Conference celebrates 70 years of personhood

By Christine Cheung

The Famous Five would have been impressed.

Women and a few men of various ages and backgrounds came together last weekend for the Global Perspectives on Personhood: Rights and Responsibilities Conference, at the Rosza Centre 70 years after Canadian women were declared legal persons.

Running from October 14-16, the conference featured prominent women speakers who discussed the worldwide status of women. As Organizing Committee Chair Lee Tunstall pointed out, issues of womanhood cross international boundaries.

"By bringing women from around the world to talk at a conference dedicated to personhood, we could learn from them and possibly provide some insight from our own experiences to these women and provide support," said Tunstall.

Some of the speakers included: Director of SAKSHI (A Violence Intervention Centre from India) Naina Kapur; Senior Health Researcher from Afghanistan Vlohra Rasekh, President of Red Crow Community College Marie Smallface-Marule, and Kathleen Mahoney, a law professor from the University of Calgary.

"This conference could only give us a snapshot of what’s going on in some representative countries. But it also provided us with an opportunity to bring together these women in one room and create networks, alliances and partnerships," said Tunstall.
Tunstall attributed the conference’s success to its co-sponsorship.

"The conference was mainly funded by the Calgary Ismaili women," said Tunstall. The conference was also sponsored by the Famous Five Foundation, the university’s International Centre and the Institute for Gender Research.

Having high school and university students attend the conference was important to Tunstall.

"The youth were learning from women who had been in the trenches, so to speak, when it comes to activism and women’s rights," said Tunstall.

One of the lessons U of C student Sarah Schwartz took away from the conference was the importance of making actual change.

"[I learned] not what should happen, but the reality: cosmetic change versus substantive change," said Schwartz.

However, despite the diversity of ages and backgrounds at the conference, the lack of men in attendance did not go unnoticed.

"This is not the first time I’ve been to a women’s conference where there have been no men," one of the speakers, Hong Kong Legislative Councillor Emily Lau said. "It wouldn’t hurt if they were here to take part in the debate."

Schwartz also echoed Lau’s comments.

"It would reflect an interest on their part to be involved," said Schwartz. "It would show it’s no longer a women’s issue."

Tunstall agreed, although according to her, men were always included in the process of the conference.

The conference was a part of the Five Days of Education and Inspiration, all of which mark the 70th anniversary of the "Personhood Case." Other events included the Governor General Awards, the Kay Sanderson Collection Exhibition and the unveiling of the Famous Five monument at Olympic Plaza.

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