Celebrating International Women’s Day through research

migrant workers, women, human rights, worker rights, International Women's Day, Laurier University, Jenna Hennebry, women rights

Laurier professor Jenna Hennebry studies women migrant worker rights.

As people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day today, Research Matters is highlighting some ground-breaking researchers who are creating change in their own fields by producing influential gender-related work.

The research conducted at Ontario’s universities covers a wide spectrum of themes from workers’ rights and the workplace to gender equality in the classroom and access to education, as well as sexual empowerment and gender-based violence.

Advocating for workers’ rights

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Jenna Hennebry takes a look at migrant labour, gender, and human rights, and works extensively with the United Nations on researching and advocating for women migrant workers. Rather than protecting women and borders, which government policies tend to focus, Hennebry says what female migrants need most are better opportunities and the protection of their rights.

“The emphasis on protecting women infantilizes them as vulnerable subjects instead of rights-bearing subjects who are in situations of vulnerability,” says Hennebry. “Meanwhile, the emphasis on border enforcement puts women in situations of greater vulnerability.”

Hennebry is the director of Laurier’s International Migration Research Centre and has been the international technical lead consultant on a UN Women project called Promoting and Protecting Women Migrant Workers’ Labour and Human Rights.

Read more about Hennebry and her research here.

At the University of Guelph, Economics professor Miana Plesca made waves with her research on the gender wage gap, receiving a grant from Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission to further explore this issue.

Plesca found one of the main reasons for the gender gap to be “statistical discrimination,” where employers tend to promote male workers over female counterparts because women are more likely to take time out of their careers to have children, and are more likely to be absent from work to care for children.

Plesca recommends governments introduce policies that support men taking a greater share of parental leave, and those that encourage women to return to work, such as providing more accessible daycare.

Breaking down barriers in education

Brock University, Louise Grogan, education, women's rights, Central Asia, post-communism, communism, International Women's Day

University of Guelph’s Louise Grogan studies education in post-communist countries.

Brock University professors Shauna Pomerantz and Rebecca Raby have spent the last six years examining the concept of “dumbing down” and the issues academically successful female students encounter.

The Child and Youth Studies researchers recently published their book, Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism, to investigate how girls deal with stress, the drive for perfection, race and class issues, and sexism in schools.

“Girls’ academic successes are often touted in the headlines, while the suggestion is made that boys are falling behind and require additional attention,” says Pomerantz. “Don’t believe the hype. We’re not in a post-feminist movement. Girls still need attention, so do boys. We can’t focus on one at the expense of the other.”

Read more about Pomerantz and Ruby’s research here.

University of Guelph economics professor Louise Grogan studies households in post-communist countries in Central Asia, finding women are becoming less modern and less educated than their mothers and grandmothers.

“During the era of communism, there was a big modernization drive to get away from the traditional household and to get women educated and working,” says Grogan. “But this communist ideal was never achieved. In fact, these countries are now even more traditional than they were during communism.”

Today, many women in Central Asia have arranged marriages and are expected to move in with their mothers-in-law, while their husbands travel abroad to find work. However, these marriages have a higher risk of divorce, leaving the woman (who’s been fully dependant on her husband’s income) to return to her family.

“It’s not uncommon for a woman to receive a text message from her husband wanting a divorce,” says Grogan, who points to a lack of economy as the leading force behind these countries’ reversion. Without jobs, there’s no incentive to be educated.

Read more about Grogan’s research here.

Empowering through sport

Shape Your Life, boxing, empowerment, gender, women's rights, International Women's Day, Brock University

The Shape Your Life program received funding last fall to measure its effectiveness.

Last fall, two Brock University researchers, Cathy van Ingen and Kimberley Gammage, received funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada to evaluate the effectiveness of the Shape Your Life program. Ingen co-founded the program to help empower women and transgender survivors of violence through a free recreational boxing program at a Toronto gym.

The grant allows Ingen and Gammage to measure the program’s impact on 225 participants’ self-esteem, resilience, PTSD, social supports, and other areas of their lives.

“While there is significant evidence from participants of Shape Your Life that this program is valuable to them, this study will allow us to provide further evidence of its benefits, with a focus on the positive outcomes, including a greater sense of control and better feelings about the self,” says Gammage.

Read more about Ingen and Gammage here.

Late last year, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) turned to Brock University Sport Management professor Julie Stevens for advice on how to promote women’s hockey internationally.

Stevens conducts diverse hockey research and was a lead presenter at the first World Hockey Forum in Moscow last December.

“There is worldwide interest in developing women’s ice hockey programs, but the process is slow and requires a co-ordinated international effort and commitment,” says Stevens.

Read more about Stevens’ research here.


Further Reading:

  • University of Guelph’s Myrna Dawson seeks to improve the understanding of intimate partner femicide from a victim-focused perspective. Her work examines the characteristics of lethal and non-lethal violence with a particular focus on intimate partner violence and the social and legal responses to violent victimization.
  • Carleton University professor Ummni Khan researches the “sex wars” that rocked the feminist movement throughout the ’70s and ’80s, where feminists clashed over issues of pornography, sado-masochism, and sex work. Khan studies the evolution of these debates today, hoping to fill in the history of Canadian debates around porn, erotica, and expression.
  • Brock University’s nursing professor Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy discovered women are more likely than men to experience certain early signals of a heart attack, and recognizing them could mean a patient receiving medical attention before the heart attack hits.

Tagged: Building Community, Health & Wellbeing, Jobs & the Economy

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