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.

Sign up to get an email notification when I upload a new blog post here.

#Resistance150: An Interview with Tia Cavanagh

I wrote this piece in partnership with the Feminist Art Conference (FAC). It was originally posted on the FAC blog here

This year marks the Canadian government’s celebration of “Canada 150,” and all over the country people will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of confederation that birthed this nation-state.

Meanwhile, many Indigenous people across this land have been organizing responses to these celebrations. One of the names this resistance has been given is #Resistance150, which was coined by Michif artist Christi Belcourt, Cree activist Tanya Kappo, Métis elder Maria Campbell and Anishinaabe traditional teacher Isaac Murdoch (you can read more about them here).

 #Resistance150 was born out of a frustration that the Canadian government has, once again, pushed aside the true history of Canada. To learn more about #Resistance150, I spoke with Tia Cavanagh, an Anishinaabe artist making work inspired by this movement.

Tia Cavanagh is an artist from the Sagamok Nation and mixed European background. She identifies as Anishinaabe, which means First People in Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language). Cavanagh completed her undergrad at OCAD University in Drawing and Painting, and will be starting her Masters Degree at Trent University in Canadian and Indigenous Studies this fall. She is an inspiring artist and a strong advocate for the Indigenous community, so it is no surprise that she is using her art to engage with #Resistance150.

One of Cavanagh's recent works, an oil painting titled “Oh Canada” (below), was featured in OCAD's Annual Graduate Exhibition. The piece features the Canadian flag with John A. Macdonald’s face as the maple leaf, and imagery of a residential school in the background. It calls attention to Canada’s true history and forces the viewer to reflect on Canada’s conflicting identity. As a figure still largely celebrated within the Canadian nation-state, the painting connects Macdonald's policieswhich orchestrated the Indian Actto their true legacy, in regards to Indigenous communities' generational experiences of the residential school system.

When speaking with Cavanagh about her work, she mentioned the importance of using art to connect with and mobilize communities. She elaborated, saying: “I feel community-engaged art can build connectivity, understanding, mobilization and above all, pathways to self-determination.” 

When we specifically discussed Canada 150, she spoke to her disappointment that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was not being used as a guiding force in the celebrations. After all the contributions First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples made to the TRC, she had hoped to see the TRC being enacted during the Canada 150 events.

However, Tia's work is not just about Canada 150 it also portrays the ongoing resistance that is urgently needed in Canada. She shared her future plans for art projects inspired by resistance. “I'm currently taking part in an Ontario Arts Council grant with other artists. The team of artists have created artistic workshops, some centered around Anishinaabe teachings, geared towards Indigenous survivors of violence. We will be doing these workshops over two years in our surrounding communities. My workshop is titled "Beading with Texture: Our Stories," whereby swatches of fabric of varied textures will speak towards an experience, a feeling and will be quilted together with various stories.”

Below is another piece by Cavanagh, titled “Cross Lake Residential School.” This work depicts imagery of a classroom from a residential school, and does not shy away from highlighting the religious influence in these horrible government-funded institutions. 

Cavanagh's critical and unsettling work powerfully contributes to the ongoing discussions not only around #Resistance150, but to the continued resistance against colonization and the erasure of Canada’s Indigenous history.

A special thank you to Tia Cavanagh for sharing her work, and taking the time to speak with FAC. You can find her online at: https://tiacavanagh.com/, and on instagram at: @tiabobia33.

Sign up to get an email notification when I upload a new blog post here.

Celebrating Indigenous Two-Spirit Leaders

As June comes to an end I wanted to take some time to celebrate June being both Pride Month and National Aboriginal History Month in Canada. To do this I am sharing 3 inspiring Indigenous two-spirit leaders doing amazing things in their communities.

Albert McLeod

Albert McLeod is of First Nations ancestry from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the Metis community of Norway House in northern Manitoba. McLeod has worked for over 30 years educating others about Indigenous culture, and two-spirit people. McLeod also runs workshops teaching others about Indigenous textile art. 
As a Co-Director of Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, McLeod has had a huge impact on the LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit community. Albert has also worked with and for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, along with a number of other influential and impactful organizations in the Winnipeg area. McLeod continues to be a leader in the Two-Spirit community, mentoring youth, and educating a wide variety of audiences.
Learn more about Albert McLeod and his work here:

Kiley May

Kiley May is a Hotinonshón:ni Mohawk and Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory (aka “the rez”) who is currently settled in the gathering place called Tkaronto or “Toronto”. May is a two spirit individual who also identifies as trans, queer and genderqueer. Their pronouns are she/her and they/their/them, as she sees her gender as something that is fluid.
May is an actor, model, photographer, educator, writer, and leader in the Two-Spirit community. She is also the creator of Homo Noeticus, a film made in 2012 with support from the Queer Video Mentorship Project. She performed in The Hours That Remain by Keith Barker, at The Box Studio in Toronto, and has worked with The Centre for Indigenous Theatre. As May continues to work as both an actor and model, she is providing much needed visibility to the young Two-Spirit community. They are an incredibly creative person, and I can’t wait to see what they do next!
May is also being honoured this year as the 2017 Youth Ambassador for Pride Toronto. 

Learn more about Kiley May and their work here:

Ma-Nee Chacaby

Ma-Nee Chacaby is an Ojibwa-Cree Elder who was raised in a remote Ojibwa community near Lake Nipigon, Ontario. She is lesbian and Two-Spirit woman, who has bravely chosen to tell her life story in her book: A Two-Spirit Journey - The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder. 
She was a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Awards, in the Trans and Gender-Variant Literature section in 2016, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, in the Lesbian Memoir/Biography section in 2016, and in 2017, she was a nominee for the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher, at the Manitoba Book Awards. 
Chacaby uses her storytelling as a way to uplift the Two-Spirit community, and gives a face to this often neglected identity. Notably, in 2013, Chacaby led Thunder Bay’s first gay pride parade. Chacaby continues to be a leader in the Two-Spirit community, and encourages other Two-Spirit people to write down and share their stories.
Learn more about Ma-Nee and her work here:

Sign up to get an email notification when I upload a new blog post here.