Senior News Editor
In cooperation with the YWCA Hamilton and McMaster University, the McMaster Students Union hosted on March 6 the first ever International Women’s Summit in light of International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day takes place this year on March 8.
With the goal of bringing down the barriers that continue to hinder the advancement of women in society, the event saw insightful messages of inspiration and anecdotes from guest speakers and attendees.
Six panellists coming from an array of backgrounds spoke about how they tackled the barriers they faced in the pursuit of their goals: Carys Massarella, president of the Medical Staff Association at St. Jospeh’s Hospital and the first transgendered person to be president of a major hospital; Nora Loreto, former Ryerson Student Union President; Ava Hill, Mohawk native and aboriginal affairs leader; Marva Wisdom, former political candidate; Charlotte Yates, dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Kim Crosby, co-founder of The People Project.
The evening began with a keynote address from Sheila Deane, professor at the University of Western Ontario, and Denise Doyle, CEO of YWCA Hamilton. Deane discussed her astonishment with the poor female representation in the literary world and the subsequent reaction by fellow professors to literary work by women.
Doyle spoke of the need to encourage and support women as they take on leadership roles, referencing the experience of a close friend of hers, current NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
Both speakers acknowledged that it is simplistic to say that we need more women in power. The challenge arises in voicing and acting upon the need for equality.
Doyle expressed that while women may be found in prominent positions they are too often silenced and are not the ones, “shaking the agendas.” The role of universities does not stop at simply educating women, but must also push the boundaries rather than reinforce them, noted Deane.
The six panellists addressed an array of issues plaguing the advancement of women in our progressive modern society. Massarella spoke of her transgender experience and how her transition impacted her career as a doctor. She found that she was not as highly regarded as she once was as a practicing male physician. “I experienced some new barriers which I never expected,” she said.
Loreto shared her tumultuous experience as a student representative of Ryerson University finding herself amidst controversy at the university which subsequently led to threats to her safety.
Hill has held numerous leadership positions in Aboriginal Affairs. As a young girl, she was not encouraged to continue her education, but now as a single mother, has encouraged her daughter to pursue higher education and support Aboriginal issues.
Wisdom shared her gruelling experience in politics as a woman of colour and spoke to “the fierce urgency of now,” stressing that there is no gain in waiting for change.
Growing up with a strong female presence, Yates shared her experience as a young woman seeking employment in construction. She was questioned and doubted but persevered and landed the position, after which she found herself as one
of the only women in her PhD class. She stressed the need for women to hold onto the support of each other, and avoid feeling compelled to choose between a focus on either a career or family life, explaining that it is possible to strike a balance.
She discussed some of the narrow-minded commentary she recieved upon taking maternity leave as some regarded maternity leave as taking an easy break.
Coming from an extremely diverse lineage and comfortable with being a “femme girl,” Crosby stood against those who questioned her ability to perform her job simply because she enjoys dressing and acting like a girl. Crosby works in a range of settings, with the common theme of advising and counselling at-risk populations. “I can wear eyeliner and be a leader too,” she said defiantly.
The event was hosted in an effort to encourage more women to be active participants around decision-making tables. Canada currently stands in 40th place worldwide with respect to female representation in Parliament, falling behind such countries as Libiria.
For the MSU, the 2011/2012 academic year marks the first time that the Board of Directors, composed of the president and three vice-presidents, has both genders equally represented, noted former MSU president Mary Koziol.
Supported by personal anecdotes, statistics and research findings, it remains evident that better female representation and inclusion can yield positive results. Anecdotes, research and statistics however, only too often show that movement in this positive direction is not happening at an excusable rate.