ALLIES FOR CHANGE

The IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative

An interview with Dr. Diana Parry
by Zara Rafferty

 

HeForShe is a global effort initiated by the United Nations Women aimed at engaging men and boys in the movement for gender equality. Famously launched last year by actor Emma Watson, the initiative emphasizes the role of men and boys in the movement for gender equality.

Recently, the president of the University of Waterloo (UW), Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur, was named as the sole Canadian university president participating in the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 framework. 10x10x10 was initiated to ensure that HeForShe enact meaningful, sustainable change across three key sectors: government, private sector, and youth. To this end, the UN approached a group of ten heads of state, ten CEOs, and ten university presidents to serve as gender equity “champions” in their respective fields.

Each leader was asked to identify how they would work to address gender inequity in their respective organization, with the aim of galvanizing positive change in their sector. Over the next several years, their pilot interventions will be evaluated for effectiveness and scalability.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Diana Parry, is a professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at UW. As a feminist researcher, she explores women’s health experiences. In addition, she serves as Special Advisor to the President on Women’s and Gender Issues, and was a key part of bringing 10x10x10 to the university.

I sat down with Diana to learn more about her work as a special advisor, specifically exploring what she sees as pressing gender issues in a Canadian university context.

Zara Rafferty: President Hamdullahpur created your advisory role in 2013, and it is one of a small number across the country. Can you tell me what the work involves?

Diana Parry: Yes, the role is somewhat unique; I know of two other universities that currently have a similar position. Broadly speaking, I work with senior administration and faculty to advise on gender equity issues, both at the policy and structural level. This can include systemic issues that we are already aware of, such as discrepancies in the number of female faculty members, or issues as they arise on our campus, such as the desire of nursing mothers to have access to small fridges for storing breast milk. Ultimately, my work involves developing a long-range plan with tangible goals in terms of gender equity at all levels.

ZR: Can you tell me how UW came to be involved with HeForShe and the 10x10x10 campaign?

DP: The UN approached us, in part because they were looking to work with universities who were already demonstrating gender equitable practices. We are also a STEM-intensive university, which means it tends to be more male-dominated. I’m sensitive to the fact the university does a lot of excellent work outside of the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), but nonetheless, we have a strong focus on STEM experiences on this campus. As a result, we had more opportunities to bring boys and men into the conversation, which is key to the HeForShe campaign.

ZR: What are the 10x10x10 targets the university is working toward?

DP: We’ve committed to three initiatives over the next five years. First, we will boost female involvement in our outreach programs to 33 percent. We’re also pledging to make our faculty 30 percent female, which is a 2 percent increase. That number sounds small, but 2 percent actually represents significant growth and will be very challenging to accomplish. Finally, we’re aiming to move to 29 percent women in administration and senior leadership roles.

ZR: You mentioned the UN selected the university because it was already demonstrating gender equitable practices. Can you tell me more about what was going on?

DP: Dr. Hamdullahpur is a rare president in terms of his proactive approaches to issues of gender equity. His appointment of the advisory role I hold was key, as was his development of an equity office. The role of the equity office is to champion initiatives promoting equity and diversity on-campus. UW also has an Associate Dean of Outreach in Engineering, Dr. Mary Wells, who runs some excellent programs for girls and women, such as Go ENG Girl. ESQ, the on-campus engineering and science summer camp for children, pays close attention to gender equity in their hiring practices. Visually normalizing the presence of all genders in the STEM fields sends a powerful message to children and students; it creates a space where they are welcome.

ZR: What do you see as the current pressing issues around gender in a Canadian university context?

DP: I think one of the major issues is implicit or unconscious bias. These are the underlying attitudes or stereotypes we bring to our interactions or behaviour that we’re mostly unaware we have. Most people in this day and age don’t consider themselves sexist, racist, or heteronormative, and yet our implicit biases come out in the way that we interact with others. This can be a major issue on our campus in terms of the recruitment and selection of faculty and leadership roles. These biases can also impact the way we interact with students. The university sector needs to have a massive education campaign about implicit biases. Not in a way to make people feel badly for having them—we all have them—but in a way to bring attention to the fact that we have them, and then put mechanisms in place to mitigate the impact of these biases.

ZR: What’s happening on campus in terms of transgender issues? This is something becoming much more visible in mainstream media, and I’m wondering how the university world is responding.

DP: Yes, I think this is a very important issue. In fact, we’re organizing an on-campus workshop around the gender binary language reflected in the name HeForShe. What does it mean to have a “he” for a “she”? What does it mean for people who do not identify in that way? Does this name create the perception that the campaign is not supportive of people who identify as queer or transgender? Language matters—we need to speak and act in a way that fosters gender-inclusive communities.

ZR: On that note, the HeForShe campaign is focused on the role men and boys have to play in terms of being allies in the fight for gender equity. What does it mean for men to be allies?

DP: The UN Women has a goal to enrol one billion men in HeForShe, globally. Essentially, being an ally means joining the movement for gender equity. We want men to speak up, take action, and advance the cause. It is important to target men because gender equity is not only a women’s issue, it is an issue that impacts everyone.

ZR: Can you tell me about your own scholarly work? What kind of research are you doing now, connected to your campus role or otherwise?

DP: Well, I think it is connected insofar as I’ve always had a passion for and interest in gender equity. I’m a feminist scholar, and my research is inextricably linked to my service work. My social justice goals around gender equity pervade my research, my teaching, my service.

ZR: Is that what it means to you to be a feminist scholar?

DP: That’s a huge question that requires me to unpack multiple levels. I see feminism as a social movement, an epistemology, as a day-to-day way to live my life. It’s how I parent, it’s what TV shows I watch, it’s how I dress, the friends I keep—my whole life is embedded in feminism. Not all feminists will view it that way, but the political is personal for me, in a whole host of ways. There are as many feminisms as there are feminists, and it means different things to different people. To me it means drawing attention to gender inequity, addressing gender inequity, and bringing women’s experiences to light through my research. For me, feminism isn’t about men or women, it is about the patriarchy. The patriarchy is a social system in which men are privileged in ways such as access to property, higher salaries, and more opportunities. However, the patriarchy doesn’t serve all sorts of men—gay men, poor men, men with mental health issues—very well. To me, feminism is about dismantling the patriarchy, which benefits women and men and everyone in between.

ZR: Based on that, where have your studies led you in terms of exploring women’s experiences?

DP: I am a women’s health scholar, and I use my research to challenge the medicalization of women’s health. I take a holistic conceptualization of health, so it encompasses emotional, social, intellectual, physical, spiritual, and sexual dimensions of health. I’ve conducted research on menopause, infertility, breast cancer survivorship. I have a paper under review looking at women’s use of erotic capital in roller derby. My current research project, in collaboration with Dr. Tracy Penny Light, looks at women’s use of digital technologies to consume sexually explicit material, such as erotica and pornography.

ZR: What interesting findings are emerging from your current work?

DP: We’re in the early stages of analyzing that data, but one of the things we found is that women are one of the fastest-growing groups consuming sexually explicit material. I’m loathe to call it “pornography” or “erotica” because we’re less interested in what it’s called, and more interested in how women are using it. What we’re learning from women is that it’s an important part of their sexual health and satisfaction. It’s a way for women to learn about their sexual desires, try out new sexual desires, and also a participatory forum where they can come together and exchange information with other women. In this way, they test out the boundaries of this knowledge, learn from each other, and gain acceptance from one another about their practices. I think it’s a really powerful and interesting way that women are normalizing sexuality in this day and age.

ZR: What about the roller derby piece—can you tell me more about that?

DP: This piece looks at how women use their sexuality (or their “erotic capital”) as a resource to advance both their individual and collective interests. In roller derby, this is often done in a purposeful way, through their derby names, dress, and actions while in play. I’ve learned that derby girls use this erotic capital with the aim of advancing the sport and problematizing how women’s sexuality is socially constructed.

ZR: When your tenure in this advisory role to the president of UW ends, what are you hoping to look back and see as your major contribution to UW or the landscape of Canadian universities more broadly?

DP: That’s a question that keeps me up at night, and I don’t have an answer yet. Gender issues are so pervasive in our society that it takes a deliberate disruption to draw people’s attention to them. For example, this whole #FHRITP phenomenon is one of those issues illuminating the gendered nature of our society. Without those disruptions, we operate in society not thinking about things like the fact that only 28 percent of our faculty members are female. I will not really be helping if I make a few changes and then say, “Alright, we’re done.” The reality is we won’t be done in one or three or five years. Right now, I’m focused on meeting our 10x10x10 targets, and beyond that, I hope my contribution is that these issues continue to stay on the university’s radar.

 

ABOUT

Zara Rafferty is a university lecturer and freelance writer. A passionate reader and writer, Zara teaches children’s writing courses and runs a literacy outreach program, Reading With the Warriors, that brings varsity athletes into elementary school classrooms. Read more at her blog: Oh, My Word!
Image: Dr. Diana Parry/Image by Katie Misener

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