5 Amazing Women to Know

I love learning about inspiring people who are doing great things in the world. The non-stop bad news makes it hard to remember how many people are out there making a change and lifting others up as they do. In an effort to bring a little bit of light to the internet, I wanted to share 5 amazing women who are kicking-ass and making a positive impact on their communities.


Ginella Massa - Journalist, Reporter, Producer and Newscaster

Ginella Massa is not only a great reporter, she is also breaking barriers for women, Muslims, and hijab-wearing women. In 2015 she made history as the first hijab-wearing news reporter on television in Canada and in 2016 she made history again, being the first hijab wearing woman to anchor a major newscast in Canada.

But she doesn’t just stop at that. She also has a history of working to provide media training to community groups in Toronto. She has worked to help groups better engage with news outlets who are reporting on or about them. Helping them to understand the best ways to communicate their message.

Ms. Massa also writes about issues affecting Muslims in North America, giving voice to a community who is often left out of the conversation. She is someone who leads by example, and is definitely someone you should know about!

Follow her here:


Buffy Sainte-Marie - Cree Singer-Songwriter and Activist

Ms. Sainte-Marie is a living legend, and a Canadian hero in so many ways. She has spent more than 50 years using her art and music to fight for Indigenous people. Born in Canada and raised in the US, she has worked with Indigenous communities across North America, and focuses the majority of her advocacy on indigenous education. In 1969 she founded The Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education, which is a non-profit focused on spreading awareness of Native American cultures and improving education.

Her anti-war anthem “Universal Soldier” has provided inspiration to many over the years, and was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. And if all of that isn’t enough, Buffy Sainte-Marie will be honoured this year with the 2017 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at the Juno’s. Ms. Sainte-Marie is an incredibly important voice not only in North America, but in the world.

Follow her here:


Casey Plett - Writer

Casey Plett is a writer, a trans woman, and a Mennonite (like me!), and through her work she is giving a voice to the LGBTQ+ Mennonite community.

Let me pause for a quick second to explain the type of Mennonite she and I are. Similar to Judaism, being Mennonite is both a religion and a culture/ethnicity, and you don’t need to be one to be the other. Also similar to Judaism, we have both orthodox, and non-orthodox groups. Needless to say, we do not come from the orthodox line of mennonites (#TeamElectricity). You can read about ethnic Mennonites here, and tweet me your questions here. Okay.. back to Ms. Plett!

There is so much power in telling our stories, and Ms. Plett continues to do that both through her published writing and through her blog (linked below). She has written stories and short fiction centering the experience of trans women, along with literary essays and op-eds calling out transphobia, the canadian government, TERFs, and calling out the tortured hero trope. By giving voice to this community she is making Canada not only a better place, but a safer place.

Her book A Safe Girl to Love is “eleven unique short stories that stretch from a rural Canadian Mennonite town to a hipster gay bar in Brooklyn, featuring young trans women stumbling through loss, sex, harassment, and love”. It can be bought at the link below.

Follow her here:

Buy her book here: https://www.amazon.ca/Safe-Girl-Love-Casey-Plett/dp/1627290052


Audre Lorde - Poet, Writer, and Activist

Audre Lorde was a revolutionary woman. She was a poet, civil rights activist, feminist/womanist, and LGBTQ+ rights activist. As a woman who lived at the intersection of so many different forms of oppression, her voice was incredibly important to the many communities she spoke for and with. As an early critic of racism within the feminist movement she helped to push the movement forward, and to build spaces for black queer feminists. Her writing was deeply impactful to many people and continues to hold profound meaning today.

Over her many years of writing and public speaking she has been quoted often. Below are two of my favourite Audre Lord Quotes:

  • “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

  • “Your silence will not protect you.”

She was and remains a force for change.

Books by her here: https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/18486.Audre_Lorde


Tammy Duckworth - U.S. Senator and Veteran

Ms. Duckworth is a woman who has done so many amazing things. She was the first Asian American woman elected to Congress in Illinois and the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (1). She is now a U.S. Senator, with a history of being “the first”.

Ms. Duckworth lost both of her legs in the Iraq war, and she has fought for the fair treatment of veterans ever since - working first as the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and eventually as the Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Obama Administration. She also continues to be an advocate for those with PTSD, and has stated that PTSD “IS a combat wound".

Ms. Duckworth continues to break down barriers for women, Asian Americans, and people with disabilities!

Follow her here:


Want to Learn About More Awesome Women?

International Women's Day - Faith, Fundamentalisms, and Feminisms

This past Wednesday, March 8th was International Women’s Day, and I was very glad to attend an event put on by African Women Development Fund (AWDF). They hosted an event on the topic of: Faith, Fundamentalisms, and Feminisms. The four women on the panel represented the ideas of Islam, Humanism, and Christianity, which brought a great mix of ideas and perspectives to the discussion. And to start out the evening we enjoyed a spoken work piece by artist Famia Nkansa.

Ghana, like many countries in Africa, is very religious. It is approximately 71.2% Christian, 17.6% Muslim, 5.2% Traditional Ghanaian Religions, 5.2% Non Religious, and 0.8% Other (source). With over 85% of the population being either Christian or Muslim, these religions do have a strong influence on feminism in Ghana. It was great to learn about how these religious identities can not only coexist with feminism, but also how they can enhance and inform someone’s feminism. As Professor Mercy Oduyoye’s shirt said “Jesus <3 Feminism”. At the same time, it was important to discuss the issues around fundamentalism and how radical religion can affect women’s rights.  

The panel discussed everything from how their religion (or nonreligion) informed their feminism, to how they see the rights of the LGBTQ+ community as part of their feminism.   

A discussion that was particularly interesting to me was around the gender of God itself. Was God a man, a woman, or a genderless being. For all three of the religious women on the panel, it was clear to them that God was a genderless being, and that humans had simply imposed male language onto God. Ms. Kauthar Khamis cited a passage in the Quran where she felt it was clear that Allah was being described as beyond human, and therefore beyond gender. However, for Roslyn Mould (the only non-religious person on the panel, and previously a Christian) it was clear that God was in fact a man, referencing the passage “Our Father, who art in Heaven”. From one perspective, it was important that God be genderless, as this could be a pathway to greater gender equality in religious institutions. However, from the non-religious perspective, God being a man explains some of the deeply rooted misogyny found in religious institutions. In the end, Professor Mercy Oduyoye offered an insightful thought, stating that it doesn’t really matter if God is a man or not, because “even if God is male, it doesn't make every male a god!”. That was definitely something every panelist could agree on.

The panel also discussed the issues around fundamentalism within religions. It was an interesting discussion first focusing on what fundamentalism really means, and who gets to define what it is. Professor Angela Dwamena Aboagye mentioned that she has worked for women’s rights for over 20 years, and was instrumental in opening the first women’s shelter in Ghana, however, she does not support abortion rights. Because she will not work for abortion rights, she said many people have called her a fundamentalist, even though her work with the Ark Foundation has had such a positive impact on women’s lives in Ghana. It was interesting to think about how even within feminism there can be fundamentalism, and to discuss what ideologies are truly fundamental to feminism, and what areas have room for a difference in opinion.

The panel then went on to discuss the harms of fundamentalism within religion. Professor Mercy defined fundamentalists as people “who believe that yesterday, today, and tomorrow should remain the same”. Professor Angela agreed, adding that “fundamentalism divides”. All of the panelists discussed the importance of the language used in the title of the event, noting that there are many kinds of fundamentalists and feminisms, and it is important to recognize that neither are singular ideas.

Near the end of the discussion, the moderator, Nana Akosua Hanson, opened up the discussion to questions from the audience. One of the questions that was most interesting to me was “how, as religious feminists, do we navigate the issue of LGBTQ+ people?”. Professor Angela said that she was going to leave that question for the other panelists. However, Professor Mercy offered what I thought was great insight into this issue. She said it was important for us to ask “who benefits from their exclusion?”. She said she "truly feels bad for the bigots who exclude LGBTQ+ people from religious and feminist spaces. When they [the 'bigots'] get to the gates of heaven, I wonder what they will say when God asks them ‘why were you so cruel to LGBTQ+ people? Did I not create them? Were they not made in my image?’”. Roslyn also spoke, noting that all evening we had been discussing strictly men and women, and she reminded us “as feminists we need to remember that there are also transgender people, and we need to fight for them too”.

It was difficult to wrap up the conversation, as I think everyone in the room wanted to hear more from the panelists. I’m very grateful to AWDF for making space for this discussion. These topics can be difficult, messy, and definitely not black and white, but I believe it’s important to keep discussing them so we can all learn and grow.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Changing the Conversation on Abortion

If we can agree that data and facts exist and that we can use data and facts to prove things, then let’s talk about abortion.

Something that has been proven (here, and here) is that no matter what, women will always get abortions. Making abortion illegal does nothing to deter women from seeking out the procedure. As reported by the Guttmacher Center for Population Research Innovation and Dissemination - highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. In fact, the data shows that the rate of abortions for countries where the procedure is prohibited by law is 37 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, whereas it is 34 per 1,000 women of childbearing age in countries where the procedure is available upon request. This is a very insignificant difference, but even if you take the difference into account, there are less abortions in the countries where it is available upon request (source).

If we genuinely want to reduce the number of abortions - which, as someone who is passionately pro-choice, I agree we should aim to do - then we need to talk about preventing pregnancy, not about preventing abortion itself.

There is recent evidence that shows that education around family planning, does in fact reduce abortion rates. In the US, the abortion rate dropped 14% between 2011 and 2014, reaching a record low. Evidence suggests that this is due to fewer unintended pregnancies (and not restrictive laws), as well over 60% of the decline occurred in states that have not seen restrictive legislation (source).

In addition, we know that most women who are having abortions did not intend to get pregnant, and that “81% of unintended pregnancies in developing countries occurred among women who have an unmet need for modern contraception” (source). Which means that if we can meet the need for contraception, we can reduce unintended pregnancies, and thus reduce abortions.

With all this information, it is incredibly disappointing and dangerous that Trump has now enacted the global gag rule (GGR). The global gag rule was first put in place in 1984 by the Reagan administration, and it has been removed, and reenacted by different presidents since then. Trump reinstated it almost immediately after taking office. This policy “prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. family planning funds from advocating for abortion or providing abortion as a method of family planning” (source). This leaves the international reproductive rights community in an urgent state where there are only two viable options - quickly secure alternate funds, or close down all abortion related education, advocacy, counselling, and related work. The second of the two options is known to cause grave harm to women, not just through an increase in unsafe abortions, but also through reduced sexual safety.

The GGR has been shown to lead to reduced access to condoms and to sexual health services generally. “For example, during the Clinton Administration, the Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association received 426,000 condoms over two years from USAID. When the GGR went back into effect in 2001 [under the Bush administration], USAID had to suspend condom shipments to Lesotho because Planned Parenthood was the only provider of condoms in that country. At the time condom shipments were ceased, one in four women in Lesotho was infected with HIV” (source).

We need to understand that focusing solely on the prevention of abortion (instead of the prevention of pregnancy), will inevitably put women’s lives at risk. The mortality rate of safe abortions is incredibly low at 0.7 deaths per 100,000 procedures (source). Meanwhile, the mortality rate of unsafe abortions is a staggering 30 deaths per 100,000 procedures (source). If we know that making abortion illegal does nothing to stop abortion, and we know that unsafe abortions are killing women globally, then we need to be honest with ourselves and admit that we are effectively killing women by making abortion illegal. We have the facts, we have the data, we KNOW what the result of making abortion illegal will be. Making abortion illegal could not be any less “pro-life”.

As I said from the beginning, I agree that reducing the number of abortions is a good goal. I don’t want any women to have to go through any preventable medical procedures (even if they are low risk). However, we need to get real about what is going to reduce the number of abortions, while also protecting women’s lives from the dangers of unsafe abortions.

We need to ensure that abortion remains safe and legal while we also:

  1. Work to improve education around family planning and contraceptives
  2. Ensure contraceptives remain affordable and covered by health insurance
  3. Ensure a variety of contraception options are available (both hormonal and non hormonal)
  4. Increase research for a viable male contraceptive pill (men currently only have one contraception option available to them - condoms, putting the burden on women alone to prevent pregnancy)
  5. Ensure organizations doing this work continue to receive adequate funding

With the GGR in effect, and American politicians working hard to defund Planned Parenthood, I would ask you to consider joining me in donating to one of the following organizations:


1 month with Crossroads International

I’ve been working for Crossroads International, and their partner NEWIG, for just over 1 month now, and I thought it was about time I shared what I’ve been up to!

I’m working primarily as an Organizational Development Advisor, but of course I also help with programming and other work around the office. A lot of my work in the beginning has been simply shadowing other staff and gaining an understanding of how the organization functions. I’ve been based mainly in their project office in Tefle (in the Volta Region of Ghana), but I’ve also been to see their store in Accra, and worked on a 2 week program in the Eastern Region. It’s been great getting to see all the different projects and programs that NEWIG manages.

Over the remaining 9 months, I’ll be working on a number of different outreach programs. I am currently helping to update their local Women’s Group programming, and preparing to revise a number of other programs including: the Girls Empowerment Club, the Youth Leadership Club, and the Small Business Training Program (in partnership with the Rural Enterprise Programme). At the same time, NEWIG is getting ready to welcome the second cohort of students to their Women in Professional Driving training program in Accra, which will begin in early March. It’s going to be a very full 9 months, and I am looking forward to sharing the progress along the way! 

In my personal time, I have been enjoying visiting Accra on weekends and getting out to different local events. I attended the Sabolai Radio Music Festival which was an awesome celebration of African indie music. I also attend the December to Remember concert which featured a ton of amazing Ghanaian artists. I was incredibly happy to attend the African Women Development Fund’s Young Feminist Gathering in late December (a monthly event I plan to continue to attend during my time here). Check out the photos below to see what else I have been getting up to. 

There is so much more I want to do and see in the coming weeks and months. There are so many cities, beaches, and places I want to check out. I already know it is going to be a very full 10 months. 

Please tweet me @CarlyMFriesen if you have any suggestions of things I should do or see while I’m here!

2016

I love the feeling of opportunity a new year brings. But before I plan for 2017, I want to look back on 2016.

2016 was a year of big changes for me. I settled into a lovely apartment in Toronto. I started volunteering with the Feminist Art Conference. I traveled by myself to Ghana in April. I finally started turning my words into action and attended a number of rallies and marches for the various causes I support. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could transition into the nonprofit sector, and what I would want to focus on within it. I took my first art class (a feminist art class… of course!) and was reminded how much I love to learn new things. I saw Beyonce in concert. In May my sister moved in with me, and we overhauled the apartment with paint and love to create a beautiful little home. I continued to dance my butt off at the studio each week. I played mas at Caribana. I used up every bit of the summer sun, going to Toronto Island, Pride weekend, the Bruce Peninsula, High Park, friend’s cottages, and so many dance events. I took a trip to Jamaica and got to take dancehall classes with the pros. And the big one… I left my job to begin working for a Women’s Empowerment Organization in Ghana. 

2016 was the year that finally pushed me to really go after what I’m so passionate about - advocacy and human rights. I have been involved in and engaged with advocacy work for the better part of 10 years now, but It has taken me a long time to realize that I don’t just want to be involved, I want it to be my life’s work.

I am so so grateful to be starting 2017 working to promote human rights and women’s equality. 

Click through the photos below to see some of my highlights from 2016!