A need, not a want What the recent ratification of the Women and Gender Equity Network tells us about the struggle for gender equity on our campus

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By: Ruchika Gothoskar

With a unanimous vote resulting in the ratification of MSU Women and Gender Equity Network as a fully operating service on March 22, it was clear that many students wanted to see the further success of WGEN. However, in 2015, this is the first time that McMaster University has successfully passed a motion that made a women’s centre a definite on-campus possibility for students.

Historically, women’s centres have been linked to addressing the changing needs of university campuses in relation to women and gender issues. They are especially important when creating dialogue surrounding topics like women in politics, reproductive rights, issues surrounding intersectionality, and gender based violence.

Women’s centres not only act as a space to encourage safe and important discussion surrounding this divisive type of oppression, but also to exist as a space for sexual assault survivors. A three-month-long Toronto Star investigation has found that only 9 of 78 Canadian universities have created a special sexual assault policy, although one in five female-identified students will experience sexual assault during their time at college or university.

Because of this lack of support from the university itself, survivors often decide to reach out to their school’s women’s centre, as these centres offer emotional support by trained peer volunteers, as well as a plethora of resources regarding next steps that the survivors can take. It is also proven that survivors who are more informed of their options and resources available to them are more likely to follow through with formal complaints or seek services that may be able to help them cope emotionally and psychologically.

Furthermore, women’s centres are also healing spaces, not only for survivors of assault, but for those who may be facing the intersection of a variety of oppressive systems, such as racism, ageism, ableism, and more. Discussing intersectionality has provided a theoretical and practical framework for many centres to engage in the intended work of dismantling interlocking oppressions, while creating environments where those who choose to share their experiences feel validated, affirmed, and most importantly, safe.

So if all of the aforementioned points make such a solid point for on campus women’s centres, why doesn’t McMaster already have one?

Emma Perin, current Social and Political Advocacy Executive for the Women and Gender Equity Network, and past Women and Trans* Centre Ad Hoc Committee member thinks that the entire process was fraught with the McMaster Students Union leaders and the Student Representative Assembly wanting more—more evidence, more facts, more work, more time. But in all of the ad-hoc committee’s survey and the discussions around it what kept recurring was that WGEN was needed and wanted right now, if not a decade ago. Research both conducted by past WGEN supporters, and the “It’s Time” campaign showed that students wanted the space and programming a women’s centre would provide, and research of practices at other universities demonstrated that many already had these systems, while McMaster fell far behind.

Though it is true that McMaster fell behind in terms of creating policy and providing spaces for students who identify as female, trans, or otherwise, it should be noted that the support that the Women and Gender Equity Network has received this year is overwhelming. This hard work, supportive community, and deep need generated a sense of support from not only this year’s SRA members but the McMaster community at large. In a sense, it’s a good feeling that the only big thing left to lobby for is a permanent space for this essential addition to student life at McMaster.

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