SFU students organize Vancouver’s first annual International Women’s Day March

Chair Yasmin Vejs Simsek spoke on the many ways women are still fighting for equality

This is a photo of five of the organizers of the event. They are sitting on a couch smiling at the camera and behind them is a blank blue wall
PHOTO: Yasmin Vjes Simsek

By: Natalie Cooke, News Writer

Editor’s note: Yasmin Vejs Simsek, who was interviewed for this piece, is a former Peak employee. Karissa Ketter, a current editor who worked on the article, is also an organizer. The Peak acknowledges and has taken steps to prevent conflicts of interest or potential bias from influencing the article.

A group of six students from SFU are gearing up as they prepare to host the first annual International Women’s Day March in Vancouver. The event will take place on March 5, from 12:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m., and includes a 1.5 kilometer rally that will begin at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s North Plaza. There will be many speakers, including speakers from the Abortion Rights Coalition Canada and Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, among others. Solidarity Notes, a local choir, will also be performing songs that relate to social justice.

Chair of the IWD Vancouver organization team, Yasmin Vejs Simsek discussed the importance of starting this march in Vancouver with The Peak. As an SFU student completing her masters in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, she realized that much of what she was learning was not making its way outside of academia. “My goal was to create an actual difference for women, so when I realized this march was missing, I thought it was a good place to start.”

Simsek shared, “I’ve always wanted to do what I can to amplify women’s voices and as a woman of Turkish heritage, it’s important for me to fight for the women suffering there as well as celebrate their incredible resilience to the violence they face.

“We have the human right to protest here and with so many injustices worldwide, isn’t it our duty to do what others aren’t able to do — what others have been imprisoned for?”

Simsek noted the event is inclusive to trans women and non-binary or gender-diverse folks who also face gender-based discrimination.

Simsek emphasized the need to shed light on women’s equality since major differences between men and women still exist. “The default male, the gender pay gap, sexual assault statistics, gendered poverty, barriers to women’s healthcare [ . . . ] is happening right here in Canada.” She added, “There’s still a deep need to keep fighting for women’s equity internationally and this is the one day where we all come together to do just that.”

Simsek noted the importance of having an intersectional lens when organizing the event; while everyone faces their own unique disadvantages, it’s important that women unite to fight the same battle. “We don’t roar as loudly when we’re standing in small groups in opposite corners of the world, as we would if we were all together, singing in unison [ . . . ] We need to fight together, and we can only do that if we know, support, and respect what each other’s reasons for fighting are.” 

There are a variety of ways in which International Women’s Day can bring awareness to women’s equality. Simsek noted learning from the variety of speakers will help others understand the struggles other women face all over the world. 

The students hope there will be a strong turnout of attendees, which will only raise awareness and increase the scale of the event for the following year. “The bigger it is, the more people will know about it. And the more people know about it, the more women’s voices we will be able to amplify, celebrate, and fight alongside of.” 

Simsek also commented on the ways in which SFU can support women’s equality. “To me, SFU’s main task is to ensure the safety for all their students as we live and learn here on these stolen lands. Realizing that safety looks different depending on which groups of students you look at, is the first step towards supporting women’s equity.”

Simsek noted the importance of supporting women in STEM, leadership roles, and on executive boards in an effective way to support women in places that have been known to be dominated by men. As well, working with the Sexual Violence Support & Prevention Office (SVSPO) to take action against sexual harassment and violence will create a safer campus community. “There should be mandatory training for faculty and staff, that the SVSPO knows how to provide, to ensure every student feels safe on our campuses. 

 “I am grateful to be at an institution that is doing much more than other universities are doing, but I believe we need more. I hope that after this International Women’s Day, action will be taken to ensure women’s equity for all of SFU.” 

To learn more about the International Women’s Day March in Vancouver, visit their Instagram @iwdmarchvan.