Last week, student groups came together in celebration of International Women’s Day, which took place on March 8. These events aimed to celebrate the historical achievements of women, whilst highlighting the struggles women still face.

The Women and Gender Studies Student Union held a lecture entitled Islands of Decolonial Love: Exploring Love on Occupied Land featuring Leanne Simpson.

Simpson is an Indigenous (Michi Saagiing Nishnaabeg) author and academic. In 2014, she was named the inaugural RBC Charles Taylor Emerging Writer by Thomas King and was nominated for a National Magazine Award. Her first book of short stories and poetry, Islands of Decolonial Love, was nominated for a ReLit Award in 2014.

In an interview with The Varsity, Simpson refuted the suggestion that gender equality has been reached in Canada. “It’s wrong,” she said. “While Canada as a society has made advances towards gender equality, particularly for upper and middle class heterosexual [cisgender], able bodied white women, but Canada still has a tremendously long way to go.”

Simpson pointed to the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as the fact that two-spirited and LGBTQ+people are targets of gendered violence under settler colonialism, as evidence against the claim.

“Heteropatriarchy is a force that still creates violence and inequality in wages, working conditions, and professional opportunities,” said Simpson, citing anti-blackness and a lack of support for midwifery and breastfeeding as continuing issues.

When asked if International Women’s Day was a gender-specific celebration, Simpson responded that everyone can celebrate International Women’s Day. “I think we have a collective responsibility to build societies where we take on white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, anti-Blackness and settler colonialism. If International Women’s Day can be part of those movements, then it’s a good thing.”

Amnesty International UofT is hosting an event entitled Intersectionality, Community and Solidarity on March 16 in collaboration with Because I’m a Girl U of T and Canadian Voice of Women for Peace.

According to the description on the event’s Facebook page, it will focus on  “intersectionality in which women come together from diverse backgrounds and speak of their personal experiences of women empowerment and feminism.”

Isabelle Maurice-Hammond, a master’s student at U of T’s Women and Gender Studies Institute at U of T, said that she would like to see more work done to promote a woman’s right to autonomy and self-determination.

“I’m personally very concerned about women’s rights to control their own bodies -— specifically reproduction, and the attacks on abortion rights that we are seeing across the border right now,” she said. 

Maurice-Hammond added that she would like to see the topic of sexual violence taken more seriously. According to Maurice-Hammond, this would involve beginning education on the issue early in a child’s academic career. “This is an inter-generational crises (that some communities bear more heavily than others) and something needs to be done about it,” she said.

Maurice-Hammond shares Simpson’s concern regarding violence towards Indigenous women, two-spirited, and LGBTQ+ people. She also hopes to see concrete changes arise from the enquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that the federal government has promised. “[We] need to address the prevalence of racist misogynistic violence in this country,” she said. 

When asked if she had any advice for young women, Simpson responded that she did not, although she did have some for adults: “listen to girls,” she said. “Listen to children. They have fantastic ideas and visions for decolonial futures.”