By Mohini Athia

For many, feminism is a dirty word. Stereotypes abound about who and what feminists are: angry, destructive, divisive, irrelevant – no longer important for our post-feminist age. Not so at COPA, and not so for me. I believe in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes and that’s what feminism means to me and to millions (dare I say billions) of us in Canada and around the world. Even those, as Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, who don’t know the word, but believe in it and breathe it.

Social expectations, beliefs and attitudes due to my being born in a female body means that I was born a feminist and will spend my life advocating for women and girls’ rights.

And, I would add - we all need to be feminists. How else to imagine and create a better world, a fairer world, a more just world for women and girls? How else to begin valuing all things female and feminine as much as we value the male equivalent? Not simply as ‘humanists’, as Adichie says in her Tedx talk, but as feminists. To deny that feminism is important is to cloud the very real problem of sexism and to deny ‘the specific and particular problem of gender.

We only have to think about the high rates of sexual abuse and harassment reported by middle and secondary school girls in Ontario to realize that sexism is alive and well in young peoples’ lives. How can we ignore the high rates of sexual exploitation of vulnerable groups in our midst:  immigrant women, Indigenous women, girls with physical and intellectual handicaps, mental illness, and still deny the need for all of us to become feminists and advocates?

If feminism is irrelevant, how do we explain why women and girls still police each other around size, body shape, appearances and behaviour, perceiving each each other as competition often for the attention and affection of men, instead of as allies, companions, mentors and friends? Why do women and girls still undervalue their accomplishments and have lower rates of confidence, given their increased (and much-feared!) success in schools? These are examples of internalized sexism – sexist ideas and beliefs about ourselves that we as women and girls are not immune to. 

As Adichie tells the world, “I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be.”

I know I deserve this too.  Since birth and now, I will celebrate my identity as a feminist and my commitment to feminism–until each and every one of us is truly safe, strong and free.