For the last four years, Women’s March Ottawa has hosted an annual march in downtown Ottawa for women’s rights and gender equity. The march brings thousands of people together to celebrate progress and acknowledge the work still needed to achieve social, political, and economic equality across the gender spectrum.
This year, faced with the impossibility of holding an in-person march, the volunteer-run organization, which is completely independent from Women’s March U.S. and Women’s March Global, decided to take on a completely new format. From May 1 to May 8, Women’s March Ottawa is offering online programming presenting a variety of events, from panel discussions and conversations to an art and community care workshop and a trivia night.
“I think a lot of people find that gathering for a march can be really empowering and really exciting, but it’s not necessarily an opportunity to learn and grow,” says Chloe Halpenny (she/her), the Co-Chair of Women’s March Ottawa. “That’s what we’re hoping to move toward this year, building that knowledge and bringing in experts and people with lived experience.”
Halpenny joined Women’s March Ottawa a year and a half ago, upon returning to the city after completing graduate studies in the United Kingdom. She was keen to use her background in gender studies to help improve the focus of the organization.
“Women’s marches have understandably been on the receiving end of criticism around not being the most inclusive, and not necessarily being the most impactful, so I was looking forward to meeting people and getting involved, but also curious to explore how we could do better,” she says.
Halpenny was delighted when her drive to help the organization improve was met with enthusiasm. She found a community of like-minded people keen to continue learning and doing better. Women’s March Ottawa now takes inclusivity more seriously than ever, identifying itself as a community grounded in the values of intersectional feminism, and committed to challenging all forms of systemic discrimination, bias, and oppression. It fiercely champions the inclusion of all women into its movement, including women of colour, Indigenous women, working-class and low-income women, women of all ages, newcomer women, women with disabilities, women of diverse religious backgrounds, and LGBTQ2S+ women.
This pursuit of equity for all is reflected in Women’s March Ottawa’s 2021 online programming, which explores a number of issues Halpenny says have not always been given enough space in feminist movements. She hopes that by focusing on topics like sex worker justice, food security, Black experiences, and trans inclusivity, Women’s March Ottawa can grow into a more intersectional movement.
“I think it’s really exciting to be moving away from the pussy hats, and moving towards something along these lines,” Halpenny says. “At the end of it we’re hoping that more people will be thinking seriously and feel a little bit more aware of or comfortable thinking through some of these issues, and more confident about including these issues in what they consider to be their feminism.”
Upcoming program highlights
On May 6 at 7pm, Irene Compton (co-founder of Minwaashin Lodge, and first-generation survivor of the residential school system), Celine Debassige (Ojibwe & Dene activist, feminist, and socialist);,and Gabrielle Fayant (co-founder and co-CEO of Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G)) will engage in a panel discussion on Community activism of Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people.
On May 7 at 6pm, participants will be invited to tune in for a virtual screening of Hands On: Women, Climate, Change, a documentary following the lives and work of five women climate activists across four continents, followed by a Q&A with Liz Miller, a documentary-maker, Concordia University professor, and one of the film’s five directors. The discussion will be followed by a virtual drag and burlesque DJ party starting at 7:30pm, hosted by DJRoxysunset and a jam-packed lineup of performers.
Finally, on May 8, participants are encouraged to grab their mask, hand sanitizer, and homemade feminist sign and (pursuant to public health guidelines) to go for a mini women’s march in their own neighbourhoods. The organization will close its programming with a keynote speech at 1pm by Gina Wilson, an Algonquin woman and senior federal public servant, about her reflections on feminism, her career journey, and a just recovery from COVID-19.
Women’s March Ottawa’s 2021 programming is being held online via Zoom until May 8. For a full schedule, and to register for sessions, visit the 2021 Program calendar.