Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Who Owns Public Spaces: How City Design Reinforces Inequality

Public bathrooms are just one in a series of unfortunate examples of the reinforcement of inequality by the design of public spaces that caters to men's bodies or ignore women's needs. Public city spaces should be equally accessible, useable and beneficial to both men and women. For this to be the case, the differences between men and women must be taken into consideration during the design of urban spaces. With widespread female migration to cities from rural communities, women's increasing participation in both economic and political spheres and the pledge to equality by many of the world's governments, cities must become safer, more equal places, and actively seek to avoid propagating structural inequality

The only place this is true: tech conferences

Inevitably, where there are washrooms, their square footage is similar for both sexes. Differences in bodily functions, however, mean men's washrooms have more urinals per square foot than women's washrooms have available stalls, resulting in different experience and usability for the sexes. Women, because of cities designed primarily around men's bodies have far more needs for washrooms: menstruation and diaper changing, breast-feeding and more frequent urination due to smaller bladders and pregnancy, tending to both children and older, sicker relatives (as women take on the bulk of the care for both these groups more than men). 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Women in the Movies and Literary Sexism: Where is the Female Experience?

What we watch and read invariably affects our thoughts and plays a part in shaping our opinions. The discussion has been, of late, on the effect media sensationalism and the dismal portrayals of women in the media has had on young women and their relationships, both with themselves and others, or their interactions within the workforce and workplace. Women as sexual objects, objectified to their bodies, removed of their experience and advertised as disposable has become the commodity of reality television shows, video games, news segments, women and men's magazines on fashion and health and in social media. 

A perhaps more insidious and far more pervasive sexism is felt in the absence of female voices and characters within our libraries and on and behind our screens. If you were to take a hard look at your bookshelves and deep into your movie collection, what would the predominant authorship behind those mediums look like? Most likely, the fiction we know of, and the experiences therein, has been concentrated within the white male voice and opinion and has shaped our views and our thoughts a seemingly invisible but all too familiar way. Azar Nafisi speaks about this world of fiction as the ability to think beyond ourselves, to create and envision, to learn beyond borders, to speculate and dream and calls it the "republic of imagination." Unfortunately, I fear this republic is simply recreating the sexism around us, in far more subversive and deep-seated way. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

#MakeItHappen for International Women's Day 2015

Happy International Women's Day!
In a celebration of women in work, the pictures throughout this post are from a stunning set of 39 photos capturing women's work around the world.

Today's theme is #MakeItHappen. Today's post is on what it feels like for a woman navigating her way through some big cities in the West. It seems we've come to a point where, in the West, we think that gender inequality is elsewhere. I'm hoping this post will shed some much needed light on prevailing issues that continue to affect the way women experience their lives, and the negative effects of the inequalities they experience.

After reaching out to friends on social media and thinking over the conversations

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Patricia Arquette and Intersectionality: A Lesson

Patricia Arquette made an important statement during Sunday night's Oscar broadcast. While accepting her golden man, she advocated for wage equality, and from her vantage point, on the Oscar stage, that's both an admirable and an important thing to communicate (lest we forget we live in 2015 year where pesky wage inequalities persists). There have been statements that Ms. Arquette is both too wealthy or 'just an actress', and so should not raise her voice for this cause. Those comments are anti-feminist, infantilizing, and drenched in harmful classist and gendered stereotypes.

It is, however, unfortunate that Ms. Arquette did not choose to delve even just the slightest bit more deeply into her statement before going on stage, to avoid this embarrassing statement which she expanded upon in her backstage interview: "It's time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now."

Intersectionality. I'm still exploring understanding the full-depth of it myself, and as cross-cutting themes of race, disability, sexual orientation, class and the rural v urban framework continue to evolve and be explored, it seems almost impossible to encompass all experiences within an articulated statement for a social cause. And yet, Patricia Arquette has continued the structural erasure that white feminists have done for so long before her, and thus presents us with a learning opportunity (even though sometimes, we are tired of teaching).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feminism in 2014: More than Beyoncé and Malala

This year saw the advent of a new kind of feminism on a truly global scale. Strong women were no longer afraid and weaker women were empowered. It was the year of sexual consent accountability, where enthusiastic consent was prioritized over force or disregard. It was the year where men were held accountable for the soft war zones that cities have become for women: where street harassment was called-out, and 'man-spreading' became illegal. Where women from around the world rose up for the education of young girls, led by a powerful young Pakistani girl who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for her efforts. Universities across the US and Canada were forced to acknowledge the rampant sexual violence prevailing on their campuses, and their befuddled and paltry handling of such a widespread crisis was exposed. It was the year where India faced its own sexual violence and sexism, and was held accountable. From marriage equality to both loving and questioning Sheryl Sandberg, prominent celebrities taken to court over sexual abuse allegations, photo hacking 'sex scandals' relabelled as the sexual abuse they are, the feminist movie Frozen breaking records at the box office, #YesAllWomen in response to the very real threat of every day violence against women, Lupito Nyong'o and Viola Davis brilliantly shaming white journalism, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaking to feminism as only she can - without a doubt, women's voices, through trial and struggle, were being heard, and their participation was more than a check-marked box; women found a seat at the table.

But that seat is tenuous, at best, and the risk comes not from the seemingly obvious, but rather, from within. 2014 was also the year when feminism saw gaping racial wounds re-opened, as social media divided feminists along historically privileged and racialized lines.  In a sad state of affairs, a flurry of female pop stars cried out that they weren't feminists at all, with a somewhat lacklustre opposition pointing to the inherent hypocrisy in those words. The integration of men into women's rights was globally celebrated - with the predictably unimaginative backlash that followed.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi and the Issue of Consent

I have written before on how sexual violence is a normalized part of many women's lives. I have written before on the pervasive nature of violence against women and it's daily expressions: the little indignities that pierce like sharp pins - from friends to strangers, co-workers to the media, advertisements and seemingly sweet passerby's, who 'just want to chat.'

In light of everything Jian Ghomeshi-related, it's difficult not to pipe up and pile on. But I think feminists worldwide are rolling their eyes, tired at the so-called revelations. Things we've known for far too long. Of course we live in a culture where skewed power relations and visions of dominant male identities allow men to use abuse in their intimate relationships. Intimate partner violence is the main scourge of abuse against women worldwide - and yes, we've been raising our voices for a while now. Of course sexual harassment in the workplace is a real and daily experience, and no, it's not a so-called 'benefit' of being a woman. That Parliament Hill is undergoing it's own scandal comes as little surprise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Brunswick Denies Women's Rights as Morgentaler Clinic Prepares to Close

Women’s reproductive control is still a highly contentious issue in many parts of the world, and as we have seen through recent Supreme Court decisions in the United States, the divisive issue is not solely one for developing nations. 

As women are painted as second-class citizens, subject to prejudice and sexual harassment, unable to access consistent and affordable birth control and with their bodies seen as familial or spousal property, the consequences are often that unplanned pregnancies are high and unsafe abortions prevail. India is a prime example: although the country allows for abortion on broad grounds, it still accounts for exorbitantly high numbers of deaths and complications due to unsafe procedures, with accounts of one woman dying every two hours as a result. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hobby Lobby and the US Supreme Court: Birth Control is Now Your Boss's Business

I was not going to comment on the recent US Supreme Court's deeply disappointing decision.  But then I read Penelope's piece, and although it too is long-winded, I stuck with it, because she argues what I've been thinking: People who don't actually experience what you're experiencing should refrain from giving set-in-stone decrees on how to manage your experience. No judgements, no armchair advice.

Certainly no legal rulings with far-reaching negative effects.

Enter the US Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision. Is it justly conceivable that five male Justices weighed the balance accepting corporate entities to deny coverage of all forms of birth control - a ruling that will affect mainly women?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Working Women: The Gendered Nature of Time Poverty

Poverty, as we are discovering, is far more complex than financial scarcity. It is a multi-dimensional structure with cross-cutting issues that affect every facet of a person's life: from their employment benefits and likelihood of upward mobility to their health and trust in doctors, from their parenting skills to their children's language skills, from their ability to process information to their ability to make good decisions. Poverty is the overall blanket that smothers a person's life in a self-perpetuating and compounding way.

Development workers have long known of 'time poverty,' a concept only now being understood in a Western poverty context. Poor people live on borrowed time that they will never, if rarely, be able to make up: the more problems happening in the moment, the less I can concentrate on the future, and the more pressing the issues (bills, food, health), the more time and concentration I give to them, resulting in bad long terms decisions in order to fulfill the immediate need. This is the 'bandwidth' part of time poverty. The second, physical, is measured in hours: poverty compounds activity: not only is my mind taken up with pressing issues of survival, but my body is taken up with working, overworking and the inability to come in some way to relieve the pressures of never being able to stop working. Relaxation, vacations, time off, these are luxuries of the rich - time that is too costly to waste for the poor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bill C-36 and Prostitution in Canada: Moral Criminalization of Sex Workers

The Canadian government established The Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital in 1889 to face the growing criticism on security in the labour force. Too many workers were being hurt, too many oppressive working conditions were still in place, but the federal government refused to act, saying it would overstep into provincial jurisdiction.

In 1914, Ontario is the first province to institute the Workmen's Compensation Act for workers injured on the job. In 1972, Saskatchewan follows with a first of its kind Occupational Health Act, which makes both health and safety the joint responsibility of management and workers. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982, but following mass protests around the country over the next decades, the Supreme Court, in 2007, overturned more than twenty years of Charter of workplace jurisprudence by allowing for unionized healthcare and social services for workers.

Then, in December of 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Canada's major prostitution laws, stating unequivocally that Parliament's restrictive measures had infringed on the constitutional rights and security of prostitutes. Ruling on the Bedford Case, the Court gave the Minister of Justice Peter MacKay one year to revise the laws in favour of more protective measures.