Premier Kathleen Wynne and Author Monia Mazigh: Two Formidable Women

March 11, 2016 | Sarah Weinrauch

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A celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements by women across the globe, International Women’s Day creates a platform for critical conversations that address issues women face in society, locally and world-wide. Toronto Public Library provided the stage recently for two fantastic programs that tackled these issues, featuring: Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s 25th premier and the first woman to serve in the role; and Monia Mazigh, Tunisian-born author and political activist.

On March 7, Premier Wynne spoke at the Appel Salon in conversation with Toronto Star’s Jane Davenport. Wynne spoke on a variety of topics including missing indigenous women, the gender wage gap, the #ItsNeverOK sexual harassment and violence campaign, human trafficking in Ontario, and the flattening of equitable jobs for support workers in the health care and education industries.

Collage of Kathleen Wynne at the Appel Salon
Kathleen Wynne at the Appel Salon with Toronto Star journalist Jane Davenport for International Women's Day. Bottom Left: Premier Wynne shaking hands with City Librarian Vickery Bowles and mingling with Library Board members.

In recognizing the importance of equality and fairness for women, Wynne commented on fundamental attitudes in society and breaking false assumptions. “Civility is a good start,” she stated directly. In a polarized environment, she asserted, individuals need to decide together how to change the tone of the debate. “We live in a very harsh society. You only have to read the [newspaper] comments page or read the comments on Facebook or Twitter to know that there is anger, and there is viciousness, and there is ignorance, and there is hatred that has a voice in a way that it probably hasn’t had before.”

Davenport closed the interview by asking what values Premier Wynne would want her own grandchildren to embrace in their efforts to build a safer world for all.

“The first one that comes to mind is honesty and that encompasses a whole lot of things… I want them to be fearless and I want them to value themselves.”

The evening after Premier Wynne presented her unique perspective, author Monia Mazigh gave a fascinating discussion of her life story, why she started writing, the diversity of Muslims in Canada and the challenges facing Muslim women (and women in general). Launching the spring season of The eh List Author Series, host for the evening CBC’s Piya Chattopadhyay opened the event with her funny yet powerful greeting:

“Happy International Women’s Day everyone! Or as I like to say, ‘Happy International Men’s Day Eve because tomorrow we are right back at it, aren’t we?!’”

Monia Mazigh Collage
Piya Chattopadhyay and Monia Mazigh discuss the challenges Muslim women face in Canada and globally. Middle right: Monia Mazigh and Piya Chattopadhyay with Bloor/Gladstone's Branch Head, Gloria Jacobs

From there, the two discussed Mazigh’s work as a writer, mother and political activist, and the challenges she faced in lobbying various governments to free her husband, Mahar Arar, from a Syrian prison. Mazigh started writing because she felt it was important to tell her own story before someone else did. Her second book, Mirrors and Mirages, is the story of four intelligent, strong-minded Muslim women living in Canada’s capital.

Mazigh hopes her stories and talks help shift stereotypes that paint Muslims as just one type of people –- repressed, violent foreigners who wear hijabs. Muslims are, Mazigh insists, a diverse group of people who can be modern or traditional, immigrants or Canadian-born, and who share the same love, concerns and challenges that women face all over Canada and the world.

Hope & Despair Book Cover    Mirrors and Mirages Book Cover

Book cover (en Francais): Les larmes emprisonnées     Book cover (en Francais): Du pain et du jasmin
The fair and equitable treatment of women locally and internationally is an ongoing conversation. Toronto Public Library provides a stage for important discussions, and according to City Librarian Vickery Bowles, “continues to be a democratizing force in the modern world, supporting literacy and a literate population, free and open access to a diversity of information, voices and ideas, intellectual freedom and the protection of privacy. And in today’s world, we are seeing more and more challenges to these democratic values and principles everywhere.”

Later this month, the conversation continues with: Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner exploring stories of women and children refugees from around the world, who have made Canada their home; and Gail Nygard, the former director of the Daily Bread Food Bank, discussing Women and Poverty in Toronto. If you prefer to learn about formidable women in the coziness of your home, check out these curated reading recommendations on women in politics and international women.

The presentation and interview with Premier Kathleen Wynne and Jane Davenport is now on the Toronto Public Library’s YouTube channel.