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SAWCC’s statement on Bill 21

Below is the South Asian Women’s Community Centre’s statement on the Quebec bill, Bill 21. This statement will also be permanently published on our Mission and History page, under Statements.

(english follows)

DÉCLARATION D’OPPOSITION DU CCFSA AU PROJET DE LOI 21

Le Centre communautaire des femmes sud-asiatiques se déclare contre le projet de loi 21 du Québec, la Loi sur
la laïcité de l’État, et demande au gouvernement québécois de le retirer. Loin de favoriser la neutralité, la laïcité
et l’égalité entre les sexes comme il l’affirme, ce projet de loi est discriminatoire et source de divisions. Il vise
injustement les musulmanes qui portent le hijab et impose leur exclusion du marché du travail. Le plus
préoccupant est que cette interdiction proposée s’applique aux enseignantes du secteur public, secteur où l’on
retrouve une plus grande représentation de femmes de minorités visibles, incluant les musulmanes portant le
hijab. Au lieu d’enlever le pouvoir à ces femmes, l’État devrait se concentrer à instaurer l’égalité de l’accès à
l’emploi des femmes vulnérables d’origines diverses. Si le gouvernement veut réellement promouvoir la laïcité,
la neutralité et l’égalité des sexes, il devrait plutôt s’attacher à éliminer le racisme systématique des
établissements publics. En outre, dans un contexte où l’islamophobie ne fait qu’augmenter et de plus en plus
d’attaques contre les musulmans et autres minorités surviennent, le projet de loi ne fera qu’aggraver les attitudes
d’exclusion et de racisme qui marquent l’altérité des minorités religieuses. Un État véritablement laïc et neutre
devrait promouvoir les valeurs constitutionnelles de respect des droits des minorités, d’égalité des citoyens et
d’acceptation de la différence au lieu de créer des divisions sociales.

SAWCC STATEMENT IN OPPOSITION OF BILL 21

The South Asian Women’s Community Centre expresses its opposition to Quebec’s Bill 21, An Act Respecting
the Laicity of the Stateand calls on the Quebec government to withdraw this Bill. The Bill is discriminatory and
divisive and does not further either state neutrality, secularism or equality between genders as it claims. The Bill
unfairly targets Muslim women who wear the Hijab and mandates their exclusion from the workforce. What is
particularly concerning about this proposed prohibition is the fact that it applies to teachers in the public sector,
a sector in which there is a greater representation of visible minority women including Muslim women who
wear the Hijab. Rather than disempowering such women the State should focus on creating equal access for
vulnerable women from a diversity of backgrounds in the workforce. If the government truly wants to
demonstrate its secularism, neutrality and commitment to gender equality it should focus instead on eliminating
systemic racism in public institutions. Further, in a context of rising Islamophobia and racist attacks against
Muslims and other minorities, the Bill will only serve to further a racist, exclusionary agenda based on othering
religious minorities. True secularism and neutrality of the state should further constitutional values of respect
for minority rights, equal citizenship and the acceptance of difference, rather than create social divisions.


Congratulations Astha!

We would like to forward our sincere congratulations to Astha Agarwal for being accepted into the PHD program at University of California Berkeley for School Psychology! Astha has been a member of the South Asian Youth Collective since 2015, and has remained active in our projects and causes.

I have had the opportunity to see Astha complete her undergrad degree, master’s and more recently the application process for the PhD programs at prestigious universities in the United States. I cannot be more proud for such a strong woman of colour to take up space in these institutions, and continue to create social impact in her communities. I have no doubt the incredible work she will do through working with children and youth, and look forward to more milestones by such a powerful woman!

– Harleen xoxo


Unravelling in Rhymes kicks off for 2019!

After being on hiatus for over a year, we successfully re-launched our Unravelling in Rhymes poetry and creative writing workshop series on January 26th! 

A group of 14 participants gathered at The Open Centre to partake in an afternoon of writing and sharing , while being open to vulnerability and fostering courage in sharing and writing about our truths. 

We had the absolutely pleasure and honour of inviting Moe Clark as our guest poet facilitator for the afternoon. Moe is a Métis multidisciplinary artist and a nomadic songbird with wings woven from circle singing and spoken word. Originally from Treaty 7, she’s called tio’tia:ke (Montreal) home for over a decade. Moe fuses together vocal improvisation with multilingual lyricism to create meaning that is rooted in personal legacy and ancestral memory. Apart from performance, she facilitates creative workshops in various contexts; she produces festivals and performances; and she mentors emerging artists. 

Moe Clark also loves the looping pedal, and so our first Unravelling in Rhymes workshop involved creating soundscapes and recording spoken poetry as a group. We also spent time free-writing in response to reflections on natural elements of our earth, land and climate. 

We are grateful for such a lovely afternoon of warmth, tea and fruits, sunshine, and writing our truths and vulnerabilities in a shared space of love and creativity. 

Stay tuned for the next workshop in April, 2019! Workshops are part of the Youth Program and South Asian Collective initiatives, and take place once every season, and are open to women, non-binary, gender-fluid, 2 Spirit and gender non-conforming  people of colour between the ages 17 and 30 years old. 

Workshops are generally provided in collaboration with Vallum Magazine, one of Canada’s top poetry journals encouraging dialogue between Quebec and the rest of Canada through the exchange of ideas and writing with acclaimed and emerging artists in Canada and internationally. 

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Full Moon Fling photos at Mont Tremblant

A new year’s message from Harleen

The end or beginning of a new year is a great time for a reflection. Often this reflection involves new resolutions or re-evaluating goals, whether short-term or long-term. I myself love to take this opportunity to decide to try something new that is outside my comfort zone.

I often do these activities with my high school girls as well, whether it’s a fun little activity about resolutions or setting some goals for the new year. But this year I decided to take another approach. I’ve been reflecting a lot about how we view the new year and why there is such a focus on making resolutions, and I wonder if we’re getting caught up in this constant self-improvement or productivity cycle, or trying to fit an ideal and changing that ideal constantly so it’s never “me”.

As someone who has struggled with mental health, chronic pain and chronic illness all my life, some years it was absolutely just plain triggering to think about goals or resolutions.

So just for a change, I did an activity with my girls last week where I asked them to list three things about themselves that they are grateful for or three things that they are proud that they accomplished this year, or a combination of these.

Although my girls understood the concept and got their pens ready, it took a really long time for any girls to write anything down. A few girls started writing after a few minutes, but the majority of girls really struggled to write even one single thing down. When I asked them about their hesitations they said that it was really difficult, and they just needed more time to think. Or that there’s just too much negative self-talk that they really couldn’t think of anything. One girl said “honestly I have never thought about things this way”.

My challenge for you is to reflect on this idea of constant self-improvement and maybe take some time to be grateful for yourself and for everything that you’re able to do every single day. To be proud of your body, for everything that it has gone through this year. For making it here.

I am so glad I did this activity with my girls. We ended by sharing the sentiment that we are all proud of each other for making it until the end of 2018, and that we will be there for each other collectively for the challenges next year.

I forward the same sentiments to you. 

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Stories of Courage and Survival

On Saturday, October 27th, a group of people of colour gathered at our centre to share with each other stories of power, resistance and courage during different moments/periods in history. Participants brought with them a profile of a woman, or a story, poem or and/or photograph with them to share with the group. In the presence of others, and of course with chai and sweets, the afternoon was a lovely, intimate gathering to discuss stories of courageous women in history.

The event served the purpose we were hoping it would serve; to bring to light those stories of power that are often hidden (due to colonialism and erasure of queer POC history). It was also empowering to hear about defiance and resistance on behalf of women who were up against such powerful regimes, systems, and oppressions. As much as no one person has any burden to serve as a source of empowerment for an entire group of people, reading these profiles definitely gave us a sense of courage and power in our own actions. The feeling that we are not alone in this harsh political climate, and that there are generations of people that have come before us to advance the causes of social justice. The courage and hope that we can and will continue fighting for them. For us. And for the future. 

A huge thank you to everyone who came and shared space in such a beautiful way. 

– Harleen

Below are a few of the profiles that were shared during our event. These summaries were written by some of the participants, and are very brief. Therefore we encourage you to further read into the history of these chosen profiles:

Asma Jahangir (1952-2018)

Asma Jahangir was a Pakistani human rights lawyer and activist who founded the Women Action Forum, a free legal aid center and co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She was a force of resistance and one of the very few people who stood up against the most powerful dictators and bureaucrats of the country to fight for justice. When the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, introduced discriminatory laws against women and minorities in 1980s, Jahangir publically challenged his agenda and opposed his rule and laws. She fought for democracy throughout her life. She was an advocate for women rights and a voice for marginalized communities and minorities. She was jailed, attacked and abused throughout her life yet she continued to raise her voice and defended human rights.

Begum Rokeya (1880-1932)

Rokeya Khatun. commonly known as Begum Rokeya, was a Bengali social activist, writer, and Muslim feminist during the time of British rule over the Indian subcontinent. She wrote many novels, poems, short stories and essays that advocated for gender equality between men and women.  She was a firm believer in the right and impacts of education for young girls and women. She set up her own school for girls in Calcutta despite harsh criticism, and went from house to house to persuade parents of the benefits of sending their girls to her school. She even arranged for horse-drawn carriages to pick up and drop off the girls from their home. She ran the school until her death in 1932. Begum Rokeya’s writings called upon women to protest against injustices and break the social barriers that discriminated against them. One of her works is called Sultana’s Dream, where the gender roles are completely reversed in order to show the unjust treatment under gender inequality.  

Anna Mae Aquash (1945-1975) 

Anna Mae Aquash was born in 1945 in a small village in Nova Scotia. She was an activist for Indigenous rights. She faced racism in early life, especially during the period when she attended school of her reserve. Through this harsh treatment, she continued to value her traditions and history, and began to partake in learning about the Micmac traditions. She volunteered for the Boston Indian Council, helping urban Indigenous people deal with addictions and unemployment. By the early 1970s, Anna Mae was a follower of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a protest group asserting Indigenous rights in the United States. Aquash participated in AIM’s Trail of Broken Treaties march on Washington DC, which culminated in AIM’s occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building. In 1973 she joined the occupation of the village of Wounded Knee, a historical symbol for Indigenous Peoples as the site of the massacre of the Sioux by the US Cavalry in 1890. On February 24th, 1976, she was murdered and her body was discovered in South Dakota.

Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)

Marsha P. Johnson was an Black trans woman who was an activist, drag queen, sex worker, and advocate for trans and queer people of colour. Johnson was a key figure during the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. Following the events at Stonewall, Johnson joined the Gay Liberation Front with friend Sylvia Rivera, with a mission to to improve the material conditions for LGBTQ citizens. In June of 1970, the first of the GLF marches took place in New York City. These marches, ones that Rivera and Johnson had hands in organizing, would develop exponentially and become what we now call “Pride”. That same year, Johnson and Rivera formed the Street Transvestite (now Transgender) Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a community organization that provided services to homeless LGBTQ youth. Johnson also became an outspoken activist with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and protested on Wall Street against the inaccessibility of new HIV/AIDS medication.

Rani of Jhansi (1828-1848)

Lakshmibai, or Rani of Jhansi (Queen of Jhansi) was the queen of the Indian state of Jhansi in North India and was a key leading figure of Indian Rebellion against British rule. Since childhood she studied and showed interest in horseback riding, fencing and shooting. In 1842 she was married to the King of Jhansi, and in 1853 she and the King adopted a boy. One day later, the king died, but not before issuing a letter that Jhansi should go to his widow upon his death, until his adopted son can take the throne. Although this letter was given in the presence of British officials, the British were keen on claiming the territory of Jhanshi under their rule, and therefore did not accept the terms of the letter. However, they did allow Lakshmibai to continue to control Jhansi until they can arrange to take over the rule. During this time, Lakshmibai assembled a small army, but support was difficult to gain among the people. She fought against the British troops in a “Do or Die” battle for freedom. Lakshmibai wanted independance. However, she lost control over her fort against the better trained and equipped British troops. Lakshmibai, after further strengthening her army, then went on to conquer fort of Gwalior, even against the tremendous strength of the enemies.  A few days later the British army attacked again and Lakshmibai had to flee. She had her adopted son tied to her back, a sword in each hand and the reins of the horse in her mouth. Lakshmibai suffered fatal wounds, but she still managed to ride her horse to a secluded place. Upon her escape, she handed her son to a trusted general and shortly died. The British general who had been sent to battle against her army described her as “the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders”. 

rani

New logo, same spirit

We are so happy to announce that our new logo has been finalized and officially launched! We extend our most sincere thanks to Niti Marcelle Mueth for putting so much heart and soul into the new design. Niti’s interpretation shows us that she took the time to understand our relationship to our centre, which is not only a centre but a place for empowerment and self-determination, community and joy. We are proud to have a young artist of colour as part of our community.

Thank you for giving SAWCC a new face, as we continue to advocate in our communities and gaze into a hopeful future.

Want to know more about the artist? Visit Niti’s website: https://nitimueth.com/ 


DELIRIUM: MAY 21st, 4 – 6 PM

Our youth program prepares for our annual poetry and art showcase, this year called Delirium!

The youth program students from Laurenhill Academy have been preparing for this showcase since October! This year, the event will showcase not only original spoken word poetry, but also photography and art created from the girls across all our high school girls programming. It will also feature an open-mic, where people from the public are welcome to sign up and perform poetry, music, etc.!

The theme of the event is Delirium. A word that is not without weight, with implications in mental health, perspective, and art. 

This event is open to the public! Details are as follows:

Location: Insiders Anti-Cafe Local (2067 Crescent St., #205)

Time: 4 – 6 PM (doors and sign-up for open-mic at 4:00, show at 4:30)

Stairs access only.

Entry cost: $7.50, and will cover the cost of beverages (coffee, tea, juice, etc.), and vegan and non-vegan snacks (muffins, cakes, cookies, chips).

If lack of funds is a barrier to accessing the event, please contact sawccyouth@gmail.com for a subsidy.

Background
The IMPACT girls club runs in three high schools in Montreal, through the South Asian Women’s Community Centre. The Laurenhill Academy IMPACT girls club is an all-girls groups of artists, made up of young women ages 13-18 years old. The group meets at least once a week during the school year in order to create a space of support, write creatively, and fight for the anti-racist feminist queer positive cause. 

This is the second edition of their annual poetry and art showcase. 

For the past school year, the girls have been preparing original spoken word pieces, original art and photography, as well as putting together a short zine called Delirium, which will feature their poetry and art. Copies of the zine will be available for purchase, and all funds will go directly to the artists who contributed.

Open-Mic Sign-Up
If you are interested in performing during the open-mic component of the show, you are welcome to e-mail sawccyouth@gmail.com or sign up on the day of the event at 4 PM. This portion of the afternoon gives people the chance to share their art (not limited to poetry), experiment with performing, or perform a piece by an artist they admire. Performers have 7 minutes and can perform spoken word, music, singing, showcase their art, or anything else they please!

Content that is sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, ableist etc. or contains any other oppressive language or behaviour will not be tolerated. Performers will also be asked to issue content warnings before their performances if relevant to their poem. 

Interested in getting involved?
We are in need of volunteers to help before the event (promotion, postering, etc.) as well as the day of the event (set-up and take down). We are also relying on the community to come out and support our young artists and poets, and create a lively, welcoming atmosphere that will encourage genuine connection and magical vibes!


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Written by Harleen Bhogal – Youth Programs Coordinator (sawccyouth@gmail.com)