McMaster Students Union’s Women and Gender Equity Network made waves on campus last week as part of their annual March campaign.
WGEN is an MSU service that caters to women, transfolk, people who identify outside of the gender binary and survivors of sexual assault by providing a safe space on campus. In addition, they program campaigns and events throughout the year that centre around education, community building and advocacy.
From March 6-10, WGEN held a campaign of intersectional feminist programming and events. The campaign, titled Making Waves, served as an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the feminist community and to challenge social norms through programming that reflected upon the dimensions of intersectional feminism.
Making Waves took form in several events throughout the week, from interactive, discussion and art-based workshops, hosting Jay Pitter, an author, placemaker and senior stakeholder engagement professional as a keynote speaker, to a club night at Mills Hardware.
“All of our events centred around creating a safe space for folks to come and either talk about their own experiences or learn from others,” said Jaime Cook, WGEN’s promotions and social media executive.
“We believe that creating spaces for these types of discussions to take place is one of the best ways to educate and empower folks. We do our best to make each event as intersectional as possible… so our workshops and discussions went beyond gender and sexuality which, in my eyes, is the only way to go about having these discussions,” she said.
"I think holding these events gathers more people who are personally affected by sexism and racism, for example, and facilitates the promotion of solidarity."
Social and political advocacy executive
The middle of the week, March 8, marked International Women’s Day, a day that often leaves out women of colour, trans women, gender non-binary folk and women with disabilities. The events that took place throughout Making Waves were programmed to be inclusive, supportive and accessible to as many individuals as possible.
“Articulating discrimination or trying to organize to fight for better treatment is very emotional and personal,” said Alexii Hernandez, one of two social and political advocacy executives at WGEN. “I think holding these events gathers more people who are personally affected by sexism and racism, for example, and facilitates the promotion of solidarity.”
Intersectional feminism recognizes that all women experience oppression in varied ways and to different degrees of intensity. In programming events that recognized this, WGEN enabled thoughtful discussion, built community and promoted the visibility of intersectional feminism on campus.
“There is a lot of ignorance around feminism and issues pertaining to oppression because there are people who are not personally affected in their day to day and don’t really want to get involved, because it’s difficult. Events like this make people consider these issues because they are [public], they have a presence so you can engage with them directly. The more we talk about these, the harder it is to ignore,” said Hernandez.
With larger campaigns, WGEN hopes to engage individuals who may not know about their service, create safe spaces on campus and ultimately contribute to the larger discussion surrounding inequality. These campaigns, which are hosted throughout the year, also aim to demonstrate visibility and offer support for anyone who needs to use the services that WGEN offers.
By: Rachel Guitman - WGEN Contributor
One of the goals of Making Waves, formerly known as International Women’s Week, is to reframe conversations about gender equity to include those who are agender, transgender or gender nonconforming. These conversations are also meant to communicate the idea of activism, progress and creating inclusive spaces. The event aims to raise awareness and engagement among students about the intersectional feminist work that the Women and Gender Equity Network does.
There are events open to all and events focused on Black, Indigenous and people of colour. This is similar to WGEN’s BIPoC Bodies are Dope campaign, which took place before the February reading week. Certain events are closed, meaning they are only open to certain groups based on identity or experience.
These open and closed events have different purposes. Open events, like WGEN’s documentary screenings and workshops, are a great way to get people engaged in conversation. Conversely, closed events give specific groups, e.g., BIPoC or survivors of sexual assault, a space where they feel comfortable and safe in sharing their perspectives and experiences. These closed events aim to support, validate and create space for people who do not hold privileged identities. The closed half of the event allows for more intimate discussion among those with shared experiences.
The open half of the event is a good opportunity for allies to learn and listen about experiences they haven’t had without speaking over the voices of others. This allows participants to learn how to be better allies through opening themselves to the lived experience of others.
In a world that caters to White, cisgender, heterosexual men, it is vital to have a space carved out for BIPoC to feel safe. For example, if one of the events during the previous Bodies are Dope campaign had been open instead of closed, the topics, anecdotes and tangents that were brought up would have been missed. If events like that are not closed, then people may be worried about saying the wrong thing, and might be insecure about sharing their experiences. By closing events to individuals with lived experience, they provide a safe and cathartic environment to promote solidarity in a space with others who have shared experiences.
Community-building helps discussions about how the McMaster community treats issues of gender equity. These closed events, such as the Trans on Campus workshop during Transforming Mac Week, address the questions and concerns that would not normally occur to those without lived experience such as requesting a name change in the university. This is something that is simple and practical, but is able to have a significant impact on people’s experiences at McMaster.
The quantity of events throughout the week should be sufficient to cater to those who want closed, safe spaces to discuss issues affecting them and open spaces for allies to learn more about issues affecting other people. Both are needed to create educated discussion about the issues at hand.