The women’s movement of the 1960’s and 70’s lobbied for the development of infrastructure for women. On-campus Women’s Centres are one example of the social support services that were established at this time. In Victoria, the Status of Women Action Group (SWAG) was established in 1973. SWAG was an association of women from university and broader communities who worked towards creating both the first women’s studies courses at the university and the Women’s Centre.
The initial purpose of the Women’s Centre, as articulated by members of SWAG, was to increase women’s participation in professions dominated by men, to create an abortion council to protect reproductive choice on campus, to disseminate knowledge through the creation of a women’s library, and to increase networking among women on campus and women in the broader Victoria communities. In 1980, SWAG began lobbying the Students Society Board of Directors for a room in the Student Union Building. A Women’s Centre advisory committee was set up and it proposed that a Women’s Centre be established to act as a drop-in centre, referral service and library. Its mission was to promote women’s equality at all levels of campus life while informing the student body on issues affecting women. The Women’s Centre was established in on February 22, 1981 out of the mandate of SWAG. Once established members of the Women’s Centre collective quickly started trying to piece together a framework of action, and an organizational structure. According to UVic archives, early documents suggest that the collective experienced a great deal of difficulty navigating the bureaucratic structure of the university while attempting to maintain a non-hierarchal collective structure. In its early years the Women’s Centre was organized around limited and pre-defined analysis of women’s issues, including sexism, pornography, Women’s studies courses, violence, and health.
Since 1981, the Women’s Centre has evolved into an organization with it’s own paid staff, practicum students and wonderful volunteers who have collectively contributed thousands of hours to make the space a great place to be on campus. How each collective has mobilized towards this mission has varied greatly, but the vision of the Centre has also remained the same, “to create social change through political action, education and support of University of Victoria students.”
In 2016, the UVSS Women’s Centre changed the name of the space to move forwards in hopes of being more inclusive. The name was changed to Third Space, which was previously the name of the zine that was created in the Women’s Centre. At this time, bylaws were also changed to expand the mandate of the space to include non-binary and gender non-conforming folks, as well as trans women. In 2019, the space changed its name to the Gender Empowerment Centre, with the aim of promoting a clear vision of the work that the centre does. While these more recent changes in general membership and the name of the centre shifted the vision of who the space aims to serve, the mission of the space has remained the same. The Gender Empowerment Centre is here “to be a strong, feminist voice on campus”.
Past achievements of the space include the creation of a feminist resource library for student and public use, and starting non-commercial publication “Thirdspace,” to confront racism, ableism, patriarchy, queer bashing, and colonization. The centre has collaborated with various local organizations to co-organize events like the Red Umbrella Rally and the Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The Gender Empowerment Centre has held Panty Drives which fundraise for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and the Prostitutes Empowerment Education & Recovery Society (PEERS). The centre has also held a Racialized and Indigenous Women’s Circle, which brought together people from various racial identities, who experience different challenges.
THE GEM CENTRE TODAY
Today, the Gender Empowerment Centre provides a safe and supportive space to build an anti-oppression community through sharing, learning, and teaching. We value all experiences and offer the resources necessary to advocate for yourself and others. As a centre we are committed to constantly re-accessing and adapting in order to better host an anti-oppressive space. In order to do this we commit to consistent framework of evaluating our practices. We welcome critical feedback so that we may better practice being an intersectional feminist, queer positive, trans positive, decolonizing, anti-racist space. It is vital that the community recognize it as such and feel welcome. Through more recent inclusion forums, the Gender Empowerment Centre recognizes its deep history of ‘radical feminisim’ as exclusionary, racist, trans exclusive, and we are committed to the process of unlearning elitist social justice mentalities and relearning through dialog in order to implement policy changes, as individuals, as a collective, and as a community. Gender Empowerment Centre is committed to facilitating on campus and off campus social justice organizing, workshops, and other events. Supporting marginalized individuals who have historically been excluded from such activist organizing we strive to work in a horizontal manner and work to ensure that our events are accessible to all those who wish to attend and contribute. We are committed to facilitating a creative, collaborative, community space through initiatives like various workshops and educational opportunities, social events, and our all gender neutral feminist library. The Gender Empowerment Centre is governed by a feminist collective that uses a consensus-based decision making model and is driven by volunteer participation.