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Environment Graduate student Tahnee Prior thinks gender equality should be “Plan A,” in the Arctic

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tahnee Prior, a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar and Ph.D. Candidate in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo, researches Arctic environmental governance. On the sidelines of her doctoral work, however, Tahnee is actively seeking to bring issues of gender equality to the forefront of Arctic discourse.

Tahnee Selfie“With the 2018 IPCC report now released and the #MeToo movement pushing forward, issues relating to a rapidly melting ‘Arctic’ and ‘gender’ continue to maintain unprecedented traction in mainstream discourse,” Prior notes. “At the same time, initiatives focusing specifically on the roles of women in the Arctic — the successes they achieve and the challenges they face — remain few and far between. It’s particularly frustrating when northern women are heralded as the backbone of their communities but remain missing from key conversations.”

Aiming to change this, Tahnee partnered with Gosia Smieszek, a researcher at Arctic Centre in Finland, to bring together women from across the circumpolar North for “Women of the Arctic: Bridging Research, Policy, and Lived Experience”, a non-academic event hosted by the 2018 UArctic Congress this past September in Helsinki, Finland. Supported with funding from NordForsk, “Women of the Arctic” provided a space for indigenous and non-indigenous women and girls who live in, work on, or engage with the Arctic to learn from one another. Speakers and participants included policy-makers, community leaders, artists, scientists, and the like.

Arctic LAdies

The event opened with the performance of “Whale Song”, a play written by New York-based arts organization The Arctic Cycle, that tells the story of women’s suffering and strength when faced with the adverse effects of climate change and gender-based violence in Alaska. The following day, Finland’s State Secretary Paula Lehtomäki opened a series of panels focusing on three major topics: northern women in leadership roles; women in Arctic science and exploration; and the role of arts in healing from systemic and gender-based violence in northern communities. The event ended with the closing session of the UArctic Congress, where former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, an active spokesperson on issues of gender and girls’ and women’s rights, spoke about the essential role of gender equality in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

To maintain a long-term focus on women in the Arctic, Prior and Smieszek partnered with creative communications collective What Took You So Long to document the event and to interview women about their professional and personal stories. Collected materials will go live on a digital storytelling platform, at www.genderisnotplanb.com, early next year.

women filmingNext Stop: An Arctic Women’s Summit. Last month, Prior and Smieszek brought together a panel of women — politicians, scientists, academics, and activists — in Reykjavik, Iceland, for a breakout session at the 2018 Arctic Circle Assembly, the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic, to discuss the potential of such an event. With former President of Iceland, Olafur Grimsson, and the Mayor of Iqaluit, Madeleine Redfern, both (re-)tweeting that ‘Gender is not Plan B in the Arctic’ following the session, what’s the conclusion? “It’s clear that the time is ripe,” Prior notes, “and we’re long overdue for many of these conversations, both in academic and non-academic circles. What’s most exciting is the outpouring of support. Once the dissertation is finished, an Arctic Women’s Summit awaits.” And what better way to kick off the next chapter...

For more information about “Women of the Arctic” please visit www.genderisnotplanb.com and follow along on Twitter and Instagram at @PlanArctic. You can read a full briefing note on the event proceedings in the 2018 Arctic Yearbook, an open-source publication: 

Gosia Smieszek, Tahnee Prior and Olivia Matthews. “Women of the Arctic: Bridging Policy, Research, and Lived Experience,” (Briefing Note) In Arctic Yearbook 2018, edited by Lassi Heininen and Heather Exner-Pirot. Akureyri, Iceland: Northern Research Forum.

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