The Women’s Worlds congress in Ottawa, Canada was four intense days of discussions on women’s inclusions, exclusions and seclusions in a globalized world. The first three days focused on breaking cycles, breaking ceilings and breaking barriers. The final day of the conference was about the progress that women are making as they break ground by changing rules and seizing opportunities.
On the final day of the conference, the plenary session on Breaking Ground brought together a panel of women who are leaders in their field to talk about the ways in which they have affected change, claimed power and transformed their communities. The panel was chaired by Kate McInturff, who is the Executive Director of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. The session’s panelists, all very well-known and accomplished in their fields, were:
- Samhita Mukhopadhyay (United States): A prominent third-wave feminist, leading expert and commentator on the intersection of race and gender and the executive editor of the popular feminist website feministing.com.
- Sebenzile Matsebula (South Africa): An activist for the rights of black and disabled women in South Africa, former Director in the Office on the Status of Disabled People for the President of South Africa and currently active in many organizations in the non-profit and private sector.
- Kathleen Lahey (Canada): A law professor at Queen’s University in Canada, she has litigated cutting-edge Charter of Rights cases including the BC same-sex marriage claims and publishes and comments widely on equality and sexuality, gender, women’s and racialized persons’ rights.
In this plenary session, Ms. McInturff asked the panelists a range of questions, including what ground they are breaking at the moment, what ground still needs to be broken so that women can have sufficient leisure time and engaging hobbies (instead of having to work three shifts), and what the role of community is in breaking ground.
The whole discussion can be viewed in the following video:
The panel finished with a visionary discussion, in which Ms. McInturff asked the panelists how they imagine a “Women’s World.”
Dr. Lahey kicked off that conversation, saying that it would not be made up of huge populations of men wearing suits (which was a reference back to a time when she felt very uncomfortable and out of place at her first tax law conference). She also noted that in a women’s world, we would not see “women’s bodies used as images and vehicles for every whim that may cross the minds of powerholders.” She also hoped that we would have the opportunity to test the hypothesis that women would take a more caring approach to human existence and that if productive resources, income, decision making authority and other forms of power were put into the hands of women, that they would give it to those who need it first and ensure that women do not starve.
According to Ms. Mukhopadhyay, a women’s world would be very nuanced. She explained that exploitation and abuse are caused by an unequal distribution of wealth and power and that “who you are defines what you have access to and that needs to change.” For her, a women’s world is “when we push past the way that power is distributed and the way that oppression is constructed socially” and “reconfigure the way that we understand masculinity and femininity”.
Finally, Ms. Matsebula noted that a women’s world would be a world full of live and less instability. “One thing I know for sure is that I would want to be there,” she said, noting that women have the capacity to change the world to be a place of compassion and love and peace.
What do you think? What would a women’s world look like to you?
Photo credit: Annie Urban