When marking International Women's Day, there's often a focus on the achievements or the enduring challenges facing people in Toronto and Canada. Nouran El Gendy, a student in the Assaulted Women's and Children's Counsellor/Advocate (AWCCA) program, wants to highlight the international aspect of March 8.
"I think we focus so much on what's happening here, which is OK, and I appreciate that. But we also need to see what's happening outside," El Gendy says, pointing to recent political uprisings in Iran and the situation in Syria and Turkey, where women and children have been particularly vulnerable following the February 6 earthquake. "If we're only moving forward with our rights here in Toronto, what about the other countries? It's called International Women Day. Women are still being oppressed and killed."
Through the pursuit of education and activism, El Gendy fights for the inclusion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) community in feminist movements in their native Egypt. El Gendy and their partner came to Canada as refugees in 2018.
"I fled Egypt because of my sexuality, activism, and feminism," they explained.
"What's happening in Egypt is that feminists are excluding queer people based on homophobia and transphobia," they said. "Even now, I'm being attacked on my Facebook and my Instagram because I'm speaking publicly about my sexuality and my ideas."
Regarding challenges in Toronto, El Gendy says a Disability Justice course in the AWCCA program led to a heightened awareness of ableist mindsets.
"It opened my eyes to new perspectives that I had never considered. I always considered myself an inclusive person in my way of activism," they said. "This course changed my perspective of my activism and how I can be much more inclusive."
'You don't need permission from anyone.'
El Gendy says marking International Women's Day raises important questions about what it means to identify as a woman.
"How do you define a woman? Is it just based on her sex organs? I identify as a woman because I see myself as a woman not based on my biology, not based on my sex organs, not based on anything. So, if the person came to me and told me, I see myself as a woman, that's it. That's all I need," they said. "If you identify as this and you want to celebrate this day. Go on. You don't need permission from anyone."
AWCCA program a gateway to further studies and future career
Shortly after arriving in Canada, El Gendy began investigating education options and learned about the AWCCA program. They decided to apply after attending an information session and speaking with AWCCA Professor Anna Willats. El Gendy said the AWCCA curriculum aligned well with their feminist views.
El Gendy was the 2022 recipient of the AWCCA program's École Polytechnique Memorial Award. The award is presented annually to full-time students with solid academic standing and a demonstrated commitment to helping assaulted women.
"I am angry that 14 women had to die, and I am sad about lives lost to violence and hate," they said after receiving the award on December 6.
"In my program, I have been learning about oppression and how we can fight back while applying different frameworks. Every professor had taught me something about myself. They made me realize that our freedom starts with ourselves. It is all inside us, and we should never underestimate the power of people. I wish people would choose peace over war, love over hate, and roses over guns. This world can be a better place if we try to take steps."
El Gendy plans to pursue a degree in gender studies after graduating from the AWCCA program. And from there, they'd like to pursue further education to become a mental health professional.
"I want to apply what I've learned from this program, but with a license as a psychotherapist."