Social Justice Committee: Letter of Support | Hart House

Social Justice Committee: Letter of Support | Hart House

March 23, 2015

Dear Provost Regehr,

We are the Hart House Social Justice Committee.  We believe that the
University of Toronto administration’s policies on graduate student
funding have created a crisis, and have provoked the current strike by
the members of CUPE 3902. We write in support of the union’s demand that
the funding packages for graduate students be raised.

In our view, the guaranteed funding package is wholly inadequate. As
has been widely noted, this sum is significantly below the poverty line
for Toronto. Moreover, the sum has remained static since 2008. This has
created real financial hardship for many graduate students, and
increasingly functions as an obstacle to the recruitment of excellent
graduate students.

The Hart House Social Justice Committee seeks to provide broad-based
programmes that engage the entire student body. We aim to introduce many
different issues and opportunities for participation around Social
Justice. We cannot stand by while part of this student body is being
marginalized and ignored by the University administration. Furthermore,
the current funding policy stands in direct contrast to our Committee’s
pillars of equity and sustainability. The funding package is neither
equitable, nor sustainable for our university’s graduate students.

Members of Unit 1 of CUPE 3902 are supporters of and contributors to
our social justice initiatives at the University of Toronto and we stand
in solidarity with them. We urge that you act quickly to settle this
strike before it causes any more damage to the university, its students,
and its reputation as a leading institution for teaching and research.

We would be happy to meet with you to elaborate on these points.


Hart House Social Justice Committee


Letter to University from Campus Chaplains re Strike

March 18, 2015
Angela Hildyard, Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity
Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost

Dear Prof. Hildyard and Prof. Regehr, 

The Campus Chaplains Association at the University of Toronto is a multi-faith organization of spiritual care providers representing the many faith and ethical traditions practised at the University. We work in collaboration with the University’s Multi-faith Centre and Student Life division to care for the spiritual, religious, and emotional needs of students, and to promote harmony and dialogue among the diverse traditions we represent.

We have observed with distress the effect which the current labour dispute between the University administration and CUPE Local 3902, Unit 1, is having on the students we serve, both undergraduates and graduates, and on the public morale of the institution. We acknowledge that the University
of Toronto operates under significant practical constraints; at the same time, we recognize that CUPE 3902 is raising important issues about the funding structures for graduate education, the context in which all questions about reimbursement for the work of graduate teaching and research assistants must be addressed.

Our hope is that the two sides in this dispute will negotiate in a spirit of honesty and transparency, with a willingness to listen to the breadth of each other’s aims and concerns, and that both will approach the conversation in an open and flexible way, rather than from fixed and intransigent positions. Our experience of inter-faith dialogue confirms for us that beginning from a focus on common interests and aspirations is the firmest basis for understanding and constructive engagement.

Catherine Starr, for the Campus Chaplains Association


Amazing Grace: Or, How Humanism Might Save the World

Amazing Grace: Or, How Humanism Might Save the World - 
by James Ford.

Western humanism comes to us from Europe, and really begins in the Renaissance, although it rises by looking to classical antiquity, particularly Greece. This Renaissance humanism combined a celebration of the individual with a close observation of the world around us. And it turns out that is amazingly powerful. This humanism, in fact, shattered the world that had been before.

Instead of our world being the center of the cosmos, we found the Earth is a small rocky planet, spinning around a middling sized star, somewhere out at the very edge of one of many, many, many galaxies, all them part of an inconceivably large universe. And, possibly even more startling, was that whatever was supposed to be meant by humans being created in the image of the divine, we humans have been irrefutably shown to be one of several species of great ape, fully a part of the biological world. So, in humanism, humans are very important, but always within the context of being a very small part of something very big, and very complicated.

As we all know those various discoveries about us and the natural world, would come in fits and starts over many years. And, and, this is important, all along the way people in power have resisted it, challenging, marginalizing, mocking, imprisoning and killing humanists for defying the old ways in their, if you will in our relentless quest to know what is. But, at least so far, this humanist current has been unstoppable.

In time the Renaissance humanist enterprise became the European Enlightenment, and out of that modern scientific method and various philosophies of the person not based in revelation emerged. Today physics is revealing the astonishing weirdness of the very small and the very large in ways that challenge our understanding of the material world. But I believe its biology that has caused the greatest stir to date. In particular Darwin’s and Wallace’s twin discovery of a mechanism for biological change through natural selection has shattered the old certainties about God, and with that loosening the iron grip of organized religions.

In the spiritual realm the discovery of natural selection, to my heart at least, and I know for many others, put the last nail in the coffin of the last great argument for the existence of a supreme God, the so-called “argument from design.” It means, whatever else may be true, the world does not need a conscious agent in order to come to this world that we exist within. Rather what we find is pattern, ordering, is a natural thing that needs no supernatural interference to happen. Rather, what we find at the heart of the world, of the cosmos itself, is creativity. Creativity.

I believe it fair to say that humanism has created the modern world. And, any fair-minded person would have to acknowledge, this relentless inquiry has not been without shadows. Possibly the greatest evil to birth out of the modernist project was “social Darwinism,” a belief, as Herbert Spencer summarized it, in some “survival of the fittest.”

This is a pernicious view clothed as a scientifically supported reality. Libertarianism, the political philosophy that has the greatest chance of overtaking contemporary American culture, is simply a logical conclusion of this position, where the individual acts solely for the individual, and that survival of the fittest is the only morality. If it were true, well, we would have to learn to live with it. But, it is not true. It is predicated on a whole series of false views about reality, starting with an abuse of what Darwin actually observed.

Fortunately there are alternative ways of engaging the world from a naturalist, from a vital humanist perspective. Ways I find that are at once more accurate, and speak to a more generous and rich possibility for human beings, and, for the rest of the natural world. However it requires us to re-examine the scientific paradigm that has come to be the backdrop of our understanding of reality, and which informs our contemporary humanism. It requires we move beyond a bare positivism, as those philosophically minded might put it, toward what some call a critical realism.

This critical realism takes the tools we’ve found within the humanist eruption and turn them on ourselves.

We see where we are. Arising precious and unique, none of us ever to be replicated.
And fragile. All of us…
And then we can see what we can do.
We see we are all of us and this blessed planet connected.
Connected more deeply than can ever be said.
And, we act from this place.
And then the whole thing will be blessed.
And every action taken, a blessing.
That, my friends, is something worth calling amazing grace…

The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Page |

The 15 Journalists Putting Women’s Rights on the Front Page | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS) - Media coverage of maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights is crucial to achieving international development goals, yet journalists covering these issues often face significant challenges.

“When I was a baby, I got sick and some of my family members decided that I should die because I was not a boy. Decades later, I’m inspired by the courage of my mother - and countless other women – to expose and end gender-based violence and inequality.” -- IPS correspondent Stella Paul
Recognising the contributions these journalists make to advancing women and girls’ rights, international advocacy organisation Women Deliver have named 15 journalists for their dedication to gender issues ahead of International Women’s Day 2015.Among the journalists Women Deliver recognised for their work is IPS correspondent Stella Paul from India. Paul was honoured for her reporting on women’s rights abuses through articles on such issues as India’s ‘temple slaves’ and bonded labourers.

Paul’s dedication to women’s rights is not only shown through her journalism. When she interviews communities, she also teaches them how to report abuses to the authorities and hold them accountable for breaking the cycle of violence....

Another journalist honoured was Mae Azango from Liberia. Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen told IPS, “Mae Azango deserves a Pulitzer. She went undercover to investigate female genital mutilation in Liberia.

“After her story was published she received death threats and [she] and her daughter were forced into hiding. Mae’s bravery paid off though, as her story garnered international attention and encouraged the Liberian government to ban the licensing of institutions where this horrific practice is performed,” Iversen added.

Azango told Women Deliver, “Speaking the truth about female genital cutting in my country has long been a dangerous thing to do. But I thought it was worth risking my life because cutting has claimed the lives of so many women and girls, some as young as two.”

Iversen said that many of the honourees had shown incredible dedication, through their work. “For some of our journalists, simply covering topics deemed culturally taboo – like reproductive rights, domestic violence or sexual assault – can be enough to put them in danger,” she said.

However despite their dedication, journalists still also face obstacles in the newsroom. “One of the questions we asked the journalists was: what will it take to move girls’ and women’s health issues to the front pages?” Iversen said.

“Almost all of them said: we need more female journalists in leadership and decision-making positions in our newsrooms. Journalism, like many other industries, remains a male dominated field, which can be a majorobstacle to publishing stories on women’s health and rights.”

But the issue also runs deeper. There is also a lack of recognition that women and girls’ health rights abuses and neglect are also abuses of human rights, and combatting these issues is essential to achieving development for everyone, not just women and girls.

This means that women’s health is often seen as ‘soft news’ not political or economic news worthy of a front-page headline. “Unfortunately women’s health and wellbeing is still, for the most part, treated as ‘soft’ news, despite the fact that when women struggle to survive, so do their families, communities and nations,” Iversen said.

“Every day, an estimated 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, 31 million girls are not enrolled in primary school and early marriage remains a pervasive problem in many countries. These are not just women’s issues, these are everyone’s issues – and our honorees are helping readers understand this link.”

As journalist Catherine Mwesigwa from Uganda told Women Deliver, “Women’s health issues will make it to the front pages when political leaders and the media make the connection between girls’ and women’s health and socio-economic development and productivity, children’s education outcomes and nations’ political stability.”

Male journalists also have a role to play and two of the fifteen journalists honoured for their contribution to raising awareness on these crucial rights were men. Besides India and Liberia, other honorees hailed from Argentina, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.


International Women's Day Amnesty International U of T- March 6

International Women's Day Amnesty International U of T- Eventbrite

Women have made great strides in closing the gender gap and in creating new possibilities for themselves. However this progress remains at different stages in different parts of the world, and many of the things we take for granted are a scarcity for women elsewhere. Given the progress we have made in overcoming these barriers it is part of our duty to also advocate for the same rights and freedoms for women everywhere in the world.

Amnesty International U of T would like to invite you to our International Women's Day panelist event featuring Marina Nemat, Samra Zafar, and Mayo Moran as speakers and moderated by Mark Kingwell.

The evening will consist of a panelist discussion followed by a brief question and answer period. Following the discussion will be a letter writing session accompanied by performances. 

see also

Attending the graduation ceremony of students at the prestigious University of Toronto, my daughter pointed out Samra Zafar, saying
“She topped in Economics and she is a Pakistani!” 
Samra was flanked not by parents, but two daughters, aged 12 and seven. I wanted to know more about her, and hence invited her over to our house next evening. At home, while sipping tea, Samra shared her 14 year journey with me and I was absolutely floored by her story.

In 1999, in Abu Dhabi, Samra was a brilliant 16-years-old student of grade 11, dreaming to go to a foreign university to pursue higher studies. Her only fault was that she was tall and extremely good looking – she was a dream bride. Hence when the proposal from a ‘well settled boy in Canada’ arrived, it was difficult for her working class parents to refuse. Eldest of four daughters, the parents thought this would give her a great opportunity to go aboard and pursue her dream, under the safety of her husband and in-laws. The in-laws reassured their support too.
However, once married and in Canada, things changed. She was told,
“The atmosphere in high schools is not good, and hence it is better to not be thankless and stay happy at home.”
Samra refused to give up though and completed her high school courses through distance learning.
Despite being a mom at the age of 18, she excelled in her high school exams and got accepted to the University of Toronto. Her husband, however, refused to support her and his good financial status left her ineligible for university loans.  She tried to convince her in laws for three years but to no avail.
It was not just her education; she was under strict vigil all the time. She was not allowed to leave the house, had no cell phone and was not allowed to learn how to drive. She never had a penny on herself and was constantly abused and neglected.

Samra had not visited her parents for five years. The first time she went back was when her father sent tickets for Samra and her daughter. When she was leaving, she asked her husband fora meagre $10 so that she could have some coffee and buy some chocolate for her daughter during their transit stop at Heathrow Airport. He just snarled at here and said,
 “Ask your father for that too.”
She had left and did not intend to come back, but her husband begged her to return with a promise that he would change and that she will be allowed to study this time; he said that he realised he could not live without her.  Reassured, Samra returned, only to know that once she got pregnant the second time, the physical abuse was to became worse. Samra stated that,
“A bruise on my upper arm was a permanent fixture, as in every bout of anger, he would grab my arm really hard and squeeze. Often he pushed me, pulled my hair and spit in my face, even in front of my daughters.”
Again disheartened, she went back to her father’s home, pregnant with her second daughter. Within a couple of months her father suddenly fell ill and passed away. Samra recalls the day before his death and the advice her father gave her when he said,
“My life is uncertain, I may not live to look after you. You have to be strong and pull yourself out of this. I have always envisioned seeing you at the top of a world ranking University.”
Things had changed. Her mother was alone now and had two other unmarried daughters to support.
Samra, accepting it as fate, returned to her husband. To earn her own money, she began baby sitting in her house. As consolation to continue her work, she would give her husband some pocket money from which he would buy his cigarettes and a share to her mother in law, too, to earn their approval.
In 2008, she applied again and got accepted to the University of Toronto. This time she did not have to look to her husband for financial assistance, as her child care business could enable her to pay her own fees. However, this led to escalation of physical abuse. She was instructed by her husband on a daily basis,
“Don’t talk to your male professors, don’t talk to anyone on campus and don’t go to the library.”
The abuse was so severe, that she had to take a break after the first year. Several times she had suicidal thoughts and her self-confidence had completely shattered. That led her to a meeting with the Psychological Counsellor at the university campus. She attended the sessions in secrecy and there she was informed that what she was going through was a typical cycle of domestic abuse. And that it was not her fault, or her destiny to bear it. She reveals;
“It was my daily routine to beg my husband and ask him, ‘Why do you do this? Why don’t you love me?’”
And all he replied with each time was,
“Because you deserve this.”
The psychological counselling at the university, gave her the strength to get back to university. By the second year, the abuse had become worse but she had been told that she could call 911 if need be.
“I will call the cops, if you hit me again.” She uttered once, while her husband raised his hand. That is what triggered him to say, “Talaq, talaq, talaq.
(I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.)
Samra says,
“I was shattered, and I did not know what to do next. If I left the house, I would not have childcare income. How would I continue to study? I had two young girls to support.”
Samra’s husband and in-laws ran from pillar to post to get Fatwas to invalidate the divorce. Samra laughs,
 “Once my mother-in-law even brought a person for the necessary Halala to rectify the Talaq.”
However, by now Samra had, despite many weak moments, gathered enough strength to move out of this cyclical abuse and face what came her way. She shifted to a residence at the university campus. Her husband and in-laws then tried threatening her; they said either return or they would malign her in the local Pakistani community of her ‘living’ with men at the university. Her husband often told their daughter,
“Do you think your mother goes to university to study only?”
Samra revealed that,
“After a decade of physical, financial, psychological and emotional, abuse it was only in the summer of 2011, that I finally had the courage to go to the cops and give a detailed, date by date account of the abuse I faced, along with the evidence.”
As a result, her husband was arrested on four counts of assault. Despite two court cases, three jobs and two children, she continued to excel in her studies and became head teaching assistant.
Today, Monday June 10, 2013, at the official convocation of the prestigious University of Toronto, Samra will not only be awarded a Bachelors degree in Economics, but she will also be awarded the prestigious Top Student Award in Economics. She also has to her credit a dozen more awards given to her for her academic excellence in the past four years, including the  prestigious John H Moss Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a single student in the entire university (all three campuses). She has also been admitted to the PhD program in Economics at the University of Toronto, with a full scholarship.

When not studying or working, Samra loves cooking for her girls and gives them all the free time she gets
“We are now the happiest we have ever been.”
I asked her how she would advise other girls who are trapped in the same scenario and to that she said,
 “Do not let anyone disrespect you. Believe in yourself. You are the only one who can change your situation. It is not easy, but it isn’t impossible either. I had all the disadvantages any girl could have.”
She refers to the myth of needing a man as a support,
“I have no father, brother, son, or husband to support me. But I have done it, all by myself. If I can do it, anyone can.”
Read more by Ilmana here or follow her on Twitter @Zeemana