Archive for September, 2010

In class this week we watched the documentary film entitled Finding Dawn. I have actually had the privilege of watching this film twice prior to this viewing in class, but watching it the third time did not change how powerful the film was for me. Finding Dawn is an important film which sheds light on the issue of the missing First Nations women in British Columbia. What this film raises on a deeper level however, are the major social prejudices and the systemic racism that exists in Canadian society. Although I have not done any extensive research on the missing First Nations women in BC, I have looked at the history of the Canadian legal system and its interactions with and regulating of First Nations women. When I watched Finding Dawn, and reflected on my previous readings of the Canadian justice system, there are clear parallels that exist: the Canadian legal system is racist; the Canadian legal system is sexist; the Canadian legal system is classist. Dawn’s brother, Ernie, made an insightful and very truthful statement during the film: Had the missing women been white, middle-upper class individuals, there would have been a much larger and thorough investigation of the disappearances. This is because the society in which we live privileges white-skinned, middle-upper class folks, and oppresses those folks who do not fit into this mold.

During the discussion after the film, one of my classmates drew reference from the disappeared First Nations women of BC to the disappeared peoples of South American countries in the 1970s during the ruling military dictatorships. While I had indeed already drawn that connection, in terms of how we are to mourn and grieve the loss of people without knowing their true fate, I began to think about the ways in which the Canadian government parallels the once very powerful military juntas of Latin America. While I would not put these two governing bodies on the same level as one another, there are striking similarities that should not go ignored: i.) both governing bodies contributed to the violation of citizens’ rights, ii.) both governing bodies committed acts of violence to citizens through the implementation of rules/laws.

I found Finding Dawn to be an incredibly emotional film to begin with. And then when my classmate made reference to the difficult process of grieving the loss of someone who has been disappeared, I felt very drained, sad, and angry. It angers me to know that so many lives have been lost because they are not valued the same as other Canadian citizens. Who is the Canadian government, the police, the justice system to make judgement on the value of a person?

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In class this week we looked at public and social policy. From my understanding, public policy guides the rights and needs of citizens, whereas social policy is more specific in its focus on welfare and social programming. Social policy can only reach as far as public policies allow. Since the late 1980s/early 1990s, there has been a growing shift of Canadian policy from its position as a welfare state to one which has adopted a neoliberal position. The result has been a serious cut of funding to social assistance programs. I came across this term, ‘neoliberalism’ a few years back, and did not grasp the idea too clearly because I did not have any experience with how this shift affected society.

Having been a volunteer at the Sexual Assault / Rape Crisis Centre of Peel (SARCCP) for two years now, I have seen first hand how neoliberalism has changed the programming at the Centre. Two years ago there was a staff position dedicated to community events/relations, and another to public education. Today, both of these positions have been cut, and the responsibilities these positions had have been absorbed by all remaining staff members. For obvious reasons, this has placed a tremendous amount of pressure and responsibility on the remaining staff members, as they now have to fulfill all of the duties of the previous staff’s positions on top of their own. This has left the remaining staff in positions where they are overworked and therefore potentially more irritable and frustrated. Think about the effect this will have on clients! This frustration may come across to clients as insincerity, rudeness or even disinterest. This has the potential to damage the counsellor-client relationship, possibly sending the client away without receiving any assistance. Through this example, I have grown more conscious of the ways in which neoliberalism is affecting the social service sector, and consequently leaving those individuals in need of support and social services in a worse position.

In order to further my understanding of the ways in which public and social policy affect social justice organizations, I will be working on the Social Policy Assignment in the context of reproductive rights. I look forward to researching the ways in which policy changes have been detrimental and/or beneficial to women in terms of the ability to make choices and decisions about their own bodies and reproductive systems.

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The first journal entry! I am looking forward to these weekly journal entries, as I too have found that journalling is a great way to reflect on concepts, experiences, and the ways we exist in the world.

This week our class discussion looked at feminist anti-oppression beliefs and what these beliefs meant to us individually. To me, a feminist anti-oppression framework is a way of looking at the world that recognizes, acknowledges and seeks to change the privilege-oppression dichotomies that exist in our society. It is a philosophy that seeks to undermine, eliminate and dismantle discrimination and oppression, specifically in terms of challenging sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. It was interesting in class to see how other womyn interpreted this feminist anti-oppression term. Most womyn commented on a subtopic or aspect of feminist anti-oppression, rather than a general statement. This made me think about how people interpret concepts (and consequently the world) in incredibly different and unique ways. Even what it means to be a feminist differs significantly depending on who is speaking.

Since my first course in Women and Gender Studies, my understanding of feminism has changed dramatically. I remember being very hesitant to take the introductory course to WGS, but with my mum encouraging me, I decided to give it a try. Initially, I thought in order to self-identify as a feminist you had to be radical. After all, all the cool feminists were radical, right? Now I’ve developed a much more inclusive and open idea as to what it means. To me, in its most basic form, being a feminist means wanting equality for all people (which means we need to start by empowering the most oppressed groups). We can extend this and suit it to our own personal values, beliefs and visions for the future.

For this reason, it is important for me to work at an organization (be it a student placement or a real job in the field) where the mission statement and goals closely align with my own. This means that I will be looking to work at an organization which self-identifies itself as having feminist foundations/principles for action. Since my first course in WGS 6 years ago, I have found some way to be involved in feminist work: school, paid work and volunteerism. Bringing feminist, anti-oppressive principles to my work and life is important to me. I did a double major, one of which was in WGS, and then continued to complete my Masters degree in the same field. I worked at a maternity home for pregnant and parenting young mothers for a year and a half. I began working as a volunteer crisis line counsellor for the rape crisis centre in Peel two years ago. Being involved with these organizations has been important to me, and will continue to steer where I go and what I end up doing in the future.

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