Tag Archives: Activism

As we discussed in Part One of this series, a lot of us didn’t receive great sexual health education when we were in high school. And even if you did, you might have totally different concerns now than you did when you were that age. Sexuality is a lifelong process—it’s something you can always learn more about. So whether you want to supplement a pretty decent education or make up for an awful one, read on for some ways you can take charge and give yourself the sex ed you deserve.

Learn the basics. SexualityandU, run by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, gives a good overview of different birth control and STI prevention options, and has a cool app that helps you figure out what to do if you forget to take your birth control pill. CATIE has an awesome pamphlet on safer sex for queer women, and TheSexYouWant, created by the AIDS Committee of Toronto, is a great safer sex resource for queer men. Want to brush up on what enthusiastic consent means and how to talk about your sexual preferences with a partner? Look no further than this amazing comic. And Scarleteen has great info on pretty much everything, from gender identity to masturbation to kink to polyamory.

Explore your desires. Masturbating, fantasizing, discussing your fantasies with others, and reading or watching porn can be great ways to explore what turns you on physically and mentally in a low-pressure way. Note, though, that while there’s some really awesome porn out there, there’s also a lot of stuff that’s problematic in its depiction of sexual consent and gender roles, so if you can afford to, consider actually paying(!) for videos or a membership from sites that you know abide by a code of ethics similar to your own. Always wanted to try some particular sexual thing? Talk about it with your sexual partner(s) and see if they’d be down. Not really sure what you’re into? Scarleteen has a great “Yes/No/Maybe” checklist to help you articulate what you like, don’t like, and might want to try. Not really sure if you’re into any of this at all? You might want to check out the website of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

Learn some more. Obviously these links should just be jumping-off points. There are books, websites, and real live people out there that can help you learn about pretty much any sex-related topic. Figure out what you want to learn about, and empower yourself to do so.

Get involved. Think sex education is important? Want to do something to make sure young people have access to info you may not have been given? Head and Hands and the Outreach branch of SACOMSS both run workshops in high schools on sex-related topics. You could also get involved with the Shag Shop, the 2110 Centre, the Union for Gender Empowerment, or any of the many other McGill and Montreal based organizations that educate people on these topics. And start a conversation! Share your new-found knowledge with your friends, and if you have a young person in your life, consider letting them know you’re available to talk, and answer their questions honestly.

And have fun 🙂

On this blog, we talk a lot about being anti-oppressive, but we wanted to take the time to discuss what exactly that means and why it’s important to us. This is going to kick off a new series of blog posts on social justice definitions and concepts, so while this will be just a brief overview of some important ideas, we’ll be writing more in-depth posts on a lot of these topics in the months to come.

We at SACOMSS understand anti-oppression work to include work that is queer positive, trans* positive, anti-ablist, anti-classist, anti-agist, anti-racist, and anti-sexist. We also think it’s important to be non-judgemental, pro-survivor, and pro-feminist. But what does all that really mean?

In general, being anti-oppressive means acknowledging that systematic oppression exists in our society—that is, that certain people are afforded more privileges than others based on characteristics like their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It also means actively fighting against this oppression and for greater equity in society (that’s where something like being pro-feminist comes in). For us, this means both doing our best not to recreate these systems of oppression within our organization—by, for example, being non-hierarchical, avoiding gendered language, and making our services free—and working to change these systems—by, for example, incorporating discussions about how sexism plays into sexual assault myths in the workshops we run in high schools, and supporting Montreal organizations who do work that aligns with our mandate.

As well as being opposed to discrimination and oppression based on someone’s race, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity and presentation and how that relates to their birth-assigned gender, or sexual orientation, as a sexual assault centre, we want to be pro-survivor. Essentially, that means we support any survivor of sexual assault. We will believe them, we will not judge them, and we will do our best to help them in whatever way we can.

Anti-oppression work is all about learning and unlearning—learning what different forms of oppression are and what they look like in our day-to-day lives, learning how to fight them, and also unlearning a lot of the things we were taught to say or do or believe that actually uphold these forms of oppression. We hope that you, the reader, will learn something from us, and also that you’ll keep in mind that we’re still learning what a lot of this stuff entails.

York University has seen a number of sexual assaults on its campus recently, including one this past week. In response to the high rate of sexual violence, the York Federation of Students (YSF) has proposed that the administration implement mandatory women’s studies or equity courses as a preventative measure.

In requiring all student’s to take a women’s studies or equity course, the YSF hopes that students will become familiar with the root causes of sexual assault, such as inequality and discrimination. They propose that students would have the option to choose from a variety of courses based on their particular interests and previous experience with women’s studies or equity material. As Eva Karpinski, a professor from York’s School of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, points out, there are few disciplines where students will encounter analyses of oppressive systems that lead to sexual assault and other forms of violence. Women’s studies and similar courses often offer a rare opportunity to engage in a dialogue on systematic violence. A single course though, Karpinski says, is not enough to implement real change:

“I would really envision a much wider role for the York Federation of Students on campus to become advocates, to take leadership and provide spaces for a much wider non-violence policy that should become like our daily mantra here.”

Students have had mixed reaction to the proposal of a mandatory women’s studies course. According to York’s community newspaper, Excalibur, some students are against the notion of being forced to enroll in a course that has nothing to do with their major. Others feel that a full semester’s course load would be too much, and would prefer a lesser degree of commitment. Robyn Urback of the National Post writes that the mandatory course would simply be a waste of students’ time and money, and that energy should instead be spent on increasing security.

But York has already spent millions of dollars on increased security; according to the Toronto Sun the university spent $9.5 million on improving security and still two cases of sexual assault have been reported since the term started this month. Students’ safety should be the priority of any university, but simply increasing security does not address the root cause of sexual assault. Sexual assault is not an expression of sexual desire nor is it always simply an isolated act of violence; rather, it is an expression of power and dominance over another person that can often be linked to not only gender, but also race, sexuality, ability, class, etc. Mandating a single course in women’s studies or equity will not change York’s campus overnight, but it does indicate that its students are seeking to prevent sexual assault by addressing it at its core.

York is far from being the only university whose campus has been conducive to violence or rape culture; American Universities Columbia and Boston University have had a number a high-profile incidents of sexual harassment and violence as well. Whether or not the proposal goes through, hopefully York students will be able to implement progressive measures towards preventing further violence on its campus.

Thanks to Corey for the tip

YFS lobbies for mandatory equity or women’s studies course [Excalibur]

Robyn Urback: York students solve sex crimes with mandatory women’s studies [National Post]

Another sexual assault at York University [Toronto Sun]

MSNBC reports that on Friday Egyptian women and a few men gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest against sexual harassment and demand its criminalization. The demonstrators were subject to the very thing they were fighting against: harassment and violence by men attempting to scare them out of the square. Women involved in the protest demand the right to walk the streets unmolested; one referred to harassment as a “disease.”

“You know when you leave home it will happen, either touching or bad language. Every day [harassment] happens here on the streets.  Some days it’s escalated,” said May Abdul Hafiz, a travel agency supervisor. She explained that women are considered at fault for encouraging unwanted male attention by dress or behavior. “You are not supposed to say anything because they think you brought it on yourself.”

The men who attacked the demonstrators were angry that the women would distract from the “legitimate” protests against the candidacy of former Egyptian Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq. One young man said that now is “not the time” to fight harassment. But, as Marwa Salah, a banker, says, the protest is part of a struggle for women’s rights, widely important and frequently neglected struggle:

“When you have freedom you will have your rights. It’s about freedom for all Egyptians,” said Salah. “We have been brainwashed for 60 years. All people were so busy fighting poverty, women’s rights were a low priority.”

Despite the violence they faced, protestors who survived the assaults found another chance to speak. According to MSNBC, some were invited to speak out against sexual harassment on a popular Egyptian talk show, thus reaching a nation-wide audience.

Women brave attack to protest sexual harassment in Egypt [MSNBC]

Egyptian Women Protesting Harassment Harassed by Counter-Protesting Dicks [Jezebel]

Hollaback! has already spent years fighting street harassment and is now taking a stance against campus harassment. According to the initiative’s website, “62% of women and 61% of men report being sexually harassed on college campuses,” and within the US “51% of male students admit to sexually harassing their female counterparts.” Recently there have been many high-profile incidents of sexual assault or harassment on college campuses, including otherwise well-regarded universities  Yale and Boston University.

Like street harassment, harassment on college campuses is often portrayed as “normal” and not taken seriously, though it in fact contributes to a hostile environment for specific groups that are frequently the targets of harassment. As the video above explains, the Hollaback! Against Campus Harassment campaign hopes to create a space for students to share their stories and learn that they are not alone. The initiative also hopes to provide educational resources on campus harassment create an online community where students can receive support. For more information, check out their website where you can also donate to the cause.

On May 6, Nobel Peace Laureates and advocacy organizations around the world made a pledge to campaign for the end of rape and gender based violence in times of conflict. As outlined on the organization’s website, The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict is dedicated to providing voices to survivors and compelling political leaders to taking preventative measures against rape and gender violence. Rape is often deliberately used as a tactic of terror, and too often as well are survivors stigmatized and left with the burden of shame in addition to physical trauma. The Campaign also states that current commitments to end rape and gender violence are inadequate or unenforced.

The Campaign website includes news updates, resources, information about rape as a weapon, and more. If you are interested in getting involved, their site offers ways to volunteer, use social media or offer donations to further the cause. You can also take a pledge as outlined on the home page.

Rape is not always an act of violence between two individuals, but oftentimes implicated on a much larger scale, as part of a much larger agenda. Gender violence can include and is not limited to, rape, sterilization, and sexual slavery. These kinds of tactics can be used to destroy communities by both state security and arme forces, even after peace has been established. For all the above reasons and more, this campaign is crucial to advocating for human rights that have been heretofore under or little addressed.

The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict

Former model CarrĂ© Otis has already written a memoir that details the sexual abuse she faced at the hands of her agent. Now she speaks as a survivor in an article for the Huffington Post, where she advocates for women’s rights in the face of the burgeoning war on women. It is a difficult choice to make to disclose one’s personal history, but here Otis uses her story to fight for her fellow women’s safety and freedom.

Now I find myself at another crossroads, wondering about the potential benefits of sharing more of my personal experience in the public sphere. After careful thought, I’ve decided that by opening up about more of my past, my voice can contribute to the fight to make a difference in the present

Both Otis’ memoir and her recent article demonstrate bravery in speaking about her own history of sexual abuse. In this article she advocates for women’s basic right to safety and autonomy over their body, a right that politicians, policy makers, and other people in power continue to infringe upon, and a right that so many women have already been denied. All else I can say about the article is that it is well worth reading.

Sisterhood Now: The Political, the Personal, and the Just [Huffington Post]

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