Universities need to talk about sexual assault

#YesAllWomen Live Rally in Seattle supports victims of violence

Over the past few weeks, most media outlets have been talking about sexual assault.  There have been articles about the women who have recently come forward with allegations against former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, those who have gone to the police, opinion pieces and articles on why women do not report sexual assault to the police.  Social media has also been present in this discussion on an individual level and a global level with the hashtags #BeenRapedNeverReported and #ibelievelucy along with tweets about rape culture, the judicial system and the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi.

The media has been talking about it, social media has been talking about it, coworkers in offices have been talking about it and people in social circles have been talking about it.  It’s time for universities to start talking about it.

On October 30th, in wake of the allegations of sexual assault made by 9 women against Jian Ghomeshi, Macleans posted and article titled “Why don’t Canadian universities want to talk about sexual assault?” (article link under sources). The article discussed how many universities lack policies about sexual assault on campus and services for victims despite women ages 15-24 experiencing the highest rates of sexual assaults in the country.  Universities usually avoid conversations about sexual assault on campus due to a fear of negative publicity that will compromise their ability to raise funds.  Universities do not want to risk losing funding by having a bad reputation but what happens when universities don’t talk about sexual assault?

A Facebook post has recently been circulating social media regarding life in York University’s residence in 1988.  The post describes how women from each residence were brought together so residence staff could warn them about Jian Ghomeshi.  Several women had told their residence advertisers about bad dates where they had been choked or hit.  RA’s gave warnings about going on dates with him, the co-ed washroom and not being in a stairwell with him.

What if there was a proper sexual assault policy in place?  If the allegations were found to be true, he may have been kicked out of school and would not have gone on to hold such a high position of power that victims allege have protected him for all of these years.  Charges may have been filed and if found guilty, he may have not been hired for that position.  If the allegations were true and he was caught, he may have not gone on to allegedly assault 9 other women.  This is not to pick on or point fingers at York University whatsoever.  This is a problem across the board at all post-secondary institutions and I doubt the outcome would have differed if Ghomeshi attended another school.

Universities and colleges need to start talking about sexual assault because Ghomeshi is just one example that happens to be publicly known of alleged perpetrators who graduate with their degree, go on to get jobs consequence free and allegedly continue to assault.  Post secondary schools have an opportunity to stop those who sexually assault and prevent further assaults.  If those who sexually assault knew they would not get away with it and would face consequences academically such as expulsion, they may think twice.  If those who assault face real consequences for their actions early, they may not assault again.  There are no studies that say all perpetrators of sexual assault in university stop assaulting after graduation.

In regards to universities and colleges not wanting to ruin their reputation by talking about sexual assault; what better reputation is there than a safe school?

**note: allegations against Ghomeshi have not been proven in court**


Photo: time.com

White Privilege and the Toronto Municipal Election


On October 10th John Tory told a media scrum that he did not believe white privilege exists.  On October 11th Ward 2 Candidate Munira Abukar found racist messages written on her campaign signs; her face crossed out with the message “go back home”.  Would you like to retract your statement about white privilege now?

The municipal election has brought out the worst of Toronto in the forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  For a city that takes pride in being diverse, our elections tell a different story; they tell the story of Munira Abukar who found her campaign lawn signs vandalized with racism and sexism, Olivia Chow whose team has to delete racist and sexist comments daily from her social media pages and Kristyn Wong-Tam who has been the target of multiple homophobic letters.

If white privilege doesn’t exist, why were only Munira’s signs vandalized in Ward 2?  Why did Olivia have to defend her right to be in this country mid-debate while her white-colleagues just sat there?  Why is Olivia’s speaking skills torn apart while her white colleagues, who are not always the clearest speakers, are never mentioned?  It’s called racism and white privilege.  To say it doesn’t exist is misinformed and offensive.

Since Munira’s signs have been vandalized, she has received numerous threats via campaign e-mail that she will be taking to the police.  Many have reached out to her through Twitter and in person including mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and Morgan Baskin.  Front runners John Tory and Doug Ford were both asked by media to comment on the vandalism of Munira’s signs.  Despite believing that this is not acceptable, their denouncement was followed by claims that it is just a few people who do this.  This attempts to minimize the actions and racism we have seen in the municipal election since it’s only “a few” people who are doing this,

First, even if it was only “a few” people, this does not take away the hurt felt by individuals and communities who these actions are targeting.  Second, if it were only “a few” people, Olivia Chow’s social media sites wouldn’t be constantly monitored for sexist and racist commentary.

What concerns me is the impact this has on individual candidates who are targeted by racist, sexist and homophobic attacks.  Although each candidate continues to move forward and does not quit, these words and actions are hurtful.  What also concerns me is that racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. are not exclusively experienced by municipal candidates.  They are experienced by people across Toronto on a daily basis.

How can a mayor who doesn’t understand white privilege respond to concerns of racialized communities?  How can a mayor who doesn’t understand male privilege respond to concerns of women such as child care?  How can a mayor who doesn’t understand heterosexual and cissexual privilege respond to concerns of the LGBTQ community?  They cannot; without understanding these privileges, any plan to respond to these concerns will be unsuccessful.

Although we are proud of Toronto’s diversity, this municipal election has shown that this source of pride is not felt by our entire city which is a shame.  I think the way to ensure that social issues in our city are addressed is by electing politicians who have a clear understanding of the privilege and oppression that contributes to those issues.


Twitter: @MuniraAbukarM
Photo: oliviachow on Instragram


Problems with the CESAR Health and Dental Plan

A poster on a pillar asks students to vote yes for a part time students dental plan, health plan and opt-out optionAt the outset, it looks great. Health and dental coverage for part-time students. I remember it being discussed, reading reams of emails about the policy and voting for it. However, there are some serious problems with the opt-out policy.

In order to opt-out of the health and dental plan part-time students must prove that they have alternative plans. However, most part-time students are in contract or part time work, therefore not eligible for benefits from their workplaces. This is even true of Ryerson student employees. In fact, a search of the Government of Canada’s website, reveals that more women than men work in part-time positions, regardless of educational achievement.

I am sure that the health and dental plan works for some students, however, female part-time students might be surprised to learn that oral forms of birth control are not covered. A quick google search shows that, “in 2013-14, 54 percent of undergraduate students were female and 46 percent were male. The gender breakdown of students varies significantly by program area”. In many programs within the Faculty of Community Services there are large numbers of female students. I am a female student in the School of Disability Studies which is almost entirely comprised of other female students and is a part time program. Many of these female students work in gendered employment, like health care services, meaning that they are even more likely to be in part-time employment situations. Let’s not forget that women earn less then men in Canada.

Now, I understand that many part-time students probably don’t want to pay higher fees for their health and dental plan. I understand this. I don’t want to either, however, I would rather pay more if it meant the plan actually met my needs. Full time students pay more for their plan, in which oral forms of birth control are covered. My suggestion is this, either let me opt-out without an alternative plan or let me opt-up. By forcing me to purchase a health plan which doesn’t cover my needs (or the needs of many other female students) you are forcing me to pay double. I pay for the plan, and then for my prescriptions. If I was a full time student or a male part-time student this wouldn’t be an issue. Or if I had a non-contract position which allowed me benefits then this wouldn’t be an issue.

The health and dental plan for part-time students is a great idea in theory, in practice it discriminates against female students.

“Let me know when you get home”



Photo Credit: Darina BenAmara

Photo Credit: Darina BenAmara

“Let me know when you get home”.  We hear and say this phrase a lot; as we part ways, before we walk home and when we get on transit.  By “we”, I mean female-identified individuals.  My female friends are the only ones who say this to me and I only say it to my female friends.  For something so often said, it’s a very loaded phrase.

I started thinking about how loaded this phrase is on September 20th, the evening of the 2014 Take Back the Night march.  There were six of us getting together before the march; all female, all feminists, all in social work and all sitting in a circle eating pizza in my apartment.  As we were chatting about placements and school, one of the girls asked about why we were here and going to Take Back the Night.  Long story short, we are really pissed off about gender-based violence.  We talked about walking home alone at night as females and what we really mean when we tell a friend to “let me know when you get home”.

When we say “let me know when you get home”, we aren’t interested in each other’s whereabouts and whether you made a curfew if you have one.  This is about safety.  When we say “let me know when you get home” we are thinking of all the fears we have of walking home alone or taking transit at night.

When we say “let me know when you get home” we really mean let me know a ton of scenarios didn’t happen to you.  Let me know that you weren’t assaulted on your way home and didn’t become the 1 in 3 women who face sexual violence in their lifetime.  Let me know someone didn’t get off at the same bus stop as you and try to follow you home.  Let me know someone didn’t drag you into their car or pull you into an alleyway where no one can see.  Finally, let me know you made it home alive…literally.  This is how loaded that seven word phrase is.

Take Back the Night was amazing, empowering and we celebrated being feminists who took back the night with a beer at the Marquis of Granby after the march.  Despite taking back the night and demanding an end to gender-based violence very loudly, I still told my friend something along the lines of “let me know when you get home”.

During Jackson Katz’s Ted Talk he argued that all of the things we deem as women’s issues such as gender violence, domestic violence and sexual harassment are men’s issues- and he is right.  Women taking back the night is resistance and symbolic; women have done the majority of the work in feminist movements but men are the group that really need to step up if we are going to end gender-based violence.

The night being taken away from women isn’t something that just happened naturally.  It happened because women and trans people are assaulted, sexually assaulted, harassed and stalked.  Rape culture continued to take away the night by blaming women and trans people for their victimization.  Since then we’ve seen plenty of warnings; carry pepper spray, walk home in a group or just stay home at night.  We hear this way more than we hear “don’t assault someone on your way home”.

Even as we yelled through the streets of Toronto that we refuse to stay home and be silent, there was a group of young men on a bar patio who yelled over us “na na na na hey hey hey, goodbye”.  Our yelling doesn’t decrease the 1 in 3 chance, a change in their attitude does.  Although our yelling is necessary, this really is a men’s issue that men need to work on.  Women have done plenty around gender-based violence issues; it’s time for men to do more because women aren’t assaulting, raping and beating ourselves.

Maybe there needs to be a give back the night, representing male solidarity with women and trans people and showing they believe these streets are ours as well, day or night.


Mediations on Aging

depicts a young girl, a middle aged woman and an elderly woman

They streak through the brown waves. Little streams, trickles of silver. Unruly, they spring, wild, untamed. Refusing to be hidden, they revel in their freedom. My age proclaimed by their unrestrained rivulets.

I have celebrated the thirty-fifth anniversary of my birth. I see the streaks of silver, the laugh lines, the aging process reflected in my physical self. Nothing else seems to have changed. Oh, I may have gained more knowledge, more experience, but I my character is no different.

Until recently, I would have argued that I refused to buy into the defined limits and demarkations of aging as a woman. I notice these limits more frequently now and can see myself reflected in their definitions. Society tell us to be good little girls when we are younger, the teenage and early adults years are a confusing mix of the saintly virgin and the desirable whore. Many of us become mothers, ‘the hot mama,’ squatting and sweating our way through baby boot camps. The over arching theme being that we are told to age gracefully. We pluck, shave, and dye our way back to youth; to beauty.

I am tired of being told how to be a woman, how to be feminine, how to age. I am tired of us doing this to ourselves. There is nothing wrong with looking and feeling your best, but why must this ideal come out of a magazine or an ad and not from our own understanding of ourselves? Why must aging become yet another trend that must bend women to its will?

I refuse. The creases by my eyes tell a story. The many times I have laughed till I cried, the times I squinted in concentration learning a new concept, the times I attempted to read a map in my travels, the times I wept. I see my ancestors in the creases. The women who came before, who cried and laughed with me. The women who stroked the hair that would one day become streaked with silver.

I wear the silver in my hair like a badge of honour. The streaks glimmer and shine. Silver is a valuable commodity, is it not?

There is a trend to embrace our inner child. Let us not forget our inner crone. Let’s laugh with the abandonment of children at our streaks of silver, but let us celebrate the lives that created them. I may yet choose to change my appearance, but it will be because I choose, not because I am bullied into hiding my age.

Debunking the myth that soy causes cancer

Soybeans and it's friends

Recently, I spent the afternoon with my newly vegetarian cousin and her husband, and we got to talking about plant-based nutrition. While exchanging recipe ideas, her husband repeatedly expressed his refusal to eat soy because of its speculated cancer-causing components, and it made me want to punch him in the throat.

Years ago, soy was thought to increase the risk of breast and uterine cancers in women. Despite the latest research stating soy has cancer-protecting properties, many people are still adamant about excluding it from their diets.

I love soy. I mow down hard on tofu steaks and tempeh strips, and a peanut-butter-banana-sandwich isn’t complete without a cold glass of vanilla soymilk to wash it down with. For vegetarians and vegans, or for those limiting their meat intake, soy is a great alternative to animal-based foods. Not only is it a comparable source of protein, it’s also a good source of omega-3 fat and fibre.

Another component in soy are isoflavones. These little guys act like estrogen, a hormone produced by the body, and they are the reason behind soy’s bad rep. A number of older, animal-based studies revealed that isoflavones increased the body’s total estrogen level, which upped the risk of cancer. However, those findings have now been proven false. The newest research suggests isoflavones have an inverse relationship with cancer, which means higher levels of isoflavones can actually reduce your risk of developing the disease.

Let’s nerd out on the physiology behind all of this, shall we?

The lowdown on the relationship between your cells, soy, and cancer goes like this: a cell is kind of like a sponge, and it will absorb both the estrogen made by the body and the isoflavones found in soy. When the cell becomes oversaturated with estrogen for a long period of time, it has the potential to become cancerous. However, when the cell absorbs isoflavones, there is less room for it to absorb – and become saturated with – estrogen. It’s believed that when the cell absorbs more isoflavones it’s protected from cancer.

Because I’m a rational person, I held back and didn’t punch my cousin’s hubby in the throat. Instead, I tried to convince him that soy isn’t dangerous and it can safely be included in his – and his wife’s – diet. There are a variety of soy products on the market today, which makes it relatively simple to incorporate into meals and snacks, but not all soy products are created equally.

Soy nuggets, soy burgers, and soy cheese are delicious treats to enjoy at BBQs and on special occasions, but they’re kind of like the junk food of soy products. Janel Funk, a registered dietitian based in Boston, spoke to Today’s Dietitian and summed it up like this: “… a soy nugget is no different than a processed chicken nugget – it just doesn’t contain chicken.” With that in mind, reach for less processed soy foods like soybeans, tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soy beverages.

The next time you hear someone smack-talking soy, don’t punch them in the throat! Instead, unclench your fist and get them up-to-date on the newest research behind the benefits of this magical bean and it’s delicious constituents.

Alcohol consumption and cancer

Alcohol. I love it. And, fellow Ryerson students, I know you love it too. More than ever, drinking has become an integral part of youth culture and a common activity during social gatherings. As the days grow longer and that gloriously hot summer sun beams down on us from a cloudless sky, we are more inclined to crack open a cold one, suck back a mason jar of sangria, or sip on a glass of wine to cool down and relax.

But, like many wonderful things in life, alcohol is not that good for our bodies. In April, Cancer Care Ontario released a new report outlining a correlation between alcohol consumption and cancer, and it mentions that our demographic – those between the ages of 19 and 29 – has the highest prevalence of excessive drinking. The report also reveals that only one-third of Canadians are aware of these links, which is why it is important to raise awareness about it in the Ryerson Community.

Ethanol, the component in all alcohol, is a known human carcinogen and is believed to cause damage to our DNA. It also acts as a solvent that breaks down our cell walls, which allows for other carcinogens to penetrate into them and cause genetic damage. The cancers associated with alcohol consumption include those of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus.

I know what you are thinking, readers: I’ll just switch up my tequila for vodka and I am in the clear. Unfortunately, the CCO report states that is not the type of alcohol that matters, but rather the amount you drink. The latest recommendation on alcohol consumption, established by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Canada Research, reveals there is “no established ‘safe limit’” to prevent an increased risk of cancer.

WHAT?! NO SAFE LIMIT?! I know, right? I kinda died too.

Seeing as the summer pretty much equates to a frosted mug of beer, this is not a feasible recommendation for the majority of people. But fret not, my beloved patio-goers and Bellwoods dwellers, there are secondary recommendations you can follow that let you enjoy your tall cans in the safest way possible. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend females 19+ consume no more than 10 drinks per week (1-2 drinks per day), and males of the same age demographic stick to 15 drinks per week (2-3 drinks per day).

But, there’s a catch – we have to be mindful of what a standard drink means. A 12 oz. bottle of beer (5% alcohol) is 341mL; 1.5oz. of hard booze (40% alcohol) measures 43mL; and 5 oz. (142mL) is one glass of wine (12% alcohol).

As well, the aforementioned guidelines also encourage us to plan non-drinking days throughout the week to avoid developing a habit.

As young folks, we rarely think of the future of our health because we focus enjoying the moment. But it is the habits we acquire in our younger years that impact our later years. Cancer can take decades to form before it shows itself. This means that a cancer diagnosis in midlife may have been the result of various habits in our younger years.

I am not telling you to stop drinking, but rather I am spreading the good word and empowering you to make a healthy choice. Have a few drinks, enjoy those drinks and have fun with friends, but know your limit, adhere to the guidelines as much as possible, and be safe.


Self Care for a Feminist

self care

This is the hardest blog post I have had to write since I began writing for the Faculty of Community Services Student Life Blog back in September.  I write this post 9 hours before my deadline, the latest I have ever left these weekly posts.  This isn’t writer’s block; I usually have 2 or 3 ideas I debate writing on each week.  I have so much I want to write, comment on and argue but I can’t.

If you have followed my posts over the past 9 months, you’ve likely realized I’m a feminist.
I’ve written about missing and murdered Aboriginal women, #BringBackOurGirls, Men’s Rights Activists, consent, sexual assault in my neighbourhood, misogyny, body image, media representations of sexual assault, the UN Women Campaign, human trafficking and Take Back the Night.  I write this blog post on the evening of March 26th, a day following the massacre in Santa Barbara in which a young man took several lives based on a misogynistic view of women and the world.  Based on past topics I’ve written on, you would think I would naturally write about this but I can’t today.

I have spent all day reading news reports from media, personal blog posts and the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter which is a response to the shootings.  I am so appreciative of every woman who shared her experiences and every man who lent their voice to the conversation in supportive ways but reading all of this is emotionally draining.

I’m so angry about the shootings and what women shared within the hashtag today.  It was frustrating to read about women’s experiences in a society that perpetuates rape culture.  It was also upsetting when I realized I had experienced a lot of these same things as I move through the world as a female identified individual.  What’s even more frustrating is the number of people arguing with the women who posted, discrediting their experiences and showing their support for the shooter.

My one contribution beyond retweeting was “#YesAllWomen have two routes home: one for day and one for night” referring to the common experience of women having to take alterative routes home after the sun goes down due to safety concerns.  The response I received was a male individual saying “And, I had two routes home when I worked”, completely missing the point.  I’m too tired to argue with hi

Being a feminist or involved with any type of social justice work is rewarding but can also be very draining and frustrating.  I firmly believe that anger isn’t a bad thing.  If you are angry, it means you’re acknowledging something is wrong in this world which could potentially lead to action, which is what we need.  The reason I write all of these feminist blogs is because I am angry about the misogynistic world we live in that is based in patriarchy and rape culture.  Being emotionally drained on the other hand isn’t a good thing.

This is where self care comes in.  At this moment, I am in desperate need of some.  Self care for a feminist isn’t quitting, it’s taking care of yourself so you can continue to be a feminist and challenge what is wrong in the world.  My feminist self care is going to be getting off Twitter, taking a break from following #YesAllWomen, reading a book that isn’t social justice related, watching a movie that is not a documentary and maybe a bowl of ice cream followed by a long nap.

This is not defeat, after my self care I will continue to be the “liberal, pro-choice, outspoken feminist that you were warned about”.

Image from blogs.psychcentral.com

Why I Am Rising


On April 28th, I took part in One Billion Rising Toronto.  OBR is a global grassroots movement that demands an end to violence against women and girls.  The event is based around dancing, as dancing insists we take up space in a world where women and girls face disproportionate amounts of violence.  Last year I was a volunteer for the event and this year I was a committee member.  One part of the event is writing why you, as an individual, are rising.  We write why we are rising on papers and hold them or pin them to our clothing.  There is an emphasis that everyone is rising for different reasons.  It was really hard to choose just one reason to write on the paper so I decided to write them all down.  This is why I am rising…

I am rising for the 1 in 3 women who will be assaulted in their lifetime, whether it is by strangers, intimate partners or family members.  I am rising for those who do not report because they fear no one will believe them or fear for their safety.  I am rising for those who do report and are re-victimized by the criminal justice system.  I am rising for sex workers who are unable to report assaults because of Canada’s current prostitution laws.  I am rising for those who are assaulted in the military and lowered in rank for reporting.

I am rising for transgender women who face disproportionate amounts of violence from individuals, groups and the state.  I am rising for the homeless woman who was assaulted twice on the brightly lit corner of Dundas and Sherbourne last September.  I am rising for the Queen’s University student who was attacked outside her home allegedly for opposing Men’s Rights Awareness groups on campus.  I am rising for the women who have been arrested and interrogated in Iran for being part of the women’s rights movement.

I am rising for the women and girls who are subject to traffickers at Bloor Station during their commute home.  I am rising for those who are trafficked in Canada and around the world.  I am rising for the over 800 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and those who continuously battle our government for an inquiry and decolonization.  I am rising for those who have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.  I am rising for those who are subjected to structural violence.

I am rising because the rape and sexual assault of young girls is still commonly referred to as “underage sex”.  I am rising because rape culture still exists.  I am rising because people still question why we need International Women’s Day.

I am rising for the daughter I may someday have.  I want her to grow up in a world where she won’t have to rise because there will not longer be violence against women and girls.

Why are you rising?




Over the past few days, you may have seen an increase in media coverage on the girls who were kidnapped by an extremist group in Nigeria.  What may surprise you is that the girls were kidnapped on April 14th and the media is only starting to cover the story now due to public demand.  On April 14th, over 300 girls were kidnapped from a school in Nigeria.  The perpetrators of the mass abduction are believed to be an extremist group that believes girls should not be educated.  Those who have escaped have reported that the girls are being sold off as brides to members of the extremist group.  This is clearly a crime and violation of human rights.

So why haven’t these girls been found?  They are still in Nigeria, they are believed to be in the forest and over 50 girls have successfully escaped.  The girls remain missing due to voluntary human inaction.  The world has chosen to do nothing about it.  The only reason there is any media coverage is due to protests around the world and promoting the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which was created to gain awareness and demand action.  The President of Nigeria finally spoke in public about the missing girls, three weeks after their disappearance.

Over a month after the missing flight MH370 vanished from radar, the international hunt is still on.  It has been presumed that the plane went into the water and there were no survivors.  Why is there an international hunt for a plane in the water but not for 300 missing girls?  Girls who we know are alive and suffering horrible abuses.  I do not mean to sound insensitive, I do think it’s important to find the missing plane as I believe it will give those who lost love ones closure, but why are the same resources not offered to find these girls?

I believe intersecting racism and sexism may play a role in why resources have not been allocated and why the media has taken so long to report on the story but I will save that discussion for another day.  In the meantime, the most important thing is to bring these girls home to their families.  It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls.

There is currently a petition circulating demanding that the Nigerian government and the international community rescue these girls immediately.  Please sign and declare your solidarity with these girls.

Sources Used:
Photo from: http://www.msnbc.com/topics/africa