LETTER: Decolonize Women’s Centre framework

From reader Allison Christie

Re: “The other side of the Women’s Centre story,” Letters, May 22

As someone who experiences complexity within my own gender identity, and has access to cis gender privilege, I would like to address this letter.

I am a queer, fifth generational settler living here in the Kootenays on unceded Sinixt territory. I exist at the intersections of working class/poverty and in the past have accessed resources, such as food and workshops, from the Women’s Centre. However, it doesn’t feel like a space that allows for the full complexity of my experiences, nor those of my community.

The current organizational policies of the Women’s Centre deny services during regular drop-in hours, as well as decision-making rights within the organization, to my friends and loved ones who have been socialized female but identify as trans or non-binary. This isn’t a place that feels inviting to me. If we aren’t making space for the most marginalized and oppressed members of our communities, who is our feminism even for?

The core issues at the heart of changes to Women’s Centre policy are around trans and gender diverse inclusion, as well as decolonization. These issues are being derailed by allegations of failing to follow a democratic process of decision making.

Challenging the credentials of co-executive director and Indigenous elder Kat McCooeye not only re-centres a settler woman’s perspective as inherently more valuable, it blatantly disrespects the traditional knowledge carried by an elder. When an Indigenous woman speaks to the centring of settler experiences, as settlers, we need to learn how to hear that. It is completely inappropriate to argue with another person’s lived reality.

A woman may have accessed the centre for years and felt it to be a diverse, inclusive, warm and welcoming space for all. It is real that the centre has been a healing space and essential resource for many women in the community. It can also be true that women of colour and Indigenous women access resources at the centre, while it continues to exists within a framework that centralizes white, cis gender experiences.

This is the framework upon which our society is built. Movements and organizations working to resist injustice are not exempt. Questioning if the lived experience of an Indigenous elder is valid qualification to respond to the needs of women and gender diverse folks in our community, exemplifies why we need a decolonial organizational framework at the Women’s Centre.

Becoming more inclusive to some does not mean others are losing hard won safe spaces. Trans, non-binary, and two-spirit folks, cis gender women, and children can all safely co-exist in the same space, learning from and respecting one another. Healing from the oppression of the patriarchy doesn’t belong solely to the cisterhood. Our energy would be far better directed at dismantling patriarchy if we didn’t have to waste so much time battling one another.

Allison Christie

Winlaw

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