In celebration of International Women’s Day, Western News asked some of Western’s women leaders and professionals to reflect on what women’s equity and women’s rights mean for them and for their work.
From space and science to social work and Indigenous knowledge, these women are carving a path and paving the way for women to break down barriers and #BreakTheBias.
Equity means counting the voices of women by creating an enabling atmosphere of support and respect for their empowerment. To me, it is the removal of limitations to women participation in developmental goals, which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a researcher from an underrepresented group in science, I not only strive to create a path but also give opportunities for succeeding generations to follow suit without feeling inferior. Rather than dispense with women based on gender, bigger doors should be opened for all to come in. Together we can birth a new world that will #BreakTheBias.
— Olamide Adebiyi, BrainsCAN fellow
Women’s equity means that I’m super grateful for the chance to be in a department with many amazing women colleagues and students, in a field where women are still very much the minority. It also means knowing that we have a long way to go before there is equity for everyone in physics and astronomy, and that I hope that we are on the right path to get there.
— Pauline Barmby, physics and astronomy professor, Faculty of Science
Aazhwagamigoon translates to the space between two lodges. As an Indigenous woman working in the university, I travel between two worlds and two ways of seeing. One lodge represents the Anishinaabeg traditions I carry, and the other lodge embodies the Euro-Canadian worldview of my workplace. For me, equity in my work means being able to meet these two systems of knowledge in the middle around a sacred fire that represents both mutuality and respect. Under that sacred fire is the miikana-bimaadizi or the road of life, which I walk as an Anishinaabeg woman. Equity, as the fire, lights my path, provides a safe space to be myself, and carries with it the knowledge of mutual respect.
— Renee E. Mazinegiizhigookwe Bedard, professor, Faculty of Education
Women’s equity work means actively working towards removing barriers to access and success for women and non-binary individuals. This means taking a critical look at how we do our work and what we say we value versus what our actions are saying. Finding ways to hear the voices of others and lifting them up is incredibly important to women’s equity work, especially when the voices of women have been historically suppressed.
To me, women’s equity means that I can stop processing so many professional interactions through a gender lens. The energy of factoring in the additional challenges and figuring out how to work around them could be much better spent on solving research problems or mentoring students. I would rather see the next generation be free from this labour than continue to pass along the tips and tricks for navigating the current system that I’ve accumulated over my career, so far.
— Dr. Sarah Gallagher, director, Institute of Earth and Space Exploration, and science advisor to the president of the Canadian Space Agency
Women’s equity means entering a meeting, seeing represented faces and then being asked for a response to an issue; making a response, and hearing a pause that suggests it was heard. Listening to conversations, hearing your words come from someone else, and noticing a pause to make space for whose idea they are sharing. Being uncomfortable in the unfamiliar and doing things differently because we all will benefit.
— Terry McQuaid, director, wellness and well-being
I have brought a passion for inclusivity to all of my roles at various institutions. Diversity in academia enriches the educational experience, encourages creative thinking, and promotes the full inclusion of excellence across the spectrum. The onus is on us to create an inclusive environment that allows curiosity and creativity to thrive as they drive research and innovation — and allow us to have impact on society.
University leaders must champion inclusivity and model behaviours. I am committed to working with others to develop the infrastructure, resources, processes, policies and frameworks that support this work. And trust me, this is work!
— Lesley Rigg, vice-president (research)
When I interact with my colleagues in a workplace that values equity, it gives me a sense of belonging and allows me to thrive and fully participate to the best of my abilities. Prominently showcasing the contributions of women, particularly in STEM areas, will inspire our next generation of young girls to pursue greater opportunities. Women’s equity for me means equal recognition for equal work, and having our work valued and not taken for granted. There is still more to be done to achieve this and it is of benefit to the entire society to have women participate fully.
— Jayshri Sabarinathan, electrical and computer engineering professor, Faculty of Engineering
For women, especially racialized women, those with disabilities, and those living in poverty, to achieve equality in key outcomes – from equal pay to opportunities in leadership, to fairness in caregiving work – they must be safe. In my research, this means addressing the multiple and overlapping forms of violence that women experience every day: at home, in public and at work. These include physical, emotional and sexual violence, stalking, harassment, cat-calling and, for the groups above, overlapping forms of discrimination. Rights are not a zero-sum game: ensuring that all woman-identifying people have their rights to safety and choice protected is better for everyone, leading to maximum participation and success in our communities, and society.
— Nadine Wathen, professor and Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-Based Violence