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On Jan. 29, the Women and Gender Equity Network successfully launched as an official MSU service. The group brought in keynote speakers who focused on trans* and gender-queer people; however, the WGEN aims to create a safer space for women and survivors of sexual assault as well.

“This is an essential service because these are topics that are not necessarily talked about in our mainstream media or even in our day-to-day interactions even though these problems are pervasive,” said coordinator Shanthiya Baheerathan.

She hopes that the WGEN will assist students in breaking down the gender identities society imposes and understand that these identities need not be a person’s defining characteristic.

“We want to bring in narratives that aren’t really talked about in society and in the media to make people really question and understand what gender means.”

The WGEN will use educative programming to raise awareness about gender issues both on campus and in the greater community. A travelling art exhibit will move from Thode Library to Mills Library to MUSC between Feb. 11 and 13 to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women. The group has a number of special events planned for International Women’s Week, including a body positivity workshop and a session with Girls in Code. There will also be dialogues to discuss gender socialization both domestically and abroad, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as well as corporate environments.

The WGEN has also secured a space on campus. Starting in mid February, the WGEN will hold drop-in hours on weekdays in MUSC 226 from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

“In that space we hope to have a healing space, where women, trans* people, and survivors of sexual assault can talk about their experiences and feel supported and validated and understood,” Baheerathan said.

There are efforts underway to bring in a trauma counsellor and a response coordinator, an ongoing initiative Baheerathan has been working on with MSU President Teddy Saull and VP (Administration) Jacob Brodka.

While professional counselling would be beneficial to the safer space, Baheerathan was also quick to say there are opportunities for students to become a vital part of the WGEN. The service is in the process of looking to recruit volunteers who will work in the safer space with women, trans* people and survivors of sexual assault. Volunteers will go through mandatory anti-oppression and positive space training and will learn how to create a safe, welcoming environment for survivors of sexual assault.

Despite the recent launch, Baheerathan and the WGEN executive have been working on a variety of initiatives and have set high goals for their first year as a service.

“I think there’s a real thirst for this type of conversation and bringing in experts in the field to talk about it. I think people are becoming more familiar with the idea of what feminism is and I hope to provide students with the opportunity to talk about these issues,” Baheerathan said. “I hope to build a sense of community within the safer space and I hope to bring in women and trans* people and to provide them with the resources and space to feel validated in their experiences.”

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