Students at the University of Ottawa are preparing to host their very first charity conference aimed at ending gender-based violence.
Girls Night 2013 will be held at the university from Feb. 8 to 9 and will welcome motivational speakers, performers, a free concert and fitness activities. The conference is a first of its kind and has been organized completely by the students.
Rona Ghanbari, vice president of the political, international and development studies students’ association, said the idea for the conference was the work of Maddy Orr, a first-year student, whose idea for hosting a girl’s night sleepover blossomed into the two-day conference. The event is looking to motivate and encourage the entire student body to start talking about violence against women.
“Gender-based violence is a huge issue and it’s often not talked about, especially among young girls,” Ghanbari said. “Our main goal is to get people talking about the issue and understanding the issue, and see how we can move forward from there.”
But even though the conference has been dubbed a “girls night” the conference is not just for girls.
“This is not a conference for women only. We want to get men involved as well. Despite the name Girls Night,” Ghanbari said. “We actually have included panels and workshops that apply to men as well. Women are not the only victims of violence and women are not the only people who can help eradicate it.”
The conference will begin with keynote speaker Aruna Papp, a human rights advocate and social worker. Ghanbari said Papp will speak about the importance of education to break the cycle of violence and discussing themes from her book Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter's Memoir of Honour, Shame and Love.
A free concert will start at 8:30 p.m. with local bands Motel Raphael and Eleven Past One performing.
“We made the concert free because we figured it would be a great way to open it up to all students and all of the community really,” Ghanbari said. “We really wanted this event to be open and accessible to everyone.”
The bands and all of the speakers participating in the conference have donated their time, the JunXion public house donated their facilities and the university has offered its own support, allowing the committee to book rooms for free and will cover the costs for the free concert.
The workshops and panels range from topic such as advocating for equality, the role of men in ending violence, the role of the law in protecting women, violence against aboriginal women, the media’s take on violence, manifestations of violence on campuses, violence against vulnerable persons, and human trafficking in Canada.
PLAN Canada, the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, Amnesty International, the Ottawa police, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and University of Ottawa professors are all participating in the event.
“All of the girls had contacts ... and it just ended up being a snowball - students would approach us with organizations they knew of that might be interested and we searched for some ourselves and it has all sort of fallen in place,” Ghanbari said.
Yoga sessions, self defence classes and an organization fair will round out the conference’s events.
“We wanted to make sure we had a balance of activities that would be eye-opening and help educate and start a dialogue with the participants, but also activities that are fun and relaxing and make people feel refreshed and empowered,” Ghanbari said.
Registration for the conference is available online at www.pidssa.ca or on campus at the association’s office located at suite 2002 of the Faculty of Social Sciences Building. Tickets are $20 for University of Ottawa students and $25 for any other members of the community. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Canadian Women's Foundation. A full schedule is available on the association’s website at www.pidssa.ca.