Activist Kim Katrin Milan inspires students to overcome gender inequalities

By Anna Sophia Vollmerhausen

The Carleton University Womyn’s Centre hosted its first ever Fem(me) Frosh week over the course of Sept. 21-26.

The week kicked off with a meet and greet where students could connect with other feminist students on campus. Other events included workshops on anti-oppression and safe sex, as well as free entry to a Carleton Ravens women’s soccer game. Participants were also invited to take part in the annual Take Back the Night march, where marchers came together to assert a woman’s right to walk on the streets without fear of harassment or violence.

The keynote speaker for the week featured award-winning artist, educator and writer Kim Katrin Milan, who spoke about the different ways in which women’s leadership is often disregarded.

“[Milan] is doing a lot of community-based stuff, and so I let students know that this is someone who is a prime example of non-atypical activism and someone who can inspire you to follow whatever your path is,” said Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, the programming co-ordinator for the Womyn’s Centre.

In her talk, Milan emphasized that gender inequalities, along with the presence of various structures of oppression, contribute to a society in which women are discouraged from being leaders.

“These sorts of structures and institutions, and the ways that these policies happen, prevent women from being able to actualize their leadership,” she said. “And [they] prevent us from being able to be in these places, if the ways we look and the ways that we’re acting are constantly being policed.”

Milan added, “One of the ways this ends up happening is the achievements of women end up being eclipsed – that we don’t get to end up hearing about the amazing ways that women are doing incredible things around the world.”

To illustrate this point, Milan used the example of Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War.

“Part of the problem is that leadership has become synonymous with a very particular kind of gender,” she said. “If you look up feminine [online], one of the synonyms for feminine is weakness. Literally in the language we are defined as being less valuable and less able.”

She also spoke about the importance of finding your passion, and of using it to help make the world a better place despite these challenges.

“Allow yourself to be guided from that place inside of you that tells you when something is not just,” Milan said.

“I really want you to feel like you absolutely do transform the way these systems impact us as individuals, and you transform what it’s going to look like for generations to come.”

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