Ililli Ahmed: Colonel By’s Feminism Club

 

Illili Ahmed

Highlighting the achievements of Colonel By Secondary School’s Intersectional Feminism Club

Ililli Ahmed

With the creation of Colonel By’s Intersectional Feminism Club in 2016, my co-founder and best friend Drew-Anne Glennie and I aimed to create a safe space at our high school, in which to discuss the topic of intersectional feminism. After 2 years, however, CB’s Intersectional Feminism Club has blossomed into a group that not only actively combats misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia in the school, but has affected change in the greater Ottawa community.

Having attended Colonel By Secondary School for four years, Drew and I had always enjoyed our high school experience, but at the time of the club’s foundation, we had experienced and witnessed a toxic culture at Colonel By, fostering misogyny and discrimination on many levels. Sexual harassment, in particular, had become a point of contention, to the extent where many female students feared for their well-being. And so, after hearing countless heartbreaking survival stories from friends and classmates concerning their experiences with sexism within school walls, I emailed a trusted teacher with my concerns; with her support, Drew and I began consulting with those experiencing our school’s misogynistic culture. Ultimately, it was their suggestions on discussion topics and safe space advocacy that laid the groundwork for the club and with its weekly meetings, Feminism Club has not only helped de-construct Colonel By’s inherent misogyny, but has established a safe, welcoming environment for all.

This of course, was a work-in-progress, and as expected, the club faced adversity during our inaugural year: members and leaders were verbally bullied, and meetings were infiltrated by boisterous students. As founder and president, even I felt unsafe. Still, the club’s reassuring environment kept members strong, safe and dedicated during hard times, and their ability to explore and share ideas in this inclusive space led to the realization of the International Women’s Week events in 2017, the club’s most public push against school misogyny. This week featured a pin drive for Cornerstone Women’s Shelter that earned over $300 in donations and a public pledge in support of women that became a visible emblem against misogyny, garnering supportive signatures from students and staff. With regards to the larger Ottawa Community, the club was invited to last year’s DILA Youth Showcase at City Hall, where we were able to discuss the club’s successful endeavours and network with community leaders.

For this year’s International Women’s Week events, we decided to celebrate both Canadian and international women, and used our school’s main display case to share the often overlooked stories of empowered women with a multitude of identities from across the globe. In addition to this, we executed a pin drive fundraiser for the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre (ORCC), raising over $500 for the organization, who’s budget had been frozen for over 20 years. Additionally, in response to our school’s unhealthy culture surrounding sexual misconduct, we invited representatives from the ORCC to give a presentation to students on recognizing and dismantling the effects of internalized misogyny. In the spirit of intersectionality, we also partnered with our school’s LGBT club and Muslim Student Association, so that they could host events during the International women’s week in order advocate for issues relevant to their clubs. Finally, we held a bake sale in order to raise funds for KIVA to micro-finance women-owned businesses in developing countries; through this initiative, we raised around $200.

As Drew and I end our second and final year with the club and go on to university– Drew to the University of Toronto, and I to the University of Ottawa I am beyond happy to have noticed a dramatic shift in Colonel By’s culture: as more members join, the understanding of feminism’s importance has spread, instances of harassment and outward misogyny have declined significantly.  The safe space created by Colonel By’s Feminism Club is noted as a source of strength and support to many, and in many ways, the community that we have cultivated in our school has made me a much more empathetic and vigilant leader, while strengthening my feminist beliefs. Of course, like any community organizer, I hope that this club will continue to initiate sustainable change as my last year of high school comes to an end. Thankfully, the younger, mentored members of this organization will continue Feminism Club’s important work, and the long-term impact will, in all hopes, create a school community that is a safe space for all, embedded with fundamental principles of equality and acceptance.

 

About the writer:

Ililli Ahmed is a 12th grade student who loves to listen to Frank Ocean, write articles and opinion pieces and watch “The Get Down.” In the past, she’s written for Radio-Canada, and is the youth editor for ‘Black Ottawa Scene.’ Ililli is also co-president of many clubs, such as her school’s Intersectional Feminism and Black History Month Club. You can contact her at ililli.s.ahmed@gmail.com.

 

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