fun here! I made so many great friends and enjoy my time connecting with new people. I was able to travel to many different cities in the country, seeing many different cultures and landscapes. I saw tons of live music and got to enjoy dancing on many weekends. I tried lots of different foods, and found some new favourites (how will I live without groundnut soup and rice balls?!). I got the chance to visit Ghana’s eastern neighbour, Togo, which was so cool (and very French!). I was able to enjoy many different beaches, events, festivals, and the list goes on... I really had so many great experiences here! 

Overall I am so grateful for my time in Ghana. I learned so much in my work, but also in the organizations I was a part of, and from the friends I made. I am definitely looking forward to getting home to friends and family, but I am so glad for all the amazing experiences I’ve had in the past 10 months.

Can’t wait to come back and visit soon!! I dey go come! ;)

How Feminism Helps Everyone

Something I often hear is that in order for feminism to truly be a movement for all genders, it has to change its name. People suggest that the ‘fem’ in feminism shows it is inherently a movement for women’s progress only. As a quick aside - given the amount of hurdles women are still up against, I don’t see anything wrong with a movement that is just for women’s progress. But I’m not going to be arguing that in this article. Rather, I’m going to discuss how feminism benefits everyone, and at the same time, why the fem in feminism is absolutely necessary. 

Feminism is often defined as “A movement for the the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”. This is true, but as with any large movement there are many different takes and approaches. For me, the main work of feminism is dismantling the patriarchy. The patriarchy is: the social system in which masculine people hold more power and control in society, and where feminine people are devalued. 

When you look at feminism from the perspective of dismantling the patriarchy, you can easily see how the “fem” is critical for the movement. Feminism is literally fighting for society to value the feminine identity as much as the masculine. This will help men, women, and all other genders, because all genders have both feminine and masculine traits. 

Men often complain that feminism isn’t for them because they also suffer from sexism, and feminism doesn’t fight for their rights. Again I would argue that this is not the case. The ways in which men experience sexism is when the patriarchy (a system which almost always benefits them) turns against them. For example, men are less likely to gain parental rights in custody disputes - this is due in large part to the assumption that women are nurturers and men are not. This is an assumption that patriarchy upholds to keep women in their serving and care taking roles. But when it comes to custody disputes, it ends up affecting men negatively.

Another example is the pressure men face to “man up” and contain their emotions. This too is the patriarchy saying: don’t be weak, don’t be like women. The system of patriarchy says that nothing is worse than being a woman, so any personality traits that have been deemed feminine are shameful for men to exhibit. If we do the work as a society to value women and traditionally feminine traits than these traits will no longer be shameful for anyone to exhibit - including men. This links in with homophobia as well, as much of the homophobia we see is against men who “act girly”. People are disgusted that a man would exhibit traditionally feminine qualities, because as the patriarchy teaches us, there is nothing lower than being a woman. 

What feminism fights for is the breaking down of the patriarchal system. It fights for us to value the feminine traits in all of us. This means that everyone benefits from feminism, because all of us have traditionally feminine traits within us. The breaking down of the patriarchal system will give men permission to cry, it will give women the same inherent value as men, it will give gender non-binary people the space to express all sides of themselves safely. The term feminism is incredibly important, because in the end, what we are fighting for is for feminine traits to be treated as valuable, important, and valid in all humans.


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