While there are women’s centres in over 20 schools across Canada, McMaster is one of a handful of campuses that does not have a comparable centre. So for the past few months the MSU has been investigating if there was a need for a women’s and trans* centre (WTC) on campus.

Research from the WTC Ad-Hoc Committee showed that a vast majority of students, 78 per cent of those surveyed, said that they would use a WTC to seek counseling or in order to provide information to support a friend. 237 people responded to the online survey.

At the March 24 SRA meeting, a motion passed that formally recognized and acknowledged the need for a women’s and trans* centre on campus.

The motion also recognized the MSU’s commitment to ending violence against women and trans* individuals on campus.

However, the motions were not passed without much discussion amongst the representatives.

Some assembly members especially took issue with an original motion, which called for a commitment to ending violence. There was argument over whether the particular motion was purely symbolic and didn’t call for enough tangible measures.

But several members strongly argued that voting against that type of motion was more indicative of the MSU’s lack of support and divisive stance on ending violence against women.

Elise Milani, Chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee and SRA Humanities, stated that, “When we commit to it we’re saying we’re continuing to work. If we vote this down…it inherently says that we [the MSU] don’t want to end violence and against women and trans* individuals.”

Similarly, Simon Granat, SRA Social Sciences expressed his dismay in those opposed to the motion.

“It’s astounding that people are saying, ‘yeah I don’t think I’m going to vote for this’. Yeah it’s big. Yeah it’s lofty. But we’re committing to ending violence. To me this really shouldn’t be a discussion.”

Assembly members were presented with up to date information and research that the Ad-Hoc Committee had compiled in order to inform their decisions and stance on the necessity for a WTC on campus.

The research collected showed that there was a gap in services which SHEC, the Wellness Centre and QSCC was unable to fulfill in terms of providing specific sexual assault counseling or a discussion forum for gender issues.

Violetta Nikolskaya, a WTC Committee member, explained how, “we have to recognize it’s imperative that we have something on campus for students. Something that is convenient, readily accessible and central to students.”

Milani described how the committee’s next steps will be to look more closely at funding, location, partnerships with organizations such as SACHA and examine the liability of providing counseling and services.

“We can’t put all the responsibility on the WTC. It’s a huge thing we need to try and tackle. And this is just one part,” said Milani.

“Doing awareness campaigns and providing training [about violence against women and trans* individuals] is another big part of the overall issue.”

Devra Charney/ The Silhouette

On Friday March 8, the global community celebrated International Women’s Day. The 2013 theme focused on promoting gender equality in a modern progressive world.

On campus, McMaster hosted multidisciplinary activist and educator Kim Crosby. Her workshop on anti-racism as well as her keynote address were much-anticipated events for a number of students and community members.

Emilee Guevara, member of Feminist Alliance McMaster (FAM), was pleased to see McMaster bring Crosby and the values that she represents to campus, hoping for similar speakers in the future.

“This event was awesome to have Kim here speaking. International Women’s Day is to talk about women, but it’s to talk about issues that affect all women, so that’s where her theme of intersectionality is really important… I hope that events like this can continue every year and in every space, not just on specific days.”

FAM endeavours to make sure campus remains accessible throughout the year for students looking to connect and align with other feminists in a safe environment. Guevara added that FAM’s activism also extends off campus to related community events where members can meet up and attend as a group.

“Women and men have joined together to go to certain events, like Take Back the Night, like the SlutWalk, celebrate International Women’s Day… hopefully making connections for women who have felt either silenced, objectified, sexualized, who have experienced rape and harassment and sexual assault – realities in the lives of women everywhere.”

And in an effort to address the issue of violence against women in a McMaster context, The Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton & Area (SACHA) and YWCA Hamilton have partnered together for the It’s Time to End Violence Against Women on Campus project funded by Status of Women Canada.

Project coordinator and Mac alum Alicia Ali said that McMaster currently lacks specific guidelines on dealing with violence against women on campus.

“The project is split into two phases – information gathering and outcome,” she explained. “The information-gathering phase includes surveys and focus groups to identify current gaps, priorities, resources, opportunities, and strengths around the issue of violence against women on campus.”

Students are invited to attend sessions as part of a Safety Audit scheduled for March 18and 19 so that they can provide feedback on safety around campus. A campus walk-about will also allow students to point out specific problem areas and voice their concerns about unsafe parts of campus after dark.

“The second phase of the project includes a campus wide awareness campaign, events on campus, and a campus community protocol in how the university responds to instances of violence against women,” said Ali.

“We hope to explore the possibility of introducing a gender-based analysis to all policy development at the university.”

The project coordinators and advisory committee will provide the University with a list of recommendations after a two-year period on how to increase safety for women as well as involve the campus community in a more informed approach to dealing with the culture of violence against women.

Carlos Andres Gomez travelled nearly 800 km to Hamilton Monday night to speak about a confrontation outside a New York nightclub that changed his life.

“We have to start with our own story,” said Gomez, a spoken word poet known to tackle societal definitions of masculinity.

At TwelvEighty, Gomez addressed students and community members about some of the territory he covers in his latest book, Man Up: Breaking the Code of Manhood.

Gomez spoke about pressure he felt to be a jock in middle school and high school in New York City.  He said his concept of what it means to “be a man” reached a turning point one night outside a club when a man he’d accidentally bumped into wanted to fight him.

“I couldn’t figure out why two men were willing to die over nothing,” he said.

Gomez also described his emotional response—what he’d tried to disguise as an “allergic reaction”—to poetry the first time he heard it. A former social worker and inner city public school teacher, Gomez now performs spoken word poetry around the world.

“At 16 I was building myself up to be this perfect man,” said Gomez during his speech. “I realized, maybe everything I’ve been doing to be a man has been totally incongruous to what I am.”

Gomez describes his work as being about “reimagining what it means to carry a banner of identity.”

“The one-sided version of manhood I was given feeds into violence between men, violence against women and homophobic violence.” he said.

The goal of Gomez’s performances is to prompt people to break away from gender stereotypes.

“There’s a tremendous power and responsibility that comes with being on the stage. I want to make sure I’m talking about things with high stakes.”

McMaster joins the One Billion Rising

It’s simple math, really.

There are about six billion people on the earth, half of whom are women. And according to a report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women, one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence or harassment in her lifetime.

Activist Eve Ensler did the math. And because one billion women in the world would be affected, she decided it was time to do something about it.

Ensler, who wrote the controversial play The Vagina Monologues, is the founder of V-Day, a global day of activism on Feb. 14 to end violence against women. 2013 marks the fifteenth anniversary of V-Day and will see the launch of her newest project, called One Billion Rising (OBR).

OBR is designed to be an international phenomenon that will involve groups of women occupying public spaces and dancing.

Upon hearing about the movement, McMaster activists wanted to get in on the action.

“Not only is this to raise awareness, but it’s to celebrate women and girls,” explained TJ Jamieson, fourth-year nursing student and project director at Feminist Alliance McMaster (FAM). The McMaster event, which will take place in the MUSC Atrium in the afternoon of Feb. 14, will feature Zumba and belly dancing lessons, a flash mob, and an evening dance party.

“We didn’t want to be doom and gloom,” Jamieson said. “Obviously [sexual assault] is a very stoic subject, but we also wanted to include that women are amazing.”

The event will be hosted in collaboration between FAM and I Am Woman, a newly formed women’s interest group on campus that identifies itself as a “communicative link” between the variety of women’s campaigns. Hamilton’s own YWCA and Sexual Assault Centre for the Hamilton Area (SACHA) are also partners in organizing. While the event is focused on women, people of all gender identities are encouraged to attend.

“We are hoping for a lot of people to show up,” said Faiza Shafaqat, president of I Am Woman. Shafaqat, a third-year biopsych student, joked that “instead of sitting at home and eating chocolate by myself, I’ll be supporting this and raising awareness about violence against women.” She added that the feedback they have gotten so far has been “amazingly positive.”

OBR is not without its critics, however. Feminist activists from outside North America have called the international movement “imperialist” for its alleged theme of the superiority of Western culture.

And even at McMaster itself, there has been some criticism.

“People deeply involved in the feminist movement can be a little bit condescending towards this event because it’s dancing—you know, what can that do against violence against women?” said Amy Hutchison, second-year math and stats student and president of FAM.

“But my response and the response I’ve heard from others is that you also have to have fun.”

The choice of dance as the medium for the event is not only for the fun of it, though; Ensler and the movement’s proponents wanted to highlight the use of dance as a creative form of protest, as well as a means of healing for women affected by sexual violence.

Hutchinson and her co-organizers hope that participants will gain a sense of global connection, as well as a positive relationship with activism.

“No one’s saying that you have to stop violence against women, as if after February 14, when people dance, there will be no violence,” she said.

“Women need a chance to come together and see that one billion of us all supporting each other and dancing [is a good thing], and dance is a really expressive and artistic way to show that.”

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