As part of the Congress 2016 exciting line-up of events, the University of Calgary will host six Interdisciplinary symposia to exhibit the university’s most compelling and leading-edge thinking and research. This article is part of a six-part series showcasing each event, all of which are open to Congress attendees and the general public.
On June 1, 2016, the Faculty of Arts will host Spaces of Gender and Sexual Security. This truly interdisciplinary event will feature University of Calgary campus workshops and plenary sessions with tours of art and historical exhibitions during the day, a noon walking tour of campus and two dance performances. The day will conclude with an evening keynote address by retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire at Mount Royal University’s campus. Attendees are invited to participate in all or parts of the event’s agenda. Seating is limited.
We sat down with Nancy Janovicek and Annette Timm, both associate professors of history with the Department of History in the Faculty of Arts and two of the key organizers for the day, to find out more about the event.
Q: Why is gender and sexual security such an important topic and what makes is so relevant today?
A: We are currently experiencing a wave of interest in the whole spectrum of concerns surrounding gender equality, access to rights for sexual minorities, and concerns about sexual and other forms of gendered violence. One just has to think of any number of recent news headlines about these subjects to make it clear that we are experiencing a moment of transition in our thinking about the role of gender and sexual identity in politics and society — not just in Canada, but around the world. Types of violence and repression that have been taboo subjects — in families, in the workplace, on campuses and in political life — for as long as anyone can remember are now being forced into the light and challenged. There are probably many reasons for this change, and the narrative looks quite different in different countries. But one answer to the question of why this is happening now is that new rights for gay and lesbian people in many countries have put a spotlight on all forms of gendered repression. While the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the right to marry existed, it was perhaps easier to normalize other forms of patriarchal ideology — such as the insistence on traditional family structures or the acceptance of male sexual aggression.
Q: How does gender and sexual security fit within the Congress 2016 theme of Energizing Communities?
A: A rich and interdisciplinary body of scholarly research has provided consistent evidence that in order to create productive economies and vibrant communities, democratic societies must find ways of integrating all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, gender or sexual identity. To exclude or marginalize any specific social group is to forsake their contributions, not only to the economy, but to our social and cultural lives. If we are going to “energize communities,” then we must have an expansive definition of what “community” means, and we have to create a sense of security and belonging for all members of our society.
Q: Who are some of the key speakers?
A: The opening plenary in the morning addresses women’s economic insecurity. This session puts local activism into global perspective. Marjorie Griffin Cohen, professor of women’s studies and political science at Simon Fraser University and the 2016 winner of the Galbraith Prize in Economics, will talk about the impact of austerity policies on Canadian women. Kathleen Lahey, professor and Queen’s National Scholar in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University, will explain how Alberta economic policies have deepened women’s inequality and recommend ways forward. The Women’s Centre of Calgary is one of the organizations in Calgary that provides support, connections, and community to women who bear the brunt of these policies. Sarelle Anzuelos, social issues co-ordinator at the Women’s Centre of Calgary will explain how its Community Capacity Building Peer Model framework creates a space where women from diverse backgrounds can contribute to providing basic needs and working for social justice.
Retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire will end the day with a keynote at Mount Royal University. We have invited him to speak on gendered violence in war and humanitarian missions.
Q: What should attendees expect from the event?
A: Our interdisciplinary symposium will be truly interdisciplinary. Professors of history, sociology, political science, kinesiology, education, museum studies and dance have organized the main event, and we hope to draw an audience that is even more diverse. Participants can therefore expect a lively debate that brings in diverse perspectives through the opening and closing plenary sessions and the breakout program that will run throughout the event. Attendees are welcome to join at any point in the day. From the early planning stages, we realized that it was crucial to bring grassroots activists, politicians and policy-makers into conversation with academics. We hope to initiate research relationships that begin from the premise that research and policy for marginalized people must begin from their experiences. The Alberta Status of Women will attend the workshops and close the day with a plenary discussion about policy outcomes that could be informed by the research presented during the day.
We also have a rich cultural component planned. There will be a tour of the art and photography exhibits Eleven Women Facing War and Seeing Soldiering at the Founders’ Gallery of the Military Museums. Congress attendees and the public at large are invited to come see Trans Trans — an historical exhibition at the Nickle Galleries that will explore how the transmission of knowledge about transsexuality was made possible through the creation of safe spaces for individuals seeking the help of doctors and scientists in early 20th-century Germany and the United States.
A lunchtime performance of Big Head, Small Neck by students of the School of Creative and Performing Arts on the day of our symposium will play off the themes of Trans Trans and will take place in the exhibition space. Participants and visitors will also want to be aware of an exhibition of curated art by trans, non-binary and gender-variant artists at the Women’s Resource Centre, located on the fourth floor of the MacEwan Student Centre, on campus, which addresses issues of justice pertaining to gender and the body. Finally, Kevin Allen, lead researcher of the Calgary Gay History Project, will lead a University of Calgary Gay History walking tour at noon — one of three tours that he’ll be giving during Congress.
Q: What do you hope people take away from the event?
A: The main lesson we hope to convey to our audience and visitors is just how diverse and far reaching the gendered and sexual dimensions of our lives are. We have squeezed a large number of topics into this day, but we are painfully aware of the things we’ve left out. The very fact that it is actually impossible to cover all of the dimensions of gender and sexual security in a one-day symposium simply highlights that these things touch almost every dimension of our lives. More than specific answers, we want our audience to leave with more questions. Why isn’t gender a component of all discussions of security? What structures still exist on our campuses, in our communities and in our political systems that make it possible to marginalize these subjects? And, most importantly, how can we continue pushing for change in these areas?
Q: How can people attend?
A: The event is open to everyone and registration is not required. People can drop in any time their schedule allows. The detailed program will be posted on the Congress 2016 website. There will be 90 spaces on shuttle buses from the University of Calgary to Mount Royal University for Romeo Dallaire’s talk. The buses leave from Craigie Hall at 6:30 p.m.