Ralph Connor House: Exploring women’s advocacy narratives from Africa.
On May 27, 2015, Tracey Bone, assistant professor, Faculty of Social Work, and her students in the SWRK 4210: Feminist Perspectives on Social Work Practice and Social Welfare Policy course explored women’s advocacy narratives from Africa while surrounded by the history and ambience of Ralph Connor House which is the current location of the University Women’s Club.
In celebration of women’s rights, Bone invited three international women’s rights advocates to Ralph Connor House to share their narratives. Defined as “Freedom Fighters” in a Winnipeg Free Press news article promoting International Women’s Day, 2015 (Zoratti, March 7, 2015), the three women shared their narratives of advocacy work. Unfortunately all three also shared common impact as a result of their advocacy – exile from their home communities and countries. Roxana Obasi is a gender advocate, fighting against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in her home country of Cameroon, a country in Central Africa. A vocal advocate against the practice of FGM, Roxana’s actions resulted in her being banished from her home village, and later forced to flee her home country to protect her own life, and that of her family. Roxana described the physical and psychological impact of FGM on the young girls and women of Cameroon. She, too, acknowledged the emotional toil of speaking out against this practice. She shared that though emotional for her, she welcomed the opportunity to speak with the 4210 AO1 class, as she views her mission in Canada that of raising awareness of this life altering, life threatening practice, and working to eradicate FGM around the world.
Gertrude Hambira was a labor rights activist in Zimbabwe. In 2005, appalled by the human rights abuses of farm workers resulting from the new land-reform program, she created a documentary highlighting the abuses. The government viewed the documentary, ‘House of Justice’, as an act of treason, and Gertrude was forced to flee the country to avoid execution. Gertrude, though unable to attend the class, willingly shared her documentary with the class in an attempt to draw attention to the continued violence against farm workers in Zimbabwe, both men and women, and open the dialogue on change.
Teclar Gudu, was formerly a teacher, though had been working as a family therapist and women’s advocate in the area of domestic violence in her home country of Zimbabwe. She, too, was exiled from her home country specifically because of her work in elevating the voices of women against the violence. She continues her advocacy work in this area by sharing her narrative and the narratives of the women with whom she worked. She, like Roxana and Gertrude, believe strongly in women’s rights, and in advocating for change, both in their home countries, and here in Canada.
These three women’s advocates are ‘Freedom Fighters’ extending media accounts of the oppression and human rights violations of women in Zimbabwe and Cameron, using their narratives to put a face to ugly reality of the issues facing women in Africa, and beyond.
Ralph Connor House
54 West Gate University Women’s’ Club
Ralph Connor was the penname for Reverend Charles Gordon, a social activist, Presbyterian clergyman, and one of Canada’s prolific authors. Following his death in 1937, his home, originally built in 1913, was adopted by the University Women’s Club (UWC).
The UWC was originally founded in 1909 as a “vehicle for outgoing new professional women”. They sought to represent a break from the ‘women’s auxiliary’ state of mind and were strong advocates for women’s rights. Membership in the early days banded together in the struggle for the vote of women, for prohibition, and later contributed towards the formulation of a minimum wage law. Also during its early years, the UWC sponsored meetings with Manitoba women’s suffragist Nellie McClung, and later with British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (UWC, 1982). The UWC purchased the home in 1946; they continue today in their vision of making Ralph Connor House a center and meeting place that “fosters the work of people committed to education, social justice…human rights…and intellectual activity” (RalphConnorHouse.org). It was the mission of the UWC that drew Bone to this location as a site most fitting most fitting to hold a class in the Feminist Perspectives course. Then, coincidentally, on the first day of class, 4210 student Kristin Millar enthusiastically informed that she, herself, is a descendent of Rev. Charles Gordon.
Zoratti, J. (2015, 7 March). Freedom Fighters: Activists from Africa to share experiences during International Women’s Day event. Winnipeg Free Press.