Taslim Jaffer

intersectional feminism, feminism, inclusive feminism, womens march on washington, black lives matter, racialized sexism, transphobia, india, indian woman, women

Intersectional Feminism Or Nothing

If we aren’t practicing intersectional feminism, we’re doing feminism wrong. And we’re not serving who we want to serve. I’ve been reading a lot about this, especially since the Women’s March on Washington, when I found myself scanning crowds here in Vancouver to check for representation. Scanning crowds and speakers. Looking at planning committees and reading concerns on Facebook pages.

Probably the simplest way to put it, that I read in Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional, is ‘one-size-fits-all feminism is to feminism what #AllLivesMatter is to #BlackLivesMatter’. It diminishes the plight and the issues of subgroups of women. It’s not entirely the same fight and we shouldn’t pretend it is. It doesn’t speak at all to racialized sexism. It doesn’t address transphobia. Indeed, feminism in the historical sense, is the fight of middle-class white women. There is evidence that this is changing, but I think we can speed up the process by understanding intersectional feminism and truly getting behind it.

As I do further research in the way of readings and interviews, I wanted to share this with you. Jillian Christmas lives in Vancouver, and she is an award-winning poet, mentor and teacher.

Listen to her poem, Black Feminist, and notice how it makes you feel. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s ok. In fact, that’s good. Feminism, intersectional or not, is not here for anyone to feel comfortable. And when we meet there, in that tight space that makes us itch and even perspire, we can truly start to move forward.



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Dear Men: You Can Be Feminists

In recent conversations with my husband – a kind, generous man who grew up in a house full of women – I’ve realized that not everyone understands what feminism is, who a feminist might be, what is detrimental about our current social system, and how to make change. For the men who love us and want to be our ally, I have decided to write this piece. I hope this offers some insight into what feminism really is, and how men (and women) can be part of the movement.

  1. Understand what feminism is (and what it is not)

As a young girl, I understood feminism to be a movement from the past when angry bra-burning women screamed obscenities at men and hated the world in which they lived. I thought of it as a movement aimed at bringing men down and declaring women to be superior. A feminist then was someone who hated men (and bras), didn’t use personal hygiene products, and was too far out in left field to carry any weight in the present times or the future. I now understand that this isn’t what feminism is.

Feminism is the advocacy for women’s equal rights to men, on political, social and economic ground. Equal. That’s what we’re working toward. Yes, there is anger behind this movement – because why doesn’t this equality exist yet? But the anger is directed at our social system, not at individual men or women who unknowingly uphold this system. And personal hygiene products, bras and makeup aren’t necessarily tied up in this movement; I think what women really want is the freedom to be able to make choices about their bodies and lives without being confined by social thinking. So, we can get caught up in the many ways that women express their outrage, or we can look beneath the surface and ask ourselves, “Why does feminism exist?”

  1. Understand what the word feminist means (and that you should be one)

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared himself a feminist. Author and TED speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests that we should ALL be one. But what does it mean to be a feminist? Can men be feminists?

A feminist is a person who supports feminism. If you believe that women and men should be equal on political, social and economic fronts then you fit the bill. Men absolutely can be feminists, and in fact, we really all need to be on the same page here for change to come. And while it might sound honourable for a man to say he is a feminist because he has a mother, a wife, a daughter, a niece or whatever, a feminist simply believes in equality for equality’s sake. For example, I don’t believe I know a single Sudanese person. But I still believe that any Sudanese person is deserving of rights. I don’t need to have an actual, tangible connection to someone to believe they are worthy.

  1. Understand and dissect socialized thinking

Being aware of social thought is critical to making change. It’s the system that needs revamping and that system is engrained in each of us; it has had a heavy hand in our upbringing and is reinforced in our social interactions, in the marketing of our products, in the expectations we have of each other and ourselves. It’s passed down through parenthood and the stories we tell our children, consciously and subconsciously.

Listen to the ways in which girls and boys, men and women, are placed into categories. Listen to the words we use when we describe the actions of each sex. Listen to what comes out of our mouths when we refer to gender roles.

Observe. Observe how women are treated in work situations. Observe how women are treated in social situations. Look at the industries that tell women what their limitations are. Look at how sons and daughters are treated.

Think critically: are these differences based on biology or sociology? Are women paid less because they are biologically different from men or because they are sociologically different from men? Are women slut-shamed because they are biologically different from men or because they are sociologically different from men? Are there fewer women in certain fields of study because of their DNA or because of society?

We can’t change something we don’t recognize, so we better get really good at recognizing the issues.

  1. Understand the ways in which you can be positively disruptive

So, how do we shake up a system that has existed this long? We call it out situation to situation. Men, if you notice your colleague being spoken over in a boardroom meeting, call it out. Call out sexist jokes. Call out sexist comments.

First, draw attention to the comment and name it: That’s sexist. And then, depending on the situation, you can spout a fact: When a woman wears a short skirt, she is not asking to be sexually assaulted. Or you can even turn it back to the commentor: What do you mean by that comment? Why would that be funny? Alternatively, you can explicitly point out the difference between the treatment of men and women by saying something like: When a man is promiscuous, society congratulates him. When a woman is promiscuous, society shames her.

Men must do this, too. Not saying anything is the same as silently agreeing. Speaking up, calling out, can be difficult but often the right thing to do is not always the easiest.

  1. Listen to the lived experiences of women and accept them

One of my favourite Canadian authors, Lawrence Hill, received an honourary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Guelph during which time he addressed the gatherers with some remarkable comments about women and their right to be heard. He touched upon the fact that when women are brave enough to come forward about being sexually assaulted, they are often silenced or vilified. He spoke about how women who bring forward cases of sexual harassment whether in a professional or personal setting are at risk of being further abused by society through social or traditional media.

Hill asserted that the only response to a woman in these situations should be respectful attention and the assurance that she will be kept safe. Had I been in that audience, I would have jumped to my feet clapping when he said, “And they have the right to carry on with their studies, their work and their lives without fear of censure if they speak up about their fundamental human rights.”

This is how a feminist thinks, man or woman. And this is what we need.

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Give The Gift Of Solidarity: 8 Canadian Organizations For Women That Can Use Your Help

Does it feel more difficult each year to come up with gift ideas for your friends and family who, honestly, have what they need? Last night I was going over my list – checking it twice, if you will – trying to dream up items to give people I know don’t want for anything. I was stretching, going beyond ‘need’ and into ‘what could I give them that they wouldn’t otherwise treat themselves to?’ and still feeling stumped. It felt like a strange exercise when I could easily rattle off the very basic human needs that aren’t being met for countless others in my current city and across Canada.

Maybe you’re in the same boat as me: stuck for creative, generous ways to show that you love and appreciate somebody. Maybe you want to honour your loved ones by supporting someone in the community who truly needs it.

To help you (and me) with this, I asked my Facebook friends for suggestions of Canadian organizations that support women and women’s causes. Here are some they came up with.

8 Canadian Organizations That Support Women:

  1. Surrey Women’s Centre

Surrey Women’s Centre is a crisis centre for women and girls escaping domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence. It is a safe place for women and girls to turn to, 24/7, and is the only centre of its kind in Surrey, B.C. In addition to the crisis line, they offer support in court and weekly accompaniment to a family law clinic, as well as individual and group counselling. As a resource centre, they provide a housing and income clinic, free clothing exchange and a community kitchen.

You can gift these women with continued program support by donating here.

I also encourage you to read their stories – because our stories connect us to each other.

2. Pacific Post Partum Support Society

Approximately 1 out of 6 women, and 1 out of 10 men, experiences postpartum depression and anxiety after welcoming a baby into the family whether by birth or adoption. Pacific Post Partum Support Society has been around since 1971 helping mothers and their families who are experiencing the symptoms of post partum distress. And their treatment model? Mothers helping mothers. There are a variety of free or low-cost programs available that are individual and specific to each mom’s needs. Today their support reaches 3500 women and their families each year.

There are several ways to help – from cash donations to volunteering on the fundraising committee or becoming a member of the society. A creative idea might be to forego a gift exchange between you and your best friend, and instead commit to volunteering together. A joint project could be a more meaningful way to connect throughout the year.

3. Canadian Women’s Foundation

Canadian Women’s Foundation is a comprehensive organization whose mission is to invest in the strength of women and the dreams of girls. They raise money to end violence against women, remove them from situations of poverty, and build resilient girls. Their approach is to assist women and girls with the greatest need with a priority being First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and girls. Every year over 30,000 women and girls benefit directly from their programs which is just one of the reasons they list to consider supporting one of the top ten women’s foundations in the world.

One of the founding mothers of Canadian Women’s Foundation, Rosemary Brown, the first black woman elected to provincial office in Canada said, “Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.” If you agree, please consider giving in one of these ways.

4. Mom2Mom

Mom2Mom is a community-based organization to improve developmental outcomes of children living in Vancouver’s inner city. It really is a support group for women to help them parent in the best way possible, with resources, compassion and women-centred mentorship and support. They understand that when families are stressed due to basic needs not being met, children are at risk of not thriving. Vancouver is a wealthy city but Mom2Mom knows that there are many women, children and families who fall through the social cracks.

There are many ways to support Mom2Mom including some fulfilling volunteer opportunities and through monetary donations. Learn about the ways to give here.

5. 1UP Victoria’s Single Parent Resource Centre

Since 1978, 1UP has served Greater Victoria’s single parent families with a wide selection of programs and free services to create stronger, healthier families. They provide counselling, mentorship, practical support (free clothing room, bread pantry, free toy and book room, and more). 1UP also holds an annual back-to-school drive and has a Christmas hamper program you can be part of.

Again, there are many different ways to give. You can find a way to partner with them in honour of a loved one this Christmas.

6. YWCA Metro Vancouver

Did you know that YWCA Metro Vancouver has been around since 1897? And their greatest vision is to help women achieve equality through advocacy and services that foster economic independence, wellness and opportunities. They have incredible resources for women facing violence, poverty, single parenthood, sexualization and more. And they are true champions of women as shown through their Women of Distinction awards – their annual fundraiser that honours extraordinary women leaders.

Here are some ideas for getting involved, not just at Christmas but all year ’round.

7. Ovarian Cancer Canada

The only Canadian registered charity dedicated to overcoming ovarian cancer, they support women and their families living with ovarian cancer, raise awareness among the general public and health care professionals, and fund research. Their research focuses on early detection, treatment and ultimately, a cure.

Here are some video stories of women living with ovarian cancer – they talk about diagnosis through treatment and the impact this disease has on their lives.

Be inspired by these generous ways to give of your time and money.

8. Ikwe Widdjiitiwin (Women Helping Women) Aboriginal Crisis Shelter

A crisis centre for aboriginal women in Winnipeg, Manitoba offers culturally appropriate services for women escaping domestic and sexual violence and has been around since 1984. Their programs include a crisis line, residential services, children’s program, interim housing program, followup services and outreach services. They are able to provide help in native languages and serve with integrity and compassion holistically, keeping in mind a woman’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs.

To donate to this registered charity, please visit here.

I hope this gives you some unique gift ideas to check off your list and leave a lasting impact.

Her Story: My Call To Action

My husband’s hands pushed hard on my lower back as I draped myself over the hospital bed, moaning through the contraction that threatened to split me in two. Desperately clinging to my breath, my mind searched for something to hold on to. From the foggy depths of the pain, emerged one thought: My girl. The much-anticipated little sister for my daughter and my son, and the one who would complete our family. I focused. I inhaled. I exhaled. As the contraction eased, I wiped the sweat from my upper lip. One day, this girl who was trying to burst into this world, as well as my firstborn daughter may find themselves draped over beds, or squatting, splitting from the inside out, to do what women have been doing since the beginning of time.

Women are bonded in our pain and in our joy. We are bonded in our fears and in our dreams. We belong to each other in this way, yet I feel there is still a disconnect. A painful separation, a cracked foundation. Even a gaping hole. There are lies that keep us apart, beliefs that have been fed to us knowingly and unknowingly, and a great deal of emphasis placed on the ways we are not the same. And therein lies our greatest obstacle.

Her Story is our way of demolishing that obstacle and creating a smoother path for us to tread together. Through the stories of women we don’t even know, we will see our own reflection. Through partnering with organizations who serve these women, we will answer the question, “What can I do about this?” Because when we see ourselves in each other, we will realize the importance of doing something.

Karen and I share a passion for storytelling and for bringing women together. When she started talking to me about Her Story, my soul lit up! I had already been contemplating travelling North America to interview Muslim women and write their stories, revealing them to be very much like women you already know. Broadening my scope to include women of all backgrounds facing a variety of social injustices that one might not visualize against a Canadian backdrop, was the perfect way to get me out of the ‘thinking’ mode and into action mode – which is where I want to be.

I told Karen, “I want to do something.” And through Her Story, we will mobilize you, too. If you have ever thought to yourself, I want to do something, you have come to the right place.

At Her Story, we listen first. That is a huge part of doing. It directs us to be the right kind of support, and maps out the best way to make change. Let’s listen together to the stories of our Canadian sisters so that we can best know how to serve them.

And then, let’s mobilize. Each quarter, we will partner with different organizations to shed light on the social issues the women in our country face. We will ask them what they need. We will listen and we will act. There’s a way for each of us to do something – whether it’s sharing what we read or hear with family and friends, donating time or resources, or participating in rallies or fundraisers. If you want to do something, we will help you find that thing.

When I see women hurt, it’s like an injustice has been done to me, and to my mom, and to my daughters. I need to be able to look at my daughters and say, I am doing the very best I can to create a world where your femininity is celebrated, where you are handled with care – physically and emotionally, where your merits are discussed more than your makeup. I want to look them in the eyes and say, I’m championing you every step of the way.

I anticipate this journey to be eye-opening and sacred. I will likely need help to pick my heart up off the ground at times. But I would much rather be broken open so that I can grow into the highest version of myself, than remain closed, uninformed and empty.

Join me, please, on this journey. Let’s hold each others’ hearts and hands.