#GenderEqualityWeek: MATCH Fund Discusses Gender Equality in a Millennial World

By Amanda Jeysing, Editor-in-Chief of Ignite Magazine

       The Status of Women Canada, alongside MATCH International Women’s Fund, kicked off Canada’s first ever #GenderEqualityWeek (September 23-29, 2018) with an event titled ‘Gender Equality in a Millennial World’ on September 24. The event approached a globally-centered context focused on Canadian initiatives towards gender equality. It was a space for millennial feminists alike to come together in solidarity and discuss the successes and challenges of the women’s movement(s) thus far.

According to the Status of Women Canada’s departmental government website, Gender Equality Week is “inspired by the vision of a gender equal society and the benefits of advancing gender equality to women, men, and people of all gender identities”.

Its central message is that gender equality is beneficial for everyone and should be should be recognized as a global and national priority. This week dedicated to gender equality awareness resulted as a product of Bill C-309, the Gender Equality Week Act, which legislates the fourth week of September as Gender Equality Week.

        Hon. Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women Canada, attended the event and gave a speech about her own story of being a refugee and finding shelter in Peterborough with her mother before eventually becoming the first Afghan-Canadian woman to be in her current political position. She told a very compelling single story of success focusing on her self-advocacy in Canadian politics and how her resilience at such a young age, and still now, has affected so much change in Canadian political and gender equality.

The panel discussion revolved around gender equality in a millennial world as an intergenerational movement towards social justice and change. The panel used recent findings from Abacus Data on millennial data relevant to gender equality in Canadian political and social levels.. The panel was made up by: Giséle Baraka Bashige, Journalist and Program Director with Association des Femmes des Médias du Sud Kivu (Democratic Republic of Congo), Kerry-Jo Ford Lyn, Director of Global Development at Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice (Jamaica & U.S.), Julie Lalonde, Internationally recognized women’s rights advocate and public educator, Wariri Muhungi, Manager of Global Programs at MATCH International Women’s Fund, and David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, and millennial data expert.

The panel discussed issues surrounding intersectional approaches to gender equality in what is considered ‘fourth wave feminism’ and what that means in terms of gendered violence and actionable feminist organizing through social media. Wariri spoke on the digital access to space in order to mobilize activism. She also commented on intersectional analyses of gender equality as an approach that is as close to authenticity as possible.

Kerry-Joe pointed out that the millennial generation is focused on the idea of justice more than any generation before it and how, or more specifically where languages of justice are present among millennials. Millennials prioritize healing justice that is trauma-centred. She also mentioned that the millennial generation of changemakers are the most gender fluid and sex positive thus far.

David Coletto addressed the “what about men?” issue that was brought up by the panel’s moderator and used Abacus Data’s statistics to draw attention to certain aspects of societal disparity. One of the prominent findings he quoted was that Trump supporters were a majority of young millennial white men, and closer to home in Canada, Doug Ford was rejected by the majority of millennials except for a group of young men. His approach around the question of men’s position in a feminist society was geared towards a reflective perspective of gender equality and its impact on men and women. Julie Lalonde contributed to this conversation by exposing the privilege that men hold to even dare question “what about us?” in the face of feminism, as it clearly misses the point of gender equality being beneficial for all of us.

Lalonde also goes on to speak about her online activism as a platform for social change and feminist practice, particularly in her praxis of public education related to sex and sexual violence. She mentioned the concept of the ‘third shift’ that is different to that of working mothers (who have a day job, take care of their children, and also come home to organizing and cleaning the household). Instead, millennials in activist spaces take on a third shift for online activism, often resulting in burn out.

An important point that Lalonde raised here was the comparison often made by older generation feminists who believe they had to face much more risk and punishment for speaking out against the patriarchal status quo. Lalonde brings the panel and audience’s attention to the notion of unpaid labour in terms of social media activism. Social media activism brings about the potential threat of online harassment against millennial activists because of the access to information in our current society.

The floor was then opened up to questions from participants of the event, and due to the lengthened panel discussion, there was only time for one question. A participant stood up and asked the black women represented on the panel how to keep social justice movements going without compromising one’s own cultural values. She raised a prominent point about Westernised social justice cultures being incompatible with staying true to one’s ethnocentric identification. Bashige answered her by saying that it is necessary to uphold the dignity of a culture in promoting gender equality by creating a conversation where both men and women need to discuss the strategies and impacts of social movements on ethnic communities.

Wariri also chimed in to add that Western forms of organising are usually visible, such as protests, whereas minority groups have been working through grassroots organizing, such as underground pipelines used to facilitate healing and the creation of safe spaces exclusive of public knowledge. She mentioned how the activist labour in the Global South is reframing organization and activism in body, voice, and language.

        MATCH International Women’s Fund supports leaders and organizations that attract people who are transforming Canada’s social justice and gender equal narrative.