Celebrating Women at UBC: Fatima Jaffer

Fatima and Passions

Fatima Jaffer is a PhD Candidate in the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, Editor-in-Chief at Cutting Edge (ISGP’s student-run, peer-reviewed journal) and a Liu Scholar at UBC’s Liu Institute. She is interested in Interdisciplinary Studies focused on media, gender, race, and sexuality, particularly post-colonial studies, critical race theory, and queer of colour critique.

Fatima is passionate about photography as a tool of anti-racist, feminist, social change and history as a way of finding out what came before and how historical events factor in to what we experience today. She finds that history and photography are interlinked in many ways, for example, she takes photographs to create and add to social justice archives and to contribute to collective memory of events that would otherwise go unnoticed; it is her form of activism. She also likes to document social interactions – informal gatherings, celebrations, communities.

Fatima and International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, Fatima is celebrating her mother, the first feminist she knew when she was growing up in Kenya. She has also drawn inspiration from many Indigenous women and women of colour since the early 1990s – women at the forefront of anti-racist, intersectional feminist movements, both in Canada and abroad. She respects these women because they are the ones who challenged and supported her and helped her develop her activism and scholarship. “The biggest lesson these women taught me is that integrity begins with accepting and always remembering that knowledge is never complete,” Fatima says.

Fatima and Feminism

Fatima thinks we should not see “women” as a simplistic category but rather realise how the category hides the multiple identities, realities, and experiences it is comprised of. Fatima worked on fighting for the Divorce Act in the 1990s which is what inspired her to think more about intersectionality. “Are we considering Indigenous women, immigrant women, refugee women, women with disabilities, women of all incomes, queer women?” she questions.

Fatima says that struggles against colonialism in both formerly colonised countries and ongoing settler colonial states, like Canada, are the significant achievements in the relatively recent history of feminism. She gets inspiration from women in the Third World, who were key to anti-colonial struggles in the early 1900s. During the 1938 Lima Conference of Latin American States, delegates pushed for the creation of the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN.

Fatima and Social Justice

Fatima believes that we need to move away from development and progress narratives and broaden our definitions of feminism and social justice while learning to employ a multiplicity of strategies and tactics in our struggles. As a feminist, Fatima does not believe in the idea of female empowerment. She explains that “female” connotes biological gender and thus robs women of individuality and “empowerment” is a misused concept in development discourses. It creates a hierarchy of “empowered” and non-empowered women and continues to compare women in terms of men.

Fatima is passionate about social justice because it is about the dismantlement of the systems of power relations that create inequities, inequalities, and hierarchies. Social justice also means looking at the complex ways in which we are linked, she believes. “A struggle for empowerment locks us into the very systems of power that create the hierarchies in the first place,” Fatima says. If we strive for “empowerment” we are only looking to accumulate privilege and enter into the very systems of oppression that we should try to dismantle.

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