International Women’s Day is an annual opportunity to reflect on how global events are affecting women and to take action in our own communities. For many of us, this is our year-round work, part of who we are and what we do every day in our lives. International Women’s Day is our chance to share our work with others.
This year, the work of International Women’s Day started a couple months early. On January 21, 2017, women and allies all over the world joined what started as a local Women’s March on Washington, but quickly became a global event. Over 1 million people marched in Washington, D.C. and over 5 million worldwide, protesting the statements and policies of the newly sworn-in Donald Trump.
The marches began as a response to what many see as misogynist behaviour and speech from the new president, and grew to include many other issues as well. Thousands of marchers carried signs and placards expressing their dismay or outrage at Trump’s policies or in solidarity with those people who are more vulnerable under the Trump administration.
As is so often the case when we organize for change, these marches weren’t without controversy. Since they took place feminists and allies have been engaged in the deep work of reflection about what we’ve learned and about the need applying an intersectional lens to every event we organize. Intersectionality is about seeking understanding of how individuals and systemic barriers or discrimination intersect. It’s about understanding what we mean when we speak of “privilege” and accepting that some of us may experience certain barriers but still have considerable privilege relative to others, because of systemic discrimination – and vice versa.
Post-secondary educators and academics tend to have a considerable amount of privilege. We tend (with some exceptions) to be better educated, better paid, and have access to more information and resources than many other segments of the population. We are called upon as experts in our fields; we speak with authority both in and out of the classroom. We also attend, participate in, and organize a lot of events, such as conferences and panel discussions. For those of us also active in our unions, our opportunities to organize events are even greater.
It’s important that when we’re organizing an event, we consider what steps we take to ensure we have diverse voices reflected among the speakers or panelists. Have we endeavoured to have diversity amongst participants? Have we asked participants to identify access needs and made every effort to accommodate them? Here at FPSE, we’re paying close attention to these issues, and this year, we’ll be offering a workshop on building inclusive movements.
These topics - intersectionality, discrimination, and privilege - are often uncomfortable. It’s easy for feelings to be hurt, for anger to arise, for resentment to surface. To be identified by someone else as being privileged but unaware of it – and thereby inadvertently behaving or speaking in a discriminatory manner - can be shocking for those of us who see ourselves as progressive feminists. The discomfort is not only to be expected, it’s a necessary part of the growth and learning. It is incumbent upon all of us to recognize our own privilege where it exists, to name it, and to make every effort to listen and learn from those whose privilege is less than our own.
This International Women’s Day, let’s all commit to examining the parts we play in building a stronger, more diverse and inclusive movement – one that has space for everyone and that challenges us to learn and grow. Let’s ensure that systemically-marginalized voices are heard and that “International Women’s Day” means “intersectional” too.
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.