Student unions denounce a continued lack of gender equity in universities
To mark International Women’s Day, demonstrators marched downtown to demand gender equality in Quebec and throughout the world.
Speakers at the march deplored the various ways women’s rights are undermined across the globe: from a lack of access to education, healthcare and reproductive rights or through threats of abuse, femicide, as well as sexual and domestic violence.
The most recent Statistics Canada study states that 34,242 women were victims of sexual assault over the course of 2021 in Canada. The data refers only to cases reported to the police and, according to the Regroupement québécois des centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions sexuelles (The Quebec Coalition of Sexual Assault Centers), it is estimated that only 10 per cent of women victims of sexual assault file a complaint with the police.
Another Statistics Canada study released in 2020 found that 71 per cent of students at Canadian postsecondary schools “witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in a postsecondary setting in 2019.” These numbers include on-campus or off-campus situations involving other students or people associated with scholastic institutions.
Representatives from Concordia’s Inter-organizational Table for Feminist Affairs (ITFA) were present to support women and victims of sexual violence.
Composed of the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union, the Concordia Student Union (CSU), the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and the Centre for Gender Advocacy, ITFA is a student-run group that advocates for student-led solutions, transparency and gender equity at Concordia.
Julianna Smith, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator, and representative of ITFA, said the group wanted to use the attention that came with International Women’s Day to voice their demands and support feminist causes.
“We had a rally back at Concordia in support of Concordia’s specific demands, supporting the boycott of the University’s SMSV [Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence] and now we are here to support the broader women’s movement,” said Smith.
ITFA started the ongoing boycott of SMSV, claiming that the fight against sexual violence at Concordia should take into account the voices of students and victims.
“The main argument that we have is that Concordia’s SMSV is in majority faculty and management and they don’t actually listen to students and what we need to see in order to manage and prevent sexual violence in the University,” said Becca Wilgosh, TRAC’s vice-president and ITFA representative.
Wilgosh said ITFA wants to call into question how the University has so far addressed sexual violence on campus. She pointed out that Concordia’s administration comes from a position of power, a factor that can lead to abuse.
“It should be bottom-up, it should be run by the people who are more likely to be subject to it, so we are trying to construct alternatives that actually centre survivors, students and staff workers.”Said Wilgosh.
For Smith, there is still a long way to go when it comes to feminist movements in universities throughout Quebec.
“One thing that I’ve noticed about the student movement in Quebec as a whole is that right now we’re very stuck in this gender parity issue, it’s very second-wave feminism,” said Smith. “For ITFA, we want to take an approach that’s much broader than that […] it’s about dismantling all structures of power.”