Broad Conversations are gatherings in Hamilton, Ontario for feminist broads. Gatherings are structured to inspire new ideas and reflections on important themes within a feminist context.
Pearl Mendonca shares her thoughts on this month’s theme of participation.
“How do we define, value and manage participation as feminists, women, as citizens?”
This was the question our panel was asked at the second Broad Conversations event. It’s a fascinating question, and each of us on the panel took the conversation in completely new and awesome directions.
Here were my thoughts:
I’m going to look at my participation from three experiences: 1) as a woman of colour; 2) as a survivor of sexual violence and 3) as a bodywork practitioner.
As a woman of colour, I’m very aware of my own experience of race and how it has impacted my own participation. This also makes me think of representation – where are women of colour’s voices represented?
I am familiar with the societal expectations of the way that I will participate as a brown woman. I am also aware of my family’s expectations, cultural expectations – how I have internalized all of these expectations and lived within them.
As a woman, especially as a woman of colour, I’ve hesitated many a time in speaking up and raising concerns. It has been difficult at times to find my voice. It often takes me time to navigate different and difficult spaces, and even then, I need to feel a sense of safety.
Participation for me really depends on the creation of safe spaces for all women, from all intersections of experiences, to participate.
It’s interesting to think about – where are we participating? Where are we not? In social work, we often ask – who is participating? Who has access? Who does not?
I define safe space as: the safety to be yourself, to be vulnerable, to share authentically without judgment. We need these spaces in our communities but it is also important for us to feel this sense of safety in our everyday friendships, relationships etc.
As a survivor of sexual violence, participation for me has looked like two things: writing and being a part of SACHA.
Throughout my life, it has been difficult for me to participate with my voice. My experiences as a survivor turned many of my emotions inward: guilt, shame, anger, fear – expressing myself has been, and continues to be difficult.
For this reason, I see participation rooted in empathy as a necessity. Empathy for all experiences of violence, children and adults alike; for folks who have experienced loss, for folks who struggle in the multitude of ways that struggle shows up in our everyday experiences.
There is vulnerability in speaking, and there were many times when I did not feel safe or comfortable to speak. When I couldn’t speak, I would write. Many healing experiences for me have come from writing and processing, and/or writing and sharing. It is really important as a community to value all types of self-expression.
This is why the launch of the Hamilton Feminist Zine “Messages of Support for Survivors” is so important as an outlet of expression and a resource. Writing, music, drawing, painting – all creations are art, and all creations are expression. When we value all types of expression, we value the ways in which people process, engage, heal and share.
I’ve been a part of SACHA’s Management Committee for the past three years, and I have always considered SACHA a safe space. This was a space to foster the mission of an organization that supports people with lived experiences similar to my own.
Finding spaces to participate in, that are doing things that you are passionate about – cool. Participating in those spaces in the exact way that feels great for you to participate at that moment – even cooler. The important thing to note is, if the opportunity you are looking for doesn’t exist, is it possible to create it? Can you create the space for the participation that feels right for you right now? Or can you find folks/resources who may be able to help you create that space?
Finally, as an energy/bodywork practitioner, I’m learning about myself in a new way; a unique way of participating that brings together many of my experiences. As a survivor, I went through years and years of numbing (and still experience that) – which was a way for me to cope. Through energy and bodywork practices, I’ve been developing a relationship with my body; giving me the opportunity and space to really listen and feel into where I am at. I’m slowly learning, with each experience, to feel “at home” in my body.
I recently have been completing my yoga teacher training in Hamilton, and I hope to bring together yoga and energy/body work to support folks in feeling safe and grounded in their bodies, as a way to help folks explore their relationship with their body. I want to do this from a place of respect and non-judgment, knowing that each person knows best what they need at any given moment, and each person’s processes/experiences are unique.
Participation for me in this area of my life has been made infinitely easier by the many supports I have accessed over the years, formal and informal, which gave me a foundation for acceptance/love/appreciation towards myself and my experiences.
Participation from a place of freedom – freedom to choose, freedom to access, and freedom from judgment – it’s that simple. I feel passionately about people being given all of their options when making decisions about their health and healing processes.
Overall, when we have access to participate, and space is created for us to participate safely, and we can choose the ways in which we want to participate – this is how I would love to see participation defined, value and managed.
I believe if we experience this type of participation ourselves, it is easier for us to share that same experience of access, safety and choice with others.
I’m super interested in all things mind, body, spirit and passionate about the well-being of myself and others. I’m an Energy/Bodywork Practitioner in Hamilton, currently completing my 200-hour Yoga Teacher training. I’ve spent most of my working life supporting/developing student leaders, which has been very rewarding.