International Women’s Day 2020

March 8 was International Women’s Day (IWD) 2020.

IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and serves as a reminder that much remains to be done to achieve gender equality.

This day has a long history – following the model of National Women’s Day in the United States, IWD was first celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. It was then celebrated in Russia in 1913 for the first time, and in the following years, March 8 became the official day worldwide.

The United Nations began celebrating the day in 1975 but only started adopting an annual theme in 1996. The first theme was “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future,” and other themes since then have highlighted a variety of issues, from “Women and Human Rights” to “World Free of Violence Against Women.” This year’s theme is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.”

Over the last century, IWD has gone from protests in just a few countries to a worldwide campaign with support from organizations like the UN, UN Women and Amnesty International.

Since IWD was first celebrated, much progress has been made by women worldwide. They have obtained the right to vote almost everywhere, abortion is only completely illegal in 26 countries and partially illegal in 37, and there are women in almost all positions of power, from president – 59 countries have had a female leader – to CEO.

2020 and beyond

Despite the improvements in women’s situations worldwide and all the commitments/declarations of countries, corporations and organizations to achieve parity – such as the World Economic Forum’s framework for gender parity – much remains to be done to truly reach equality.

“Women have made a lot of progress, yes, but women are still dying, they’re still being killed by their partners, they’re still being disappeared and snuffed out, and there’s an impunity about it: it’s taken for granted that women can be beaten by their partners, aggressed, harassed, and violated,” said Marie Boti, spokesperson for Women of Diverse Origins, who organized the Montreal demonstration at Cabot Square on March 8. She added that this network of women’s organizations is hoping to bring back the militant tradition of IWD demonstrations.

As Canada faces a domestic violence crisis and a genocide of three decades of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Boti believes it is important to continue creating awareness about women’s struggles.

Boti said that even in North America, women are paid less than men for the same work – women in Canada currently earn about 0.87$ for every dollar earned by a man – while the largest burden of household and childcare tasks still falls on their shoulders.

In positions of power, women are severely under-represented: only a quarter of parliamentarians worldwide are women, and under 7 per cent of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In Canada, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of parity in his cabinet, women only make up 29 per cent of the House of Commons, and only one woman has ever been Prime Minister in the country’s history.

What about Montreal?

If we take a look closer to home, Concordia University’s spokesperson Vannina Maestracci revealed statistics that show that parity has been achieved. In the 2018/19 academic year, 50 per cent of students and 51 per cent of employees were women.

However, Maestracci’s student enrollment numbers split by faculty reveal that parity has not been achieved for every specialty. Although the Arts and Science and the Fine Arts faculties have more than 60 per cent female students, and the John Molson School of Business is close to parity with 48 per cent, there is a clear disparity among engineers.

The Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, despite being named after the first woman in Concordia University’s history to obtain a PhD in building engineering, only has 24 per cent female enrollment, according to the numbers revealed by Maestracci.

Although organizations like Concordia’s Women in Engineering are working on reducing this gap, these numbers reveal that there are still many barriers for women in STEM fields in Canada.


Graphic by Sasha Axenova


Haitian Students’ Association of Concordia hosts thrift shop on campus

The Haitian Students’ Association of Concordia (HSAC) held a thrift shop event in the atrium of Concordia University’s Webster Library on Feb. 19.

HSAC members sold donated clothes to Concordia students and raised almost $600 for the Institution Mixte les Frères Nau de Bayonnais, a school in Gonaïve, Haiti, where Concordia students teach STEM classes every summer with student organization Katalis.

“We collected clothes and we’re reselling them at really affordable prices so that people can find something nice and wear it,” said Harvin Hilaire, president of HSAC, “but at the same time we’re using the money to help a good cause in Haiti.”

As students around him browsed through the racks and stacks of donated clothes, Hilaire explained that HSAC’s goal is to represent Concordia’s Haitian students and to provide a space where they can get together to talk.

He explained that HSAC regularly organizes events where Haitian students can meet, such as documentary screenings and icebreaker evenings. Hilaire also said the thrift shop event was part of HSAC’s push to go beyond Concordia and Montreal by helping people in Haiti as well.

“We’re in a university where there’s a lot of diversity, so sometimes people can get lost in it,” Hilaire said. “We have our office, suite K-202 at 2150 Bishop St., and we have get-togethers where people can come and talk. We make it homey for them.”

The student group was officialized in 2018 with the help of former HSAC president Andrew Denis after a 10-year hiatus.

“When I joined as VP External last year, I realized the organization had just started and it was really small, so it really became a mission of trying to get as many people to join the Concordian Haitian community,” Hilaire said.

The event was also an opportunity for members of the association to get signatures for a petition attempting to reinstate a Haitian history class that was removed from Concordia’s course calendar. Many of the students who attended the thrift shop added their names to the petition, which now has 100 signatures.

“We’re trying to show the university that we have a body of students who are interested in taking this class,” said Denis, who was helping at the event. “We want it to be re-added into the system and we want it to be taught by a person of colour or a Haitian individual.”

Hilaire said that HSAC is organizing four more events before the end of the year, including the Paint and Sip event, a collaboration between several black student associations at Concordia, which took place on Feb. 21.

“After that, we will be having our traditional Haitian drum event, called Tam Tam in Creole,” Hilaire said. He also mentioned there will be an exclusive, invite-only event to look out for, as well as HSAC elections before the end of the year.

Hilaire said that HSAC is also working on obtaining a scholarship for Haitian students at Concordia, but that it is still in early stages.


Photos by Clara Gepner


Simply Scientific: Can you get sick from being cold?

You’ve probably heard it before: Don’t go outside without a scarf, you’ll get sick! Make sure you wear thick socks and gloves, you get sick from the extremities! 

We’ve all heard that being cold makes you sick. But is that true?

The short answer is no. When you get sick, it’s because you caught a virus or bacteria.

Basically, a cold is an upper respiratory tract infection. The most common culprit for this infection is the rhinovirus, a common virus that replicates quickly in the nose and then goes down to infect your throat. This makes you cough, and can sometimes lead to ear and sinus infections. You may also get a fever and fatigue as your body fights against the virus.

This “common cold” virus is quite easy to catch. Unlike many bacteria and viruses that are only transmissible in certain ways—think about how HIV can only be transferred through bodily fluids—rhinoviruses are airborne.

This means they can spread through droplets in the air—like when someone coughs or sneezes—and enter through your mouth, eyes, or nose.

It can also spread through hand-to-hand contact; for example, if you shake hands with someone infected who coughed into their hand and then you touch your eyes, you’re likely to catch the virus.

In short, to catch a cold, you need to be exposed to someone else who has a cold. No virus, no illness.

So why do people think you’ll get sick if you are cold?

The answer lies in the effect that cold temperatures have on viruses, human bodies, and our behaviour.

Being cold weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to resist infection when you are exposed to viruses.

It has also been shown that rhinoviruses replicate faster when it’s cold, making it more likely that you will be exposed to it.

In addition, when it’s cold outside, you’re probably going to spend more time indoors, surrounded by other people who may be sick.

Indoor humidity also plays a role in getting sick: when it’s humid, viruses can attach to water droplets; since heaters dry out the air, the virus is more prone to infect you instead. Heaters also dry out your sinuses, and a lack of nasal mucus makes it harder for your immune system to fight off infection.

Overall, the combination of low humidity and low temperature makes viruses last longer and your immune system weaker, both of which together may get you sick.

So, can you get sick from being cold?

The long answer is yes, but only because cold and dry environments increase the likelihood of you catching whatever virus or bacteria you’re exposed to.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Concordia students make meals for people in need

Concordia University’s Multi-Faith and Spirituality Centre (MFSC) held the first Multi-Faith: Meals to the Streets event of 2020 in the Z Annex on Jan. 21.

The event, which has been taking place monthly throughout the school year since approximately 2010, gathers students from all faiths and cultures to cook and distribute healthy meals to the homeless.

“Meals to the Streets is an opportunity for us to make food together, build friendships, and put something back into the community,” said Ashely Crouch, who has been the MFSC’s Interfaith Facilitator since 2017.

Meals to the Streets was originally started by the previous Interfaith Facilitator, Laura Gallo, and different religious student groups.

“They wanted to do something positive and decided this outreach program was a great day to do that,” said Crouch. She explained that she kept the program going when she took over the position because the feedback from students was so positive.

Each time the event is held, about 15 to 20 students collaborate to make 80 to 100 burritos and muffins, which they put together into paper lunch bags with a juice box or a banana.

“We’re not solving issues of homelessness or poverty, but we’re enabling students to go out, interact with people, understand their situation, and provide them with a warm meal for the day,” said Crouch.

Crouch encourages students to use the Meals to the Streets event as an opportunity to have conversations with the homeless people they are giving meals to and learn their stories.

“I’m interested in getting to talk to people who have fewer resources and less luck in life, to see why they are there and what they think about their situation. I think it’s a nice action,” said Jules Dourson, who attended the event for the first time.

Crouch hopes this kind of event will change the perceptions people have of the homeless by helping them understand the different reasons they might end up in these situations.

“When you’re giving the lunches and interacting with people, sometimes it’s the first time someone’s talking to them in days,” said Kaye-Anne Bunting, a fourth-year undergraduate student who was volunteering with the MFSC for the third time. “It’s nice to interact personally with them and offer something and let them know there are people in the wider community that care about them.”

Meals to the Streets is also an opportunity for students to learn about direct ways to help the homeless.

“If you live on the streets, the first thing to go is your dental care, so a lot of homeless people have trouble eating harder food,” said Crouch, which is why the students make soft burritos. She added that many people donate processed foods, so she believes the healthy vegan burrito is a nice change.

This year, the MFSC is partnering with Community COMPASS and the LIVE Centre to help them have conversations with students about long-term solutions to homelessness as opposed to quick fixes.

It’s a little step, it’s not going to stop starvation, but maybe having a connection with someone will help lighten their day,” said Dourson.

In addition to connecting with people in the street, Meals to the Streets is an opportunity for students to interact with each other and make new friends.

“I think it’s good for student life to do things that are good for the community because it fosters closeness between them,” said Bunting, who appreciates meeting people from different faculties and countries and learning about them at these events.

“It’s nice to talk to people from different cultures, and I’m looking forward to connecting with people in the streets as well,” said Dourson.

Crouch hopes that students who volunteer at Meals to the Streets learn something and have conversations with others to change their perceptions of homeless people. “And if after that they want to get involved in soup kitchens and legislation, then that’s even better,” she said.

The next Multi-Faith: Meals to the Streets event will take place on Feb. 18 at the Multi-Faith and Spiritual Centre’s office in the Z Annex, 2090 Mackay St.


Photos by Laurence B.D.


What experts think about human rights violations in China

A panel on China’s human rights violations was held in Concordia University’s Faubourg building on Jan. 15.

The experts, who were invited by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), expressed concerns about the Uyghur Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in Western China. They also discussed the brutal repression in Hong Kong and Tibet, as well as China’s increasing influence on the Western world and its implication for the future of democracy.

The event took place just days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Kenneth Roth was denied entry into Hong Kong and HRW’s launch event for its World Report 2020 was disrupted by protestors, according to MIGS executive director Kyle Matthews.

“Human rights issues in China are nothing new,” said speaker Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, Senior Fellow at both the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and the University of Alberta’s China Institute. She listed historical events such as the Cultural Revolution, the Xidan Democracy Wall, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre which she said “trampled on individual human rights in a myriad of ways.”

McCuaig-Johnston continued to explain that although China has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty since 1978, this is not the same as ensuring individual human rights. She described how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses detention as a pressure tactic against dissidents and the abusive conditions under which they are detained, which were revealed by HRW’s interviews with former prisoners. She also explained the social credit system, in place since 2014, and the CCP’s widespread interference in Western countries.

Both McCuaig-Johnston and Benjamin Fung, a Canada Research Chair in Data Mining for Cybersecurity and an Action Free Hong Kong Montreal activist, highlighted the CCP’s infiltration in Canadian academics and described the pressure on faculty and Chinese students to self-censor criticism of the Chinese government.

The CCP’s use of technology, such as facial and voice recognition for repression, was also extensively discussed by both experts. Fung additionally focused on Chinese companies’ goal to expand the 5G network––he explained that the CCP controls every large corporation in China and that technology companies are obligated to cooperate with Chinese intelligence units.

“It’s about trust, you trust Apple to update your iPhone because it is a private company,” Fung explained, adding that we cannot trust Chinese companies who would introduce malware into the 5G network if the CCP asked them to.

Fung also spoke in detail about China’s one country, two systems policy and the CCP’s broken promise: its decision to maintain control over Hong Kong’s government instead of allowing universal suffrage, which Fung asserts was promised in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. He described what he called an ongoing humanitarian crisis and a system of police brutality, lengthy prison sentences, sexual assault, and white terror––attacks on pro-democracy activists.

The situation in Tibet was discussed by Sherap Therchin, executive director of the Canada-Tibet Committee, who explained it has been 70 years since China illegally invaded Tibet, and the Western world seems to have forgotten about it. He described the CCP’s reflexive control strategy: how they have been feeding manufactured information about Tibet to target groups so consistently that the Western world now believes their narrative that Tibet was historically part of China.

Therchin continued to explain that in the Western world’s eyes, control over Tibet is now an internal issue––a problem for China to deal with without Western influence.

Finally, Dilmurat Mahmut, a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University’s Faculty of Education, talked about the Uyghur re-education camps in place since 2017. According to documents obtained through an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an estimated 1 million Uyghur Muslims are detained in these camps, but Mahmut said these numbers could be as high as 3 million. He explained the history of the region of Xinjiang, originally East Turkistan, and the CCP’s labeling of all Turkic Muslims in the region as potential terrorists or pre-criminals.

Mahmut described the conditions in what the CCP calls vocational training centres, and explained that Uyghur children are being forcibly detained and sent to state-run orphanages where they are forbidden from learning the Uyghur language and, instead, only learn the Chinese culture—he called this cultural genocide. Mahmut finished his presentation with a warning from Roth on the dangers of not challenging Chinese human rights abuses and worldwide interference.


Photos by Brittany Clarke


Good journalism shouldn’t be free

Journalism is in a crisis — print and digital advertising revenues have collapsed.

According to the Local News Research Project, over 250 news outlets have closed their doors in the last decade in Canada, and many more have had to lay off journalists to stay afloat.

Now that advertisers are turning to social media, news organisations are being forced to change the way they do business, and many are turning to audience-paid models.

You have probably encountered some of these before: The Montreal Gazette gives you five free articles per month, and outlets like La Presse ask you to contribute a small amount monthly.

Paywalls have likely discouraged you from reading an article or watching a news video in the past. Why pay when you can get the same information for free elsewhere?

Well, I think it’s time to stop expecting quality journalism to magically appear on our newsfeeds.

As an audience, we need to differentiate between quality and commodity, and start paying journalists accordingly for the service they provide.

We can’t expect journalists to be the watchdogs of society, to attend city council meetings and political events, to investigate corruption and keep the powerful accountable, and then write engaging articles about it… for free.

Journalists are members of society, and although journalism may be their passion, it is still their profession: they need – and deserve – to get paid for the work they do. Especially since, as the National Association of Journalists in The Netherlands has reported, they have to do more work with fewer colleagues and less resources.

If we don’t pay for quality journalism, there will be no quality journalism.

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, only seven per cent of Canadians paid for news in the past year, and most of these people only paid for one news subscription.

These are not promising numbers, and paywalls seem to work only for certain legacy news organizations like The New York Times.

However, we as an audience can make the decision to pay for journalism and help small, local news outlets thrive. And, as a 2018 study by digital news company The Discourse has shown, when we pay for news through memberships and subscriptions, journalists are incentivized to directly serve our communities and perform public service journalism – such as solutions and investigative journalism – instead of selling our attention to advertisers.

As U.S. media critic Jay Rosen said, a subscription business model is about “re-establishing a direct relationship between the users of news and the producers of news that is strong enough to withstand the telling of hard truths.” It allows the audience to pay directly for the news they value, and provides the news people need in addition to the news they want.

This kind of journalism is incredibly important in this day and age. We can’t rely on news outlets owned by millionaires or funded by foundations to give us in-depth, unbiased information. These organizations, by virtue of where they get their funding, cannot be fully independent. Even if these donors have no bad intentions, The Columbia Journalism Review has shown that journalists feel the influence of these donors, and that affects the journalism they do.

The only way to get quality journalism that does not influence us, but inform us, is to willingly pay for it. I believe paying for journalism should become as natural to us as paying our monthly phone bill.

To be clear: I am not arguing for paywalls. Business models based on making certain tiers of information only accessible to those who can afford it are a recipe for disaster.

I am only arguing that those of us who can afford to pay for news, should. If you can afford to pay for a Netflix or Spotify subscription, you can afford to pay $10 a month for The Montreal Gazette to provide you with the information you need to be an engaged citizen.

We have the power to change the way journalism is done: when we directly fund small, local news organisations, we give them the resources to produce in-depth stories from a range of perspectives. And when larger news outlets see that we want diverse, complex coverage of issues that affect us, they will follow suit.

Ultimately, in the words of Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, “sooner or later, we are either going to have to pay for journalism, or we are all going to pay for it.”

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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