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!

Oct 17 Qs

Pre-meeting Qs for Oct 17

On Hanson, “Gender and mobility”

When addressing the issue of women’s lower spatial mobility in relation to men, Hanson states that redress in terms of policy-making is complicated given that in addition to sensitive economic and environmental realities we do not currently understand how certain groups change their mobility patterns based on changing external circumstances. Hanson suggests that the best approach is to tease out the effects of context by synthesizing the body of context-sensitive studies identifying patterns and then making generalizations. She states she is aware that especially among feminists “the word ‘generalization’ sets off alarm bells and raises red, green and yellow flags”. Should it? How does what Hanson proposes differ from other methods of informing policy direction, such as social impact assessments?

Through the article, the issue of gender and mobility being so incredibly intertwined is discussed. Hanson identifies two distinct strands, which look at how mobility shapes gender and how gender shapes mobility. How is this applicable in Canada and in particular Vancouver? And do you think mobility for women in Canada is dictated by constraint or choice (as Hanson defines constraint/choice)?

I am curious to know if there have been any successful legal/social policies that have been created to cater to the gender and sustainable mobility relationship? If not, what would be a hypothetical example?

In my view I could call forced immigration unsustainable mobility. Hanson mentioned that men move more than women. But with neoliberalism and globalization women move more than men. Therefore, which category can we place forced immigration and trafficking?

On page 15 under the subheading of Gender and sustainable mobility, there is a paragraph about statistics and breaking down the percentage of women and men using sustainable modes of transport. I am interested to know where and how this data was collected. The author is trying to make a point that women contribute to fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT)than men. However the author misses the fact maybe women are on foot or using cycling as a form of transport because maybe they cannot afford a maintaining a vehicle and all that it entails.

On Bourassa, “Racism, Sexism, and Colonialism” and NWAC recommendations, “Gender Matters”
 It is odd to me that an Aboriginal person can lose their status, when this can be described as being part of a cultural identity. Does the problem exist in the labeling of people? If you lose you status you may not be accepted back into the nation again, because you lost that label or the symbol of your actions portrays that you are identifying with a different culture. With regard to the article, why is it that we still enforce these policies that continue to divide Aboriginal women (see footnote in article). Does this relate to the “Downside of State Support” article? It seems again that the government is creating divisions within policies which divide people, more specifically women.

The NWAC (2012) contends that historic inequities and traditional community beliefs upheld in customary law should not outweigh contemporary priorities for Aboriginal women (Jackson, as cited in Bourassa et al, 2004). Do you believe that it is possible for Aboriginal women today to reach gender equity in the face of such challenges as discriminatory status entitlements and bands who fall back on the Indian Act’s earlier divisive policies? Why or why not?

One of NWAC’s recommendations called on Federal, Provincial and Territorial governments to focus on youth justice and the reintegration of youth by focusing on less punitive measures. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (2003) has some aspects which focus on reintegration of youth (although not perfect). Can you think of any other programs which have attempted/attempts, promises to solve, or adhere to some of the recommendations made by NWAC. Which recommendations stand out to you the most?

In Vancouver I see a great deal of sociopolitical divide between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women. There are several organizations and resources which offer services for Aboriginal women and the community at large but how effective and transformational are these spaces particularly for Aboriginal women’s cultural identity, health and well-being? Further I am at a loss to find inclusive programs that create a space for Aboriginal women and non-Aboriginal women to engage, learn and communicate in a way that may enable us to bridge cultural assumptions, oppression, colonialism and historical animosity. It feels as though there is a deep divide in the way that Aboriginal affairs are being conducted between government initiatives, and grassroots organizing. This tends to be a messy subject that is met with a great deal of fear and frustration which leaves our communities in a state of sociopolitical paralysis. If cultural, gender and political mobility is something we strive for how can we overcome the barriers of history and formal political structures to move forward? How can a multicultural collective be established? Is this possible given our very problematic history? The readings discuss the issues at hand but I still have no idea how one would begin to put the information and theories into practice on a larger scale than simply personal politics.