By Emma Jane
On March 8 I attended what I hope will be my first of many International Women’s Day events. As an 18-year-old girl, it is important that I participate in these events and learn more about the movement. Feminism has always been an important force in my life as I, like many other young women, have already experienced sexism.
The event, held at Seeds of Change in Peterborough and organized by the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre and Kawartha World Issues Centre, was well-organized, educational and riveting. I was impressed and inspired by the dedication of the organizers who had evidently worked very hard to create an inclusive, memorable event. Immediately upon entering the event, there was a booth from the community art studio, “Creating Space”, where I could create a puzzle piece to re-enforce girl power! I saw one puzzle piece that said, “When your heart is broken, you plant seeds in the cracks and pray for rain.” Although simple, I related to the message deeply.
Feminism has always been an important force in my life as I, like many other young women, have already experienced sexism.
Throughout the venue, there were booths dedicated to different organizations. One of them featured a button-making station with feminist quotes on the buttons. I was so impressed by the creativity and thought put into each booth’s table. They were also very educational, and I was so pleasantly surprised to discover how much Peterborough has to offer to the community in terms of safe-spaces and supportive organizations. The night featured a large potluck-style dinner with delicious meals from all different women who had contributed. I thought that it was an amazing way to create an inclusive environment using delicious food!
The MCs of the event were two young women named Zara Syed and Chhavi Chawla, who guided the event gracefully. I was so happy that strong women were behind the makings of this glorious night! The event started with a song from the Peterborough Raging Grannies, who are part of a movement that started in 1947, that was called “Women of the World”. The Peterborough group even featured Grannies in training, who are a group of young women following the leadership of the older Grannies. Other guests and speakers included Peterborough city councillor Diane Therrien, singer Susan Newman, Kim Muskratt of Hiawatha First Nation, and Suzanne Smoke of Alderville First Nation. Chief Phyllis Williams of Curve Lake First Nation spoke while educating us on the importance of acknowledging the Indigenous land our event was held on. I felt very privileged to be in her presence. Maryam Monsef, MP for Peterborough-Kawartha and Minister of Status of Women, attended the event and shared her wisdom on feminism and the importance of events like these. She acknowledged that even if we were all there for different reasons, our shared goal is a better, more equal world to live in. Smokii Sumac, a PhD student at Trent University, was the moderator, and the panelists included Niambi Leigh, Monica Mayer, and Shanese Steele.
. . . I was happy to know that we were all there with the same intention of making the community a better place.
Smokii Sumac introduced the panelists and recited a poem while speaking about self-love, feminism, and the importance of having trans-women attend these events, as there was not a transgender woman panelist. I understand where Smokii was coming from, but I also believe there was no need to disrespect the hard work and efforts the organizers had put in to create an inclusive and diverse event. There definitely should have been a trans-woman speaking, but there is always room for improvement, and it wasn’t necessary to embarrass the organizers instead of being appreciative and encouraging of the work they’re doing. I understand that I won’t always agree with everyone, but I was happy to know that we were all there with the same intention of making the community a better place.
The theme of the event was resistance through art, and the panelists did a great job describing their experiences of resisting oppression using art.
Shanese Steele said she expresses her resistance through the form of body art. She explained that, although her entire existence is resisting, she uses tattoos to connect to her ancestry, and honour her history. She has her traditional native name tattooed on her among her spirit animal, the otter. She also has, “They can’t stop the revolution, black power is the solution” on her arm. Her body art has evolved with her political views. She has recently gotten a tattoo, honouring her Afro-Caribbean spirituality, of a symbol that slaves used to resist oppression. She also has a tattoo of a symbol that honours the connection between the living and the dead. Her last tattoo is dedicated to body positivity, and honours her journey to self-love.
Niambi Leigh spoke about race, gender, sexuality and mental well-being. They talked about their experience using mindfulness as resistance to forms of escapism in the media. Niambi uses poetry as a powerful tool to practise resistance as it is a platform to reach people, although they explained that the act of living and breathing, is to them, resisting. Niambi expressed the struggle of balancing life and mental health as a community organizer and the importance of self-care. They appreciate resistance through art because of the perspective it offers to people who cannot relate or feel how women of colour feel in today’s society.
Monica Mayer is a feminist activist from Mexico who has been part of major movements around the world. Her dedication as an artist has made her a well-established feminist, who has taught workshops, led art collectives and participated in the use of multimedia art to further feminist movements. It was an honour to listen to her share her stories of resisting in Mexico, and the impact she has had on women’s rights.
My first International Women’s day event was enjoyable, while being educational. It was very inspiring as a young woman to attend such a successful event that was run by women, and for women. It was the first time that I have been in an environment exclusively dedicated to the feminist movement. I look forward to attending many more powerful events, and maybe one day participating or leading one.