Women Transforming Cities, the conference (part 1)

Last Thursday, May 30, the first Women Transforming Cities (WTC) conference was held in downtown Vancouver, hosted by Simon Fraser University. It was a remarkable event: the culmination of a year (plus) of planning and organizing, and one of the rare instances with a structured forum for discussion among elected officials, planners, academics, activists, NGO leaders, students, and others (none of these groups being necessarily mutually exclusive, of course). Moreover, it was one of the few opportunities in a conference setting to participate in a focused conversation about how the full diversity of women are and are not being served by and within their municipalities. And the conference was unique in its emphasis on outcome: alongside the keynote speeches, there were six break-out sessions whose goal was, in part, to identify and develop best practices and recommendations to address the barriers that women face in their everyday lives. The intent is for these best practices and recommendations to be passed onto municipal leaders through a series of (not currently coordinated) efforts:

  • the advocacy of the electeds in attendance, who would raise the profile of the issues both in their home venues (wards/ constituencies/ etc.) and with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference, which the WTC conference preceded;
  • the advocacy of the FCM, from its leaders and from the organization, ideally;
  • by WTC and its ability to maintain the profile of these issues through its web/social media presence, through ongoing events, and through coalition building, and this may lead to:
  • the involvement of other NGOs, artists, funding agencies, and others to develop their own leadership role in generating change for a full diversity of women and girls in cities.
Note taker during break-out session. Photo credit: Ellen Woodsworth

Note taker during break-out session. Photo credit: Ellen Woodsworth

I served as both an organizer and keynote speaker at the conference, having become part of WTC through my position as Junior RWW Chair at SFU. I will write more about the content of my keynote in an upcoming post, but here I want to revel in the opportunity the conference provided to hear from leaders in so many different fields, all of whose work is making a tremendous contribution to making cities work for women, girls, and marginalized communities more broadly. The following are just a few of the highlights that I had the chance to see:

  • Lillian Howard, Co-Chair of the City of Vancouver’s Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee, provided greetings and offered a blessing. In her address, she relayed that the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory succeeded in one of its key recommendations: to encourage the City to designate a Year of Reconciliation in Vancouver. The Year of Reconciliation will begin on June 21, 2013. For me, Howard’s message highlighted the important movements that can begin out of institutionalized opportunities for under-represented groups to become involved in municipal politics and city building.
  • Kristyn Wong-Tam, Councillor for the City of Toronto, emphasized the need to attend to city financing when addressing equity in cities. Whereas participatory budgeting is picking up steam in cities around the world, gender budgeting is not. This means two things: first, attention needs to be given to how city budgets address the needs of women, girls, and marginalized communities; and second (my addition), participatory budgeting is insufficient if it too is not fully inclusive. In short, it matters who participates. Wong-Tam is also the first elected I’ve heard talking about public banks, which I’m now excited to learn more about.
  • Caroline Andrew, Director of the Centre for Governance at the University of Ottawa and President of Women in Cities International (among other activities), provided lessons for developing and maintaining partnerships to transform cities. Two of the most significant take-away points for me were: a) partners may not have shared aims at the outset of a project, but those shared aims can/must develop over time; and b) establishing trust between partners is often not a short term investment. As such, workable partnerships that are grounded in trust often sit in tension with funding cycles. Consider, for example, one-year project funding: this time frame likely encourages NGOs to seek out others with whom they have already worked (which may be to their benefit, and it may have the (unintended) consequence of reducing the field of possible players involved). As I have written about previously, the vagaries of funding -and the ways that funding drives social change activism- are an interest of mine. After hearing this conference address, I’m adding trust between partners to my list of the many invisible elements that are implicated in the relationship between funding and change activism.
  • Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of the Battered Women’s Support Services, described in clear terms the sacrifice zones inhabited by many women in the Downtown Eastside. One of the most striking moments of MacDougall’s talk for me was the following question, which was recorded in the Vancouver Observer by fellow panellist Linda Solomon: “How can it really be that we could create a climate in the city that would create apathy when members of our community were dying?” In retrospect, I wish that MacDougall had forced a pause following that question, long enough for the audience to become uncomfortable. Because it should make us uncomfortable. And it should make us enraged. And it should compel us into action.


Angela Marie MacDougall. Photo credit: Ellen Woodsworth

Angela Marie MacDougall. Photo credit: Ellen Woodsworth

The next post will feature another instalment on the conference, including additional highlights from the speakers and sessions. Stay tuned for Thursday!

Nov 28 Qs

Pre-meeting Qs from students for the Nov 28 class meeting

On Modlich, Women Plan Toronto (1985 – 2000) and Toronto Women’s City Alliance (2004 – and struggling on)

In the Modlich article we touch on the disconnect between urban planning practices and the needs of women. Does this apply to Vancouver?  Who is favoured during urban planning practices? What are some actions that can be made to avoid this issue?

In Modlich’s article, a woman who had recently immigrated to Canada gave this quote: “I do like to be asked about what we are looking for. Who would ever ask us any other time in our life? It is difficult to get into that frame of mind to be able to speak freely. And after this I have to go back into that other world again and I have to go back and forget about all I have dreamed today.” How does this reflect the current immigrant status in our country?

Based on any intersectionalities or conflicts (perhaps already discussed in class) that you, or anyone you know faces as a woman living in Greater Vancouver, what would your “wouldn’t it be nice” be, if you were asked to take part in a similar participatory research project like the immigrant women in Toronto participated in?

After reading Modlich, I correlated much of what we have learnt this past semester regarding women in geographies, accessibility and sense of place. For instance, while reading Modlich, I got a hint of the semester’s topic on “An Embodied Sense of Place”. The misfits between women in transportation, housing design etc are brought up in this course numerous times, but when does the equality of genders come forth?

On Houston, et al, Still methodologically becoming: collaboration, feminist politics and ‘Team Ismaili’
To what extent is epistemological and ontological unity among researchers engaged in collaborative research necessary? How might tensions affect the outcomes of the research? Should more research be transparent in regards to the power dynamics among the researchers involved in the process?

In the still methodologically becoming article we learn about a collaboration of feminist politics.  What are some examples of feminist politic collaborations in Vancouver? Are there examples in which challenge and reconfirm assumed hierarchies?

On Browne, Power and Privilege

Browne takes a risk by criticizing feminist geography’s heteronormativity; however, she states that she also does “not seek to… point to a right way of doing feminist geographies”, for fear of producing a hegemony of her own. In this postmodern context, how can we present anything as a “feminist” way of doing things, without running the risk of creating power structures that dictate inclusion? Is there a way of doing feminist geography, for example, that we could point to as the best choice, or will we always run into the issue that Browne wanted to avoid?

I enjoyed reading the analysis and “[…] critical examination of the relations of privilege and power […]” that Kath Browne provides in this chapter (p. 140).  I appreciated the fact that Browne presents us with a very optimistic/hopeful outlook on the conflicts and problems she raises, for on page 146 she states that: “[…] we could seek to understand diversity and difference sensitively and positively engage with this in our writings and our interactions with each other.” I really liked this statement because it appears that Browne genuinely supports, and is advocating for individuals to utilize an intersectional lens when dealing with (and dismantling) “[…] power relations between feminist geographers” (p. 140).  I think that this reading serves as a great source for the conclusion of this course/semester, because it addresses and reinforces some important issues that we have also been learning about over the last three months.

Looking at Browne’s critique of power and privilege in institutions and the academy, how does this apply to other careers, or even other aspects of life? What are some ways we can then account for this problem and attempt to correct it, or create more equality here?

Kath Browne’s chapter makes me stop and think about what happens when feminism gains acceptance: when we make progress and establish space, how do we practice our politics? Feminism focuses such a great deal on the process and the fight sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what happens when you get there. Browne forces the reader to analyze feminist politics, power dynamics, privilege and behavior based on assumptions. [break] In the context of Feminist Geography, Browne notes that feminism as an academic and social movement has a long history of working for recognition within traditional disciplines, in this case geography. Browne notes that feminism can offer much need insight and dynamic perspective to this field but there are steps that need to be taken in order to do that. Feminists must critique their own political dynamics and structure of knowledge recognition and disrupt normative discourses and privileged assumptions in order to add authenticity, value and justice to academia. [break]  This made me question our own academic practices: do we sometimes get so caught up in the process of acquiring knowledge and privileged validity on an individual basis that we lose sight of our own power dynamics and hierarchies within feminism? How does this affect the way we see our environment and subsequently contribute to it? In regard to feminism and feminist geography do we experience sociopolitical trends within the movement that grant value and legitimacy to certain knowledge and individuals over others? Does the concept of post feminism encourage greater knowledge inclusivity versus wave feminism?

Nov 21 Qs

Pre-meeting Qs from students for the Nov 21 class meeting

Overarching questions

From our readings this week, specifically on Vienna and Inclusive Cities, it is my understanding that gender mainstreaming cities and creating inclusive cities center around the fact that all people experience their city differently because of differing class, ethnicity, age, and other factors but especially gender. Vienna has become a model city for gender mainstreaming by including men and women equally in the decision making and planning processes of the city and its services. These physical and structural changes to urban planning are essential strategies to making cities inclusive and equally accessible to all genders. However, women’s feelings of insecurity and danger in cities, which make cities inaccessible to her, are largely the result of patriarchal societal norms that make violence against women ok. I believe that both elements of urban planning and challenging societal norms must be addressed simultaneously so as to achieve greater social change. So my question is how do you incorporate both? And how do you demonstrate success in changing societal attitudes which perpetuate violence?

In the Khosla & Dhars and Inclusive Cities website reading, they discuss how neo-liberalism reshapes our urban spatial planning by zoning residential areas based off of wealth and class, therefore displacing poorer neighbourhoods and communities. How has/hasn’t the young city of Vancouver experienced and been affected by this? How does our experience differ from those in older cities such as Toronto or Halifax?

On Khosla, “Vienna, Austria: A model city for gender mainstreaming”

In Kholsa’s article we read about gender mainstreaming, the benefits of gender mainstreaming are presented, however are there any disadvantages that can come with gender mainstreaming? It may provide a pluralistic approach, however can addressing women’s safety issues separate from men’s lead to gender inequality?

After reviewing and reading A Model City for Gender Mainstreaming, I recognized the many things we have learnt this past semester regarding gender. Vienna’s step in regards to gender mainstreaming further illustrates the development a city is taking to ensure safety and daily needs of women. For example lighting in areas that were previously poorly lit, reconstruction of parks and pedestrian friendly designs. Another strong and surprising factor that caught my attention was the inclusion of male figures in the initiatives and objectives Vienna considered to be implemented in their city. I wonder why don’t more countries and cities across the world take into consideration the initiatives Vienna has set forth targeting gender mainstreaming? The organization and important aspects are more than looked upon and provide assistance to both the male and female population.

On InclusiveCities.org

In regards to the gender inclusive project we learn about how urban poverty is addressed by supporting and building the capacity of membership-based organizations of the working poor. What projects do we see in Vancouver in regards to supporting individuals who face poverty? Specifically, what is happening in regards to poverty in the downtown eastside? What projects can be implemented?

On Shaw, “How do we evaluate the safety of women?”

Last week, with the LOVE group presentation, we quickly discussed issues around funding. Shaw (2012) argues that for many organizations, funding is dependent on them meeting the expectations of donors. How does this pose a problem to the ways in which an organization operates? Why are these expectations problematic? What does Shaw (2012) propose in order to evaluate policies and change?

On Khosla and Dhar, “Safe access to basic infrastructure”

This was the first time that I have learned about “the World Social Forums” and about “United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) (p. 118).  With regard to the UCLG and “the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights to the City”, Khosla and Dhar make it clear that “[i]t remains to be seen how the implementation of the rights framework by local governments can bridge the divided city, especially in terms of the rights of the urban poor to a healthy living environment” (p. 118). Thus, I’d be really interested in learning more about this specific Charter and organization in the future, because right now, in addition to the issues the authors also raise “about […] the rights framework” on page 119, I too am worried that it has the potential to be very one-sided (i.e. representative of just the governments) and not fully inclusive of the individuals who are actually being affected by poverty;  essentially, I am worried that this organization may be too hierarchical. It would be great if those of you who know more about the UCLG and the way it functions can share your insights with the rest of us!

In this research project, entitled Action Research Project on Women’s Rights and Access to Water and Sanitation in Asia Cities, the main problem in the rural area and urban area was access to water and gentrification. What can be done to protect women from being evicted and maintain their right to live in the city with dignity? What water supply system could be used to eliminate water crisis in these area.

In the text it states; “Globally, urbanization under neo-liberalism has created divided cities, in geographical terms as well as socially, politically, culturally and economically, with greater inequalities between richer and poorer residents. Cities have become polarized, with wealthy neighbourhoods of exclusive and gated communities, shopping malls and entertainment complexes on the one hand, and, on the other, the exclusion by eviction and displacement of poorer residents and their communities to the periphery of the city. Under these conditions, ideals of urban identity, citizenship and belonging become much harder to sustain (Harvey, 2008, p. 32).” When taking this into consideration, do you think that we live in a similar predicament (to a certain extent obviously)?

On Bauriedl, “Still Gender Trouble…”

Bauriedl’s essay on the development of German feminist geography within the academy highlights a question that we have addressed throughout the course, namely, how useful is ‘gender’ as an analytical category? On the one hand, feminists have defended gender categories on the basis of political and emancipatory considerations. Yet others have argued that “feminist geography is no longer just an emancipatory project; it is also a project of understanding social and cultural diversity and diverse realities” (Bauriedl, p.137). As Bauriedl points out, there is still resistance to complicating gendered categories in empirical research to date. What are the implications of a) using gender as an analytical category and/or b) deconstructing gendered categories in feminist research?

Looking at the three strategies Bauriedl discusses as ways that facilitate the establishment of feminisms in geography, how do these intersect and impact one another? Specifically how do the first two impact the third one, which discusses positioning feminist geography within mainstream geography?