The meeting of genders, cultures, and nations

The International Federation for Research on Women’s History/La Federation Internationale Pour la Recherche en Histoire des Femmes (IFRWH/FIRHF) will hold its 12th conference at Simon Fraser University from Aug. 9–12.

This year’s theme, Transnationalisms, Transgressions, Translations: Conversations and Controversies, will explore frameworks, narratives, interactions and power relations across time and space at local, national and global levels.

“Our goal is to really foster the study and research of gender history and transnational approaches,” says Eileen Boris, President of IFRWH/FIRHF.

The conference

Eileen Boris, president of IFRWH/FIRHF. | Photo courtesy of Eileen Boris

Between 225 and 250 scholars are expected to attend the conference, which will comprise panels, individual papers, roundtables, conversations, workshops, and non-traditional forms of presentation.

The conference kicks off on Aug. 9 with a three-hour workshop on Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony (ALOT), during which participants will learn about planning oral history projects, with particular reference to issues of sexual identity. There will also be a ‘Women and Gender, Theory and Practice’ roundtable, as well as a screening of ‘We Have No Fear,’ a 2017 Italian film about two women arrested in front of the Ducati Motor factory as they were handing out mimosa flowers, the symbol of female emancipation in post-war Italy.

The first plenary, entitled ‘Indigenous Feminisms in Settler Colonial Societies,’ will be held on Aug. 10. Other sessions that day include topics such as ‘Disobedient Intimacies: Women’s Urban Histories of Home, Conflict, and Survival,’‘Modern Legal Responses to Rape in Transnational Perspective’ and ‘Struggles for Marriage: Race and Identity.’

‘Migrants and Movements’ is the title of the second plenary to be held on Aug. 11 while other topics that day include ‘Abortion, Contraception, Surrogacy, and the State,’‘Histories of Gender Violence’ and ‘Family, Sexuality, and National Identity in Modern Korea.’

In each session, scholars put their papers together in conversation to find commonalities across cultures and nations.

“It’s really about bringing people together from different intellectual traditions and countries. Even the concept of gender has different meanings that travel different ways,” Boris says.

According to Boris, the topics covered at the conference are particularly relevant in today’s social climate.

“We’ve seen in the last year a global uprising of women against oppressive regimes and a fake populism that would take away women’s rights to bodily integrity,” she says.

Boris cites #MeToo and Time’s Up as examples of global movements in which women have been at the forefront of social justice. Not only women from Hollywood but also women who are office workers, domestic workers, home health aides, university employees and students are participating.

“Anytime we can come together with some shared interest and expertise and exchange across the lines of language and nationality, it’s a home run for the world,” says Boris.

In addition to workshops, there will be a banquet with the Canadian Indigenous women singing and storytelling group M’Girl, as well as historical walking tours of different subgroups in Vancouver, including queer, colonial indigenous and women’s movement walks.

Boris states that an international exchange amongst scholars helps understand the past of women’s lives and how women have been over different times at different places.

“We are better equipped to act in solidarity and in sisterhood where we can in these perilous days ahead,” says Boris.

A change of plans

The conference was originally planned to be held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where Boris serves as Professor of History, Black Studies and Global Studies.

But things changed when the United States gave the executive order for its first travel ban.

“We’d be putting scholars under the threat of denied entry to the US or being hassled arbitrarily under the Trump administration. We’d already be excluding people from applying. I think it was unconscionable to ask people to come to this country under those circumstances,” says Boris.

In light of the country’s political climate, the Federation decided to find a conference venue outside the US.

“I started calling the people I knew in Canada,” Boris recalls.

Jennifer Spear, Associate Professor and Department Chair of History at Simon Fraser University, then agreed to take over the local arrangements and host the conference at SFU’s Downtown Vancouver campus.

“I was happy to help Eileen in ensuring that scholars from all around the world could attend the conference. Given the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold the travel ban, Eileen was right to make the move,” says Spear.

For more information about the conference, visit