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A question of domination or overshadowing?

Women's Worlds responds to conference controversy

Academics, researchers, policymakers, community service providers and activists converged in Ottawa from July 3 to 7 to participate in Women’s Worlds 2011.

The theme — Inclusions, Exclusions and Seclusions: Living in a Globalized World — provided a broad inspiration for “a global convergence to advance women’s equality through research, exchange, leadership and action.”

After the conference Xtra published an article that highlighted an event where sex workers and their allies felt silenced by anti-sex-work groups.

The article, “Hostile Clashes Dominate Women’s Conference,” unleashed myriad heated discussions between those who supported the suggestions in the article and those who didn’t.

Pam Kapoor, director of communications for Women’s Worlds 2011, weighed into the discussions. Kapoor’s objection was not about the content of the article but about the headline.

Xtra talked with Kapoor to find out why. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

Xtra: Why the concern about the headline?

Pam Kapoor: My number one concern with the headline was “dominate.” I feel like it is a disservice and minimization to the hundreds of discussions and debates that took place over the course of four and a half days under the banner of Women’s World 2011… I was concerned over the characterization that a singular controversy or a singular hot topic in any way took over or overshadowed the rest of the program, which, in my opinion and many other people’s opinion, was rich and full of lively and animated discussions.

Xtra: Do you think that this topic took over at all then, or was it just the headline that made it into controversy?

PK: I feel that this controversy between the folks who would advocate for the abolition of prostitution and those who are sex workers, or who were speaking on behalf of sex workers, was very heated [at the conference] and, at times, a troubling set of instances and discussions. For the people involved directly in that debate, I am absolutely certain that it would have overshadowed the congress for them… I understand that the take-away from some of those experiences are very profound and it taints the whole congress experience. I have no doubt that the people at the centre of the discussions we are alluding to experienced the congress with this weighing very heavily on them.

I would also answer your question by suggesting that it is really the aftermath of some of those instances, where the discussions became heated, that has dominated some of the post-congress discourse. Again, during the week of the event itself, I feel like a myriad of interesting and timely topics were debated and, may I even say, effectively and without incident… the leadership and the supporters of Women’s Worlds 2011 may not have registered that this controversy was taking place. Because there was such a rich and thick program surrounding everybody’s experience, I am not convinced that this registered as a dominating issue during the congress itself, but I will concede that since the congress has wrapped, most of the discussion that I can see that continues after Women’s Worlds is about this controversy… but I certainly don’t characterize it as having dominated the congress itself.

Kapoor ended the interview by emphasizing that the organizers took great care to provide all participants with a code of conduct, and said that they had expected all workshops and discussions to be conducted in a respectful manner. She also reiterated that if the organizers had been aware of the controversy as it happened, they might have been able to intervene somehow.