Every year on March 8, millions of people around the world eagerly celebrate International Women’s Day, a day that commemorates the past and present struggles of women everywhere.

International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years, and many countries consider it a national holiday. In Canada, it is usually commemorated by women marches and other public events. In honour of the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared $650 million for reproductive rights.

Last Thursday, UTM commemorated International Women’s Day with a variety of guest performers. The performances included personal stories, book readings, dancing, and music. A common theme I noticed in most of the performances was the idea of female bodies being policed and dominated by society. The performers used their art to break free from the shackles of the patriarchy and reclaim their bodies as their own.

One of the performers included Vivek Shraya, a Toronto-based musician, writer and artist. Her work includes illustrated novels, such as The Boy and the Bindi and She of the Mountains. Shraya began her performance by acknowledging the organizers of the event. As a trans woman, Shraya said she was delighted to be included in International Women’s Day.

Shraya talked about her project called “Trisha,” which she dedicated to her mother. “Trisha” consists of photos of herself that she recreated from pictures of her mother. The project demonstrates how Shraya modeled herself after her mother in every way, and how she structured her identity around her mother’s.

Shraya also presented a live reading of She of the Mountains. The book is a love story that challenges biphobia. It’s also a reimagining of Hindu mythology, specifically surrounding the depiction of bodies. I was intrigued by the way Shraya uses art to challenge biphobia and misogyny, while also weaving culture and religion into her feminist perspective.

Another guest at the event was Rabia Khedr, a social activist and advocate for people with disabilities. As a legally blind Muslim woman, Khedr discussed the importance of minorities having a voice, and that change can only come when minorities learn to speak for themselves. Khedr ran for the Peel municipal elections in 2014. While talking about her election, Khedr said, “I wanted to prove to the world that a brown, blind woman, who also covers her head, could actually do it.”

A third notable performance included three poems read by Miranda Jurilg. Each of her poems discussed important topics, such as gender-fluid identity and sexism. One poem that stuck with me was about “fatphobia.” This piece ties into the overarching theme of policing women’s bodies. In her poem, Miranda presented a powerful piece that deals with the derogatory attitudes women encounter about their weight. Her poem clearly captured the notion of “fat” as a synonym for “unattractive.”

“We are women. We are not supposed to take up space. We are told to shrink, starve, and resist temptations,” Jurilg said. Her poetry makes you reflect on the damage that society inflicts on young girls by telling them that they are only beautiful if they have a small waist.

One of my favourite features of this event was the diversity of the performers. They differed in race, sexuality, gender identity, disability, and artistic style. Their diversity and thoughtful approaches to feminism offered a respectful and inspiring representation of International Women’s Day.

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