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Whistler's International Day of the Girl event examines the true meaning of equality

Speakers will explore gender equality in Canada and around the world at Oct. 7 event
Author and Globe & Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti, event organizer Dee Raffo, Whistler Secondary School students Sophie Saint-Jacques and Ayden Kristmanson and Quest University student Sidney Hambleton Sponer at last year's International Day of the Girl event in Whistler. Photo submitted

outside of some of the darker corners of society—and let's face it, the internet—most people would agree that gender equality is a goal we should all strive for.

But does the very notion of equality distract us from the reality of the issue? What, in fact, does true equality look like? That's the question being posed in various forms by the panel of speakers who have been invited to attend Whistler's celebration of the United Nations' International Day of the Girl, scheduled for Oct. 7 at the Maury Young Arts Centre.

The theme for this year's event is "All Things Being Equal," and organizer Dee Raffo said the more her team delved into the idea of equality, the more questions emerged.

"When we talked about equality, it's this idea that kind of really touts itself as being equal, especially with the government we have," she said. "But are we? How close are we? It has a bit of a PR [quality] versus what's real."

For speaker and Quest University gender and cultural studies tutor, Dr. Ahalya Satkunaratnam, the umbrella term often prevents us from examining what true equality requires.

"We can discuss what it means within our own community, but even within that community, are we thinking about race and class? Are we thinking about the variety of experiences? The different types of social status in this community? ... Who do we wish to be equal to?" she asked. "Equality is really a nice and pleasant term to talk about, but it prevents us from really examining the complexities of our history and the diversities of our world."

Satkunaratnam said that discussions around gender equality often ignore historical context and oversimplify the many divergent issues that women around the world face.

"I think my talk is going to bring up a question of this word, because I think it allows us to frame this idea of women's rights, but women are a diverse group of people. To me, it's not that equality is not achievable," she said. "I just think it is a really catchy phrase, and it's painted especially in the two-person household as you choose this and I choose that. That's great packaging so that we can feel pleased with our decisions. But feminism is really not just about you personally and me personally; it's about society."

Satkunaratnam joins speakers Kiana Alexander, the director of emerging leader programming at Indigenous learning centre The Raven Institute, and Heather Odendaal, co-founder and CEO of WNORTH, a global community of women business leaders that also hosts a popular annual conference.

Now in her seventh year organizing the Whistler event, Raffo is hopeful the discussions not only help attendees understand the issue of equality better, but inspire them to act.

"People want to understand but they also want to know how to help. We always try to speak to how we can be part of change in the right way, but we feel that you have to understand an issue before you can help," she said.

International Day of the Girl has always enjoyed a strong contingent from Whistler Secondary School, and this year is no different. The high school's leadership team will once again help lead the Q&A portion of the event.

"I really felt the most inspirational part of last year's event was just to see how smart the students here are, but also how engaged they are and also how open they are to learning new perspectives," she added. "We do come from what I would consider quite a privileged area, and just to keep an open mind on that it's not the same worldwide and what can we do to help is really great to see."

Whistler's International Day of the Girl event is scheduled for 6:45 to 9 p.m., with doors open at 6 p.m. The night includes a cash bar and silent auction. Tickets are $10, available at