For more than a century, Mar. 8—InternationalWomen’s Day—has been set aside to focus on women’s rights.
Sadly, Edmonton marked another year as one of Canada’s worst places to be a woman.
In its 2016 annual report, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), ranked Edmonton 22nd out of Canada’s top 25 metropolitan cities when it came to gender equality.
Among the more visible inequities cited by the report, the CCPA noted that “with higher than average wages but a larger than average pay gap: women earn 59 cents on the male dollar in Edmonton.” This, coupled with low female representation in politics—of Edmonton’s 12 council positions, only one is currently held by a woman, Ward 2’s Bev Esslinger—and a host of other similar gaps, contributed to the CCPA’s embarrassing evaluation of our city.
But there is hope. Combating this dubious distinction is local activist, academic and film devotee, Michelle Brewer.
Brewer is the Executive Director and founder of the Edmonton International Women’s Film Festival, formerly named You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. This year’s event will run on three non-consecutive nights at the Garneau Theatre: Mar. 8, 15 and 26. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Women and Political Power.’
Each night is organized around a central film presentation and supported by a host of speakers and performers. Among the many highlights will be a panel discussion on Mar. 15, including local politicians Sandra Jansen, Laurie Blakeman, Nav Kaur and Miranda Jimmy.
Given the high caliber of speakers, and the provocative nature of the film selections—the festival opens with a screening of 2000’s The Contender, a political thriller about a female VP candidate attacked with sexual deviancy rumours—Brewer hopes the festival will inform and incite a vigorous dialogue among Edmontonians.
“Everyone wants a fair society and that sometimes takes putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and there is no better way, in my mind, to put myself in someone else’s shoes than to go see a movie,” explains Brewer.
While the festival kicks off with a fictional flick, the following two evenings will feature documentary selections. The first, Kim Campbell: Through the Looking Glass, examines Canada’s historic first female prime minister and her swift fall from grace. Finally, 2014’s Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.? seeks to understand why so many countires, other than the United States, have elected female presidents. Along with entertainment from Nasra Adem, Lori Thorklason will be speaking along with Edmonton councillors Andrew Knack and Esslinger.
Though Brewer selected the theme more than eight months ago, the conversation surrounding women in politics could not be more justified in public discourse than it is currently.
“I wanted to see the biggest glass ceiling in the world get broken,” Brewer says, referring to US Secretary Hillary Clinton’s narrow election defeat. “The trickle-down effects of that [would] have been amazing”.
In recent months, the veil has been pulled back on the toxic side of what it means to be a woman participating in civic society. In April 2016, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel wrote a scathing OP-ED piece in the National Post, describing her experience within the Canadian political machine.
“The everyday sexism I face involves confronting the “bitch” epithet when I don’t automatically comply with someone’s request or capitulate on my position on an issue,” said Rempel.
Jansen, the NDP MLA speaking on the 15th who faced heavy scorn following her crossing the floor from the PCs in November, echoes this sentiment. Her Facebook and Twitter feed were covered with comments ranging from, “What a treacherous bitch,” to “Sandra should stay in the kitchen where she belongs.”
In highlighting these issues through film and discourse, Brewer hopes to progress not just the status of women in politics, but the status of political discourse in general.
“It’s not just ranting, it specifically is worse for women and what if we reevaluated ourselves and became more civil in the places where we are supposed to be civil?” Brewer asks. “What if we stop seeing ourselves as adversaries in government but as people who could really work together?”
Along with the carefully selected films, currated discussion panels and engaging entertainment, a portion of proceeds from the festival will be donated to Equal Voice, The Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, and A Day for Girls.
The complete festival lineup can be found online at www.eiwff.ca.
Mar., 8, 15 & 26
Edmonton International Women’s Film Festival
Garneau Theatre, $12