By Leah Kelley
The Women’s World Conference 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, July 3-7, hosted close to 2000 delegates from 92 different countries around the world. This was the 30th anniversary of the first Women’s Worlds conference and the biggest feminist gathering Canada has ever hosted. English, French and Spanish were the three official languages of the conference. Although norms and practices from western, North American, culture dominated the organizational structure and atmosphere of the conference, an effort was made to address Aboriginal and indigenous women’s issues and follow some of their traditions and practices. We were congregating on Algonquin land and special attention was made to bless the land and thank the Algonquin peoples throughout the conference. A welcoming ceremony for indigenous delegates was held at the start of the conference and plenary speakers were thanked with hand painted drums by Métis artist, Jamie Koebel.
The conference paid special attention to diversity in other aspects as well. Hosts ensured accessibility was considered in all aspects of planning and logistics so that women with “disAbilities”/ all abilities could participate. As a woman, less than 26 years of age, I was invited to attend a youth breakfast and to spend some time in an intergenerational drop in space. As the week progressed, some delegates organized a grassroots queer and trans lunch that occurred within the conference as an opportunity for queer and trans identified individuals to connect and network with each other.
Falling into some of those categories of diversity myself, it was an incredibly powerful and inspirational experience to connect with others that face similar issues. Being a young feminist and activist interested in making social change, I continually have to fight the stereotype that youth are apathetic and not interested in fighting for social justice. The dominant image is that youth are uneducated or unknowledgeable about current social issues, facts and statistics. Having the opportunity to attend the youth breakfast and intergenerational drop in space, in order to connect with other young activists, reminded me that we, as youth, have an important job and together we have a stronger voice.
Throughout the week I attended plenary sessions, panels, workshops and arts and culture events. From morning until night I was engaged with new information, new ideas, innovation and new contacts from around the world. The most powerful speakers immersed us with information on the necessity of changing societal structures to ensure that we create societies where all have equal access to resources and opportunities. I left Women’s Worlds 2011 with a backpack full of ideas and information, but also with a renewed inspiration and drive to work towards gender equality and engage others in the process.