When I set out to write this, I realised how little I knew about the background details of the Women’s Movement in Canada. To me, it’s about working towards equality, and gains for women will benefit my family and my peers, but also everyone. I think we all benefit from the Women’s Movement, and I recognize that many of us have a lot left to learn about the history of feminism. So, I start with a very brief overview of the three waves of feminism in Canada, and end with how I see Inspiring Women Among Us (IWAU) as contributing to advancing gender equality.
Feminism has occurred in three main “waves.” The word wave is used because each wave has its own energy, and each intermingles with the previous. The first wave of feminism was defined by the suffragette movement, with the goal of attaining women’s right to vote, and it began just before the twentieth century. As a result, some women won the Canadian federal right to vote in 1918. It was not until the mid 1960’s that women (and men) identified as Status Indians were afforded this right, however. The second wave of the feminist movement centred on equal rights in terms of education and careers. It also emphasized women’s reproductive rights, and improved legal access to birth control and abortion. Pacifism, disarmament, and ending domestic violence were also key concerns.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia section on Women’s Movements, in 1967, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women produced a report with 167 recommendations to improve equality for women in Canada, responding to influences of the first and second waves. Third wave feminism is a maturation of earlier struggles and associated momentum, and responses to the two prior waves. It acknowledges the limitations of second wave’s “universal woman” (the idea that all women are united by shared experiences of oppression and patriarchy — womanhood as sisterhood) and begins to celebrate, but also call critical attention to, women’s diversity, and the concomitant absence of diversity within feminism’s ranks. Third wave feminism represents a greater integration of intersectionality, or the emphasis on how various layers of oppression experienced are intertwined or inseparable from gender, class, race, and sexuality. Third wave feminism has emphasized a broader range of persistent inequalities as they intersect with race and class, such as differential access to wages and to child care.
And where do these three waves leave us now? I would argue that they are all with us in terms of ground gained, and work left to be done. Are we in a post-feminist world? That seemed more possible a few years ago. Are we in the fourth wave, and if so, what does it look like? Is there a greater emphasis on including fairer treatment of all genders for a better society? Scholars, writers, artists, and activists seem to be somewhat undecided on where we currently sit. What do you think?
Much of feminist work seeks to address structural inequalities associated with patriarchal oppression and systemic discrimination. Johan Galtung coined the term ‘“structural violence” in issue 3 of 1969’s Journal of Peace Research. He defines violence as “that which increases the distance between the potential and the actual, and that which impedes the decrease of this distance.” Galtung describes violence as anything that prevents people from realising their potential, and/or anything that prevents the reduction of barriers to accessing their potential, as violence. This aptly describes the flawed and problematic superstructures and practices within society that feminists have fought to change for centuries. The notion of structural violence helps to explain key issues and struggles that feminism has fought to change.
Feminism seeks to disrupt elements of structural violence that disproportionately affect women (and other marginalized genders). Feminists attempt to address and interrupt ingrained social barriers to representation, access, employment, and career advancement opportunities, for example. Through action, resistance, and mobilization, feminism in Canada has achieved much, but there is a long way to go.
IWAU is a feminist organization in that it seeks to draw attention to uneven gender relations and their consequences. Through community discussions and events, IWAU participants identify and perhaps even strategize about how to undermine or overcome forms of gendered structural violence that persist in local, Canadian, and global spheres. IWAU acts as a set of activities, relationships, and spaces to encourage critical and transformative engagements. IWAU opens and facilitates complex discussions, as well as supporting action and change. IWAU enables needed discussions by including diverse types of experts, ideas, and epistemologies, and by providing a platform for less heard stories to be shared and amplified. IWAU also attempts to facilitate community and mentoring connections for participants, organisers, and power holders alike.
IWAU shares goals and strategies with other gender-related organisations, including the United Nations entity, “UN Women,” which aims to accelerate gender equality around the world. As discussed by Elize Zerrath in her article “Why Gender Equality is Everyone’s Issue” on the United Nations Youth Associations Network, one of the major underlying challenges to advancing gender equality is developing a successful ability to change mentalities and perceptions.
The UN is attempting to make such waves via delivering related programming, education, outreach, and community (not just women’s) involvement. Gender-related perceptions and mentalities of everyone in society need to evolve and grow for meaningful change to occur. Like the UN, IWAU firmly believes that all genders must be involved in improving society for the betterment of all genders.
Join us for IWAU 2018, to learn, discuss, consider change, and to help keep the feminist momentum going, for the benefit of all!
Watch for a full schedule of events in early November. #IWAU2018
Find us on Twitter: @IWAU_events, and on Facebook: Inspiring Women Among Us, and as part of the UNBC webpage: https://www.unbc.ca/inspiring-women