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International Women’s Day panel on deconstructing gender and race

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As part of the President’s Lecture Series, a panel of three women shared a little of their expertise on the topic of deconstructing race and gender, in the lecture hall of B101 on Friday, March 8: International Women’s Day. The panel consisted of Dr. Kim Bolan, award-winning journalist and reporter for the Vancouver Sun, Dr. Gina Starblanket, Indigenous political science professor at the University of Calgary, and Robyn Maynard, award-winning author, activist, and scholar on racism and gender inequalities in Canada. It was a panel full of heavy-hitting women at the top of their field, each with incredible stories of bravery, determination, and not taking “no” for an answer.

The panel started with Dr. Kim Bolan, who reflected upon her career and shared some of the battles she fought as a woman journalist. When Bolan first started at the Sun in the 1980s, the newsroom was a hostile place for women; journalists were predominantly white males, all with a specific view on how stories should be covered. According to Bolan, women in the newsroom put up with a lot of misogyny and had to prove they were tough enough to keep their coveted positions. Men tended to cover politics, crime, and business, all which had more prominence in the newspaper, while women were assigned “lifestyle” stories that mainly covered fashion and recipes.

As more and more women focused on journalism and got hired as reporters, they found strength in numbers. Women formed newsroom committees and made lists of demands, such as being assigned stories other than those in the “lifestyle” section. Management listened and started making changes, and eventually more women were hired into senior roles.

This led to Bolan covering the case of Air India, which would have traditionally been a male beat. The way the victims were usually reported on in this case was that of “someone else’s victims.” Bolan made sure to report that the plane was full of Canadian citizens, who were mostly on their way home from visiting relatives in India. As a woman, Bolan felt as if she gave a different perspective on this case, talking to the families and others who had not been the focus of attention for many years.

Bolan has now shifted to covering gangs and organized crime in the Lower Mainland, and has found that she has a unique strategy in uncovering her stories. She finds that she provides deeper perspectives of covering the grey areas of a case by interviewing women and families that would normally be uncomfortable talking to male journalists.

When Bolan was asked how she dealt with death threats from gang members she has reported on, she responded: “I’m not brave, I’m not courageous, I’m just stubborn and if you tell me I can’t do something I am going to do it.”

Dr. Gina Starblanket is a political science professor at the University of Calgary and author of Making Space for Indigenous Feminism. Starblanket gave a talk on the colonial systems that have oppressed Indigenous peoples and how those systems are still in place today. She spoke on colonialism as being the systematic eradication of Indigenous knowledge and way of life. The Canadian government confined Indigenous groups to specific territories and murdered 5,000 Indigenous children in residential schools, while assimilating others into a servant class.

Contemporary violence against women has flowed from these colonial powers of oppression and the rates of violence against Indigenous women today are astonishingly high. Starblanket spoke on how Indigenous women feminists were challenging these colonial manifestations of power.

Dr. Starblanket declares that: “In the face of violence, we are still here, making contributions to every possible realm of life, renewing traditions, contesting traditions, and creating new traditions.”

Robyn Maynard is an activist, scholar, and author of the award-winning book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present. As a black, Canadian feminist, Maynard comes up against many different kinds of invisibility and works to counter that invisibility by bearing witness to violence and state neglect by institutions in our society that are supposed to be institutions of protection. Since her book came out, she has gained a lot of attention by reporting on slavery in Canada, and was praised as being one of the first to do so. She rejected this notion and works to break the invisibility of the labour and scholarship that comes before her in this important issue. Maynard is part of a long lineage of black feminists, activists, and scholars who continually try to write themselves into this place of recognition, yet are continually pushed aside.

Maynard works to prove without a doubt that the legacy of anti-black violence here in Canada is not borrowed from an analysis of the U.S., but is very present within our country as well. Canadians always see slavery as having taken place somewhere else, when in fact there were black slaves in Canada — a fact that has been written out of many textbooks.

She spoke on the challenges black people face in Canada today, of being stopped by law enforcement at highly disproportionate rates, and that the rate of black youth in state care is five times higher than that of the white population. As well, because much of the black population in Canada are born elsewhere, some do not have citizenship and therefore are at risk of being held in immigration detention and of being deported. She challenged those listening to think of an alternate universe where black lives really mattered and what it would mean to create that universe.

The panel ended with a standing ovation from a lecture hall packed full of people grateful for these women’s knowledge and advice on how to navigate in a world filled with racial and gendered bias. These three women have thrived in fields that were previously hostile towards women or people of colour and are an inspiration to students here at UFV who feel that they may be unqualified for their dream job because of their race or gender.

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