Motherhood conference tackles militarism and violence

It’s not often the words militarism and mothering appear in the same sentence, let alone as the topic of discussion at a major conference, but the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) is once again tackling the tough issues at its 12th annual conference – “Mothering, Violence, Militarism, War and Social Justice" – Oct. 23 to 26 at York.

The conference “explores how to better inform and empower mothers in their struggle to eradicate violence, militarism and war,” says Andrea O’Reilly, ARM’s founder and director. “War is ongoing in an estimated 42 countries and increased militarism has become the norm in many more.” War, violence and militarism are affecting women everywhere, including Canadian women. It is estimated that between 30 and 50 per cent of women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lives. “In Canada, 500 women were murdered by their partners between 2000 and 2007; during this same time 8,000 women in the US died this way,” says O’Reilly.

“This conference will provide an opportunity for Canadian researchers, activists and community members, along with international scholars, to come together to examine common themes, identify key problems and develop strategies for possible solutions,” says O’Reilly.

Some 100 participants from seven provinces and 20 countries, including South Africa, Palestine, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, India, Israel, Finland, Mexico and Malaysia will discuss issues to do with violence and mothers at the conference. Amy Hudock, the co-founder of, will speak, as will Amy Anderson, co-founder of the mama-focused webzine and Audette Sheppard, founder of United Mothers Opposing Violence Everywhere. In addition, Amy Richards, author of Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself (2008), will be there. So will Juliana Forbes and Beth Osnes of Mothers Acting Up, a group that inspires and mobilizes mothers to advocate for the world’s children, and Laura Jiménez, deputy coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.

There will be over 25 sessions and seven keynote panels discussing issues as diverse as young motherhood; the root causes of terrorism; violence against women; mothering and reproductive violence; mothering, masculinity and violence in literature; criminalizing mothers; queering the family; and mothers and nationalism.

In the first keynote panel of the conference, Sara Ruddick will outline and contribute to what she calls a politics of peace that rejects collective violence, treasures each individual person and develops and honours institutions that make non-violent societies possible. In her paper “Seeds for the Planting: Generative Mothering as a Figure of Peace,” Ruddick says she will “focus on the demands such a politics of peace makes on mothering and motherhood and on the insights and sociality mothering and motherhood brings to the politics.” Ruddick is co-editor of Working It Out (1977) and Mother Troubles (1999), and is the author of Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace (1995).

Flavia Cherry, national chairwoman of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, will present “Gender Based Violence against Women in Military Occupation and Conflict in the Caribbean." Cherry will illustrate her experience in Haiti to explain how a long history of political conflict and economic difficulty, coupled with the presence of peace-keeping forces creates an environment that fuels discrimination and violence against women. Cherry hosts a weekly television talk show called "The Gender Dimension."

Right: A mother and child. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tiisetso Russell, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and the third member of the first panel, will examine the experiences, practices and perceptions of black foreign-trained women lawyers navigating the Canadian credentialing process and how newcomers have difficulty securing jobs because they don’t have Canadian experience.

In the second keynote panel, O’Reilly will discuss the emergence of motherhood studies in the 21st century, while Linda Lisi Juergens of Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights, will look at mothers uniting and organizing for change and the next step in building a mothers movement. Melody Drnach, vice-president for Action of the National Organization for Women, will look at the challenge of balancing work and family and how achieving that balance would improve the lives of women and families.

The other five keynote panels will explore everything from global perspectives; reproductive justice; ending violence and seeking justice; creativity, expression and agency; and the empowerment of mothers through advocacy and activism.

The conference will also feature the touring motherhood exhibit – Mother: The Job, Building Human Capital, Building Human Beings. The exhibit, which puts an economic yardstick to the work of mothers, includes a short film, sculpture, photography, domestic artifacts, original writing and integrated art forms.

In addition, there will be an embedded conference – "You Say You Want a Revoution: The Motherhood Movement of the 21st Century" – from Oct. 24 to 26 at York.

The conference will be held at McLaughlin College, Keele campus. For more information or to register for the conference, visit the ARM Web site.