The F-Word: Reclaiming Feminism - OPSEU's 2015 Women's Conference

Publication Date

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 10:30am

The OPSEU Provincial Women’s Committee held their 2015 Women’s Conference – The “F” Word—Reclaiming Feminism! - on November 6-8, 2015 in downtown Toronto. The goal of the conference was to educate and raise awareness about how women can engage in activism in an age of backlash against feminism and in the fight to reclaim feminism.

Conference Summary

“Really impressed with OPSEU for creating space for these important discussions”. - Krystyn Wong Tam, Toronto City Councilor, Ward 27, Toronto Center-Rosedale

“I feel that in all my professional roles and various careers, this was one of the very best conferences I have ever attended.   I have learned so much about key issues affecting indigenous women, sex workers, pay equity, women and unions.” - Conference Participant

“Feminism evokes one of the most powerful movements in the world. If you look around the room, you will notice many more slogans and ideas that have inspired and moved us all. If nothing else, these words demonstrate that there are many ways to think about, understand and take-up feminism.”- Shana Shipperbottom and Janet Heyman, Conference Co-chairs

The Conference Co-chairs opened with a word, the F-word, and many of the slogans and ideas that were popularized by the feminist movement:

  • The personal is political
  • My body, my choice!
  • Women Unite! Take back the Night!

These words and slogans have not only inspired us all, but incited the Provincial Women’s Committee to reflect on the power of feminism in developing and planning the conference.

To download the Co-Chairs' opening remarks:
Opening Remarks: Shana Shipperbottom and Janet Heyman
The goals of the panel

In the first day’s panel - Feminisms Present and Future - we shared the stories, strategies and analysis of four amazing women—Septembre Anderson, Heather Jarvis, Farrah Khan, and Naomi Sayers.

Septembre Anderson focused on how we need to transform “rape culture” into a “consent culture.” Here is an excerpt from her presentation:

"Rape culture is a culture that minimizes violence against women. Just think about it, think about everyday street harassment. I’ve had men and even women cat-calling me in the middle of the day.  They said, ‘Nice Ass!’ I’ve felt humiliated, attacked, objectified, reduced to a body part. I’ve had a man follow me home, to my house when I was with my child—think about that, the man followed me home, the place you’re supposed to feel safe. And even then people explain away what happened. People have told me, ‘he thought you were cute’ or ‘he just wanted to get to know you.’ “

Panelists discussed various definitions of rape and consent culture, as well as the responsibility we each need to take to end violence against women.
PDF iconTo find out more about transforming rape culture, click here.

Heather Jarvis, one of the co-founders of SlutWalk, explained that the movement emerged at a time when ordinary women were frustrated by the ways they were being victim-blamed and “slut-shamed”---that is, the ways women were judged because of their sexuality and the way they dressed. 
To find out more about SlutWalk, visit download Heather’s conference slides, click here.

Farrah Khan focused on a recent and troubling discussion on the rights of Muslim women to choose what they wear which arose during the Federal election campaign. In early October, Harper and other prominent conservatives, declared their support for a ban on the Niqab because “that is not how we do things here.” He had previously stated that allowing women to wear the veil during citizenship ceremonies is "contrary to Canadian values"  since veiling is “not transparent . . . is not open and . . . is rooted in a culture that is anti-women."
PDF iconTo find out more about the Niqab debate, see here.

Khan also highlighted the Bill S7: the Zero Tolerance Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Khan pointed out that the Bill is centered on the stereotype that certain cultures are "barbaric" and their women need to be saved. The Bill claims to protect women from violence but serves as another example of an institutional barrier that prevents marginalized communities from reporting violence and accessing the support they need.
PDF iconFor more information about Bill S7, see here.

Naomi Sayers’ discussion focused on the rights of sex workers and their desire for decent pay and working conditions. According to the Legal Status of Women in Alberta, under amendments to the Criminal Code in 1908 and in 1921, anyone could be guilty of an indictable offense in cases where: “being the keeper of the house, tent or wigwam, allows or suffers any unenfranchised Indian woman to remain in such house…with the intention of prostituting herself therein." This colonial rhetoric is reflected in recent legislative changes. Bill C-36, commonly referred to by its title, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act reinforces the very colonial policies enacted decades before.  For more on why we need to de-criminalize sex work, see here.
PDF iconFor more on why we need to de-criminalize sex work, see here. download Naomi’s conference slides click here.

Taking Action

Bill S7:  the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act

We believe that while Bill S-7 claims to protect women from violence, it actually serves as another example of institutional barriers that prevent marginalized communities from reporting violence and having access to the support they need.
PDF iconDownload our letter on Bill S7 here.

De-criminalize Sex Work

We are calling for immediate action to address the realities and concerns of violence in the lives of Indigenous women and girls and the harms brought about by the criminalization of indigenous communities, especially the criminalization of sex work.
PDF iconDownload our letter to the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould here.

Gender Wage Gap

The Provincial Women's Commitee is urging you to tell your story about experiencing gender wage inequality and discrimination in the workplace. Have you worked in a minimum wage, part-time, causal or insecure job? Have you been unemployed or faced job-loss? Perhaps you have worked long hours doing care-giving work or teaching, or work that is otherwise considered “women’s work”? Have you faced wage inequality as a young woman or mother? Maybe you have confronted pay discrimination as a racialized, aboriginal, disabled, older, or LBTTI2Q woman? Take action by telling your story:

Read OPSEU's brief to the Gender Wage Gap Strategy Steering Committee, here.

Conference Resources

Below is a selection of videos that we ran during Conference workshops:

Gender Wage Inequality

Airline Sexism and what used to happen when women turned 32:


One woman discovers the gender wage gap:


Sex Work

The new era of sex work:


Maggie de Vries on the Red Umbrella and the power of the sex worker movement:


Mentoring and Being an Ally

5 Tips on Being an Ally:


Lori Hunt speaks on the power of Mentoring:


Conference Video

FileThe F word - Reclaiming feminism

Conference programs