Saturday, July 26, 2014

Canterbury Castle and other collective houses in Sydney, Australia

Canterbury Castle
New Canterbury Road, Petersham, Sydney

Location: Canterbury Road, Sydney, Australia

Opened/Closed: Mid 1970s

According to Rebecca Jennings, Canterbury Castle was a women's "collective house" that grew out of the Sydney's vibrant lesbian-feminist scene back in the mid 1970s. Crystal Street (sometimes spelled Chrystal Street) was another.

She further discusses Canterbury Castle in a wonderful article called Lesbian Spaces: Sydney, 1945-1978:

Just as private houses had played an important role in lesbian socialising in the immediate post-war decades, as a location for private parties, with the advent of a lesbian political movement in the 1970s, lesbian collective houses became a central part of the lesbian scene. Sandra, who became part of the lesbian feminist scene in Sydney in the 1970s, recalled:
We lived in big group shared households, you know lesbian houses. And two of the earliest ones in Sydney were… one was in Petersham and it was called Canterbury Castle because it was on Canterbury Road and it was a big house and… a whole lot of lesbians lived there. And there was also one on Crystal Street in Petersham, which I think was called Crystal Street.

In 1974, members of the radicalesbian households at Canterbury Castle and Crystal Street were interviewed by feminist journal Refractory Girl for an article on collective households. They told the interviewer that what held the household together was a shared commitment to the women’s movement and the fact that there was ‘more energy to be directed towards others women’.

Many of the women in shared households would have been on the dole or working in casual jobs, but there was frequently an ideological commitment to sharing domestic responsibilities. Chris had fond memories of the shared lesbian household she lived in in Lewisham and the sense of togetherness which came from sharing household tasks. She recalled: ‘We had our bikes and you know, we’d go off to the Paddy’s Market, somebody’d go to the Paddy’s Market, somebody’d go to the butchers, somebody’d go there, so we did all that. So it was a very nice household. Mind you, I did get thrown out for not doing any housework.’

For the women who lived there, collective houses represented a small lesbian community in themselves. Sandra recalled that ‘some of them were quite big houses, like one of the ones that I lived in, in Redfern, in Chalmers St, it was six bedrooms… so you might have 10 people living there and then you’d have people coming and going as well.’For lesbian feminist visitors from other states, lesbian collective houses were often the first port of call when they visited Sydney and provided a base from which to engage in political activities in the city. One of the residents of Crystal Street told Refractory Girl: ‘Here at Crystal Street we get so many visitors – there’s a continuous exchange of people. We’ve got people from Melbourne staying here now: Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle, Canberra, New Zealand.’

Diane Minnis further discuses these places here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Shirur Shelter Home for Girls

Shelter Home for Girls in Shirur
Shirur Shelter Home for Girls

Location: Shirur, India

Why men and boys do NOT belong in shelters  intended for women and girls. And why it is especially dangerous when a woman is not in a position of authority to manage these spaces.

From Mid-day:

Paedophilia horror: Father-son duo rape minors in shelter home

By Salil Urunkar |Posted 23-Jul-2014

Junior clerk and his son raped two teenagers at a government shelter home for girls in Shirur from November 2013 to June 2014; when the girls were shifted to another shelter, they mustered the courage to speak out.

The government’s abominable neglect of its own children’s shelter home for girls in Shirur, some 200 km from Mumbai, has resulted in the repeated rape of two orphans, aged 14 and 15, over nearly eight months by a junior clerk and his son.

State officials left the post of the home’s superintendent vacant for eight years, deeming that an official from another shelter more than 60 km away could fulfill the job as additional responsibility.

The unreasonable stretch of duty resulted in this most abject of crimes, perpetrated countless times since November 2013 to June 2014. No female official had been appointed to the home. Moreover, counsellor Anita Nikam, who was supposed to meet with every girl at the home at least once a month, was not present during the period when the alleged rapes occurred on the shelter’s premises. Shirur police on Sunday arrested junior clerk Shabbir A Bale (52) and his son Bablu Bale (20) on the charges of raping the minors, who were admitted to the home in 2008.

The father-son duo was produced before a special court in Pune and has been remanded in police custody till July 25. Shabbir, his wife and son Bablu used to stay in a bungalow on the shelter premises. Shabbir had, in fact, been recently promoted to senior clerk in Pune.

District Child Welfare Officer Minakshi Birajdar has lodged a complaint against the suspects at Shirur police station, and they have been charged under section 376(c) (intercourse by superintendent of jail, remand home, etc) of the Indian Penal Code, and sections 4, 6, 8 and 12 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

At the time of the alleged crime, 35 girls stayed in the shelter, of whom 10 were orphans. When the other girls would visit their parents during vacations, the orphaned girls would be sent to the Anath Hindu Mahila Aashram in Narayan Peth, St Crispin’s Home in Erandwane and Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission in Kedgaon by Veena Bhalerao, who then held additional charge as superintendent of the Shirur shelter home. Her primary responsibilities demanded that she oversee a boys’ shelter 60 km away from Shirur.

After the two survivors returned from the Anath Ashram on June 3, they were transferred to the Ramabai Mission centre on June 10, where they confided in the superintendent about the rapes. The superintendent immediately wrote to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), after which an FIR was lodged by the District & Child Welfare Officer Minakshi Birajdar. The girls stated to the CWC that the suspects initially called them to their residence on the pretext of some work and molested them.

They said the duo had threatened them with dire consequences if they spoke of the sexual assaults to anyone. “No one can do me any harm if you complain, but I will beat you up in your dreams too,” Shabbir Bale reportedly intimidated the girls.

The committee enquired of the other girls on July 18 about any misconduct by the suspects since March 2008. So far, no other girl has come forward with a complaint, but officials believe that a few of them might eventually muster the courage to record their statements against the suspects.

Police Inspector Bhagwan Nimbalkar, in charge of Shirur police station, said, “The FIR was registered on Friday night and the suspects were arrested on Sunday. Their police custody was sought to thoroughly investigate the matter. Medical tests of the suspects and the victims are to be conducted.”

Rohini Jawale-Chavan, who now holds the additional charge as superintendent of the Shirur home, said “When I took charge of the Shirur centre, I had personally asked every girl about their problems, but no one told me of the rapes. It was later found that the suspects had beaten up all the girls and no one had the courage to complain against them. When the girls were transferred to another shelter home, they experienced a free environment and gathered the courage to expose the wrongdoings at the Shirur home.”

“When the alleged rape incidents happened, counsellor Anita Nikam was not present. If the girls had been counselled regularly, they might have spoken out against the misconduct of Shabbir much earlier,” she added.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ewart College

Ewart College
Ernescliff College, the former
Ewart College

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Opened: October 11, 1897

Closed: September 1991, when it merged with Knox College, University of Toronto

The standard description of Ewart College provides the barest outline of the College's history:

Ewart College was a historical women's college located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Canada. In September 1991, it merged with Knox College, University of Toronto.

Founded on October 11, 1897, it was then called the Ewart Missionary Training Home, later to be renamed the Presbyterian Missionary and Deaconess Training School. After a new building was constructed in 1960, it was renamed for Catherine Seaton Ewart; that building, located at 156 St. George Street, is now home to Ernescliff College.

Founded by women, the original purpose of Ewart was to prepare women for missionary service. In later years, it focused on diaconal ministry and Christian and lay education. Following the Presbyterian Church in Canada's decision to ordain women as Ministers in 1966, the college admitted male students in the 1970s, and in 1991, along with the merger with Knox College, many Ewart graduates have taken further studies to become ordained within the Presbyterian Church.

Ewart Chapel, housed within the Chapel at Knox College, is named after Ewart College, along with the McKay Educational Resource Room. The Ewart Centre for Lay Education at Knox College, an adult education program, is also named after the institution. It offers a certificate program in Christian Faith and Life.

Pam McCarroll-Butler tells us more about what Ewart College meant for women. According to McCarroll-Butler, women founded the school after "recognizing the Spirit's call to action." They challenged the Church's male monopoly on the "Ministry of Word and Sacrament" by providing women with training in Christian education and other specialized professions such as therapy, social work, and chaplaincy. Until women were finally allowed to be ordained in 1966, Ewart College provided a nurturing place where women could carve out their own niche of influence and power within the church:

The facts remain, however, that Ewart, in its final decades, was in the forefront of Christian education ecumenically, continued to be a safe place for women and was the central institution in the PCC [Presbyterian Church in Canada] wherein reflection on women's ministries occurred.

The extent to which the PCC devalues and patronizes the diaconal ministry, particularly the ministry of Christian education (the most central element to deep and meaningful faith) amazes me. I surmise that the voicelessness within the church courts imposed upon the diaconal order until 1991 was primarily a gender issue. Because the majority of diaconal ministers were women, the church tolerated their silence. This was, at best, a sin of omission for which, I believe, the church must seek forgiveness.

As McCarroll-Butler concludes,

In 1991, when the General Assembly voted to amalgamate Ewart and Knox colleges, the adopted motion read: "That the amalgamated college be known as Knox College." Ewart's gift passed unacknowledged, the name erased. The forgetting of the story had begun.

The story of Ewart needs to be named, celebrated and remembered both in its own right and for the transformative challenges it offers now. It is a story of the prophetic vision of women of the church. It is a story of women's lay and professional ministry within the PCC. It is a story which has shaped Christian education and educational methodology as we now know it. It is a story that witnesses to the Spirit's liveliness here in Canada. It is a story which includes many voices and experiences. It is a story of women who, at times against all odds, dared to heed the Spirit's call.

Once again, we see how critical a women's space was for not only allowing women to pursue their own spiritual path and learning, but in also providing a platform for challenging institutionalized male authority. We also see how by "merging" into a male-dominated institution--which included the erasure of the very name of that former women's space--that platform and that history and energy have been lost.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

American Sports Cafe

American Sports Café
Station 280, the former
American Sports Cafe

Location: 2554 Como Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

Opened/Closed: c. 2004-2007

Back in 2004, the American Sports Café won the Best Lesbian Bar award at Minneapolis City Pages:

Just miles west of Club Metro's gravesite sits an unremarkable sports bar. Its faded red sign sticks out of a dirt parking lot, indifferently announcing its presence, and the generic venue name written on it might as well be Drink Beer Here. But don't let its drab appearance fool you, because with the money the American Sports Café saves on decor (we suspect the faux-gold-framed sports photos on the walls have been in place for the past decade) they can afford to offer ladies free drinks on Wednesday nights. And that gratis liquor draws a flood of tomboyishly cute, educated women from the nearby Hamline campus. Visor-capped college girls in carpenter jeans and polo shirts share appetizers with spiky-haired, multiple-pierced pool sharks. And every possible stripe of woman seems to stumble out into the dirt lot with a new friend on her arm--proof that the ASC values actual romance over a starry-eyed setting. For a gay-friendly bar, that's keeping your priorities straight.

It was still open in October 2007, when Kathy C. reviewed it for yelp, In this review, it is further clarified that American Sports Café was only lesbian-friendly on Wednesdays, but oh well.

Tucked away on Como and 280 by the tremendously seedy Warehouse Nightclub is a bar's bar, The American Sports Cafe.

What it lacks in ambiance it more than makes up for in drink specials; All American is the home of the famous "Beer and Pizza," which is essentially all the pizza and beer you want for only six bucks.  Although this only happens on Wednesday from 5-8, the rest of the week you can find some killer specials as well.  This is, after all, a Big 10 campus!

For the ladies who love ladies, ladies night (Wednesday night) is chock full of chicks that swing that way, so if you're looking for some girl on girl, guys need not apply!

Wednesdays aren't the only night All American is poppin, they have food AND drink specials every day of the week.

This bar is really country/towny, so if you're looking for a heels type of place, you'd be better off going to the Library.  However, if you're trying to throw back a few in a sweatshirt, pull up a barstool and enjoy!

Yelp reports that American Sports Café is now closed, but as usual, there is no date.

It is now a (presumably straight) male-oriented sports bar called Station 280. As one yelp review from February 2014 reports,

I have never been here past 8PM, so I am not sure what the late night crowd is like. During the afternoon and early evening, there are probably about 9 male patrons to every 1 female patron.  I guess the cheap beer and the cleavage behind the bar keeps the dudes a flocking.

Once again, a women's space is lost, only to be aggressively recolonized like this....

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo

Location: 166 South Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, New York, USA

Opened: 1969

Closed: 1973, but became a gay male bar before that

This description of Crescendo is from a longer list of places identified at Buffalo Gay Bar Stories. None of the other bars discussed were dedicated lesbian spaces, though some were more tolerant of women than others.

What is interesting about Crescendo is that it started out as a lesbian bar and then was very quickly "invaded" (their very telling verb, not mine) by gay men. It must have happened pretty rapidly as Crescendo was in existence for only 4-5 years or so.

Notice also that the write-up is clearly not very interested in the lesbian phase, as nothing is said about it other than a brief allusion at the beginning. Nor is there any interest in acknowledging this common power dynamic (i.e. of men taking over women's spaces and making them their own). So there certainly is no discussion on how or why this happens or how it might be addressed. So what we end up with it a lot of nostalgic reminiscences glorifying Crescendo's "male phase" while ignoring why men felt compelled to take it over when they had so many other places in town.

Crescendo  -  166 South Elmwood Avenue (1969-1973)

Originally patronized by lesbians, gay men began to invade the Crescendo after the demise of T&T's Western Paradise on Niagara Street.  The male clientele was primarily a college-age crowd, including many gay men who enjoyed going to straight bars such as Brink's, Cole's, and the Rendezvous.  Some nights the bar would be so crowded that it was almost impossible to walk across the room with your drink.

Jerry Rothlein, the eccentric Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Buffalo State College, regularly "held court" at the Crescendo.  His quick wit, immense fund of knowledge, and biting tongue made him a bar favorite.  Being skewered by this learned professor became a rite of passage.  He lived on Allen Street across from the Blackstone and was a well-known Buffalo character in both straight and gay social circles.

The Crescendo operated at a time when many well-educated and well-employed gay men regularly patronized the Buffalo gay bars, mixing with other gay people from all social classes.  Although the Crescendo had become a men's bar, many women continued to go there.  One of the most popular songs on the jukebox was "Lay Lady Lay" (1969-Bob Dylan).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

PCM Homeless Shelter for Women and Children

PCM Homeless Shelter for Women and Children
Paducah Housing Authority

Location: Paducah, Kentucky, USA


Closed: May 2014

With changing funding priorities and cuts for programs that benefit women and children, we are seeing the elimination of more and more programs of this type.

From the Paducah Cooperative Ministry website:

Housing Authority Terminates PCM Homeless Shelter Lease Agreement

Paducah, KY – The Housing Authority of Paducah notified Paducah Cooperative Ministry that they must terminate the lease agreement that has allowed the use of seven public housing rental units as a homeless shelter for women and children. This action abruptly ended a 24-year partnership between the two agencies in providing shelter space to homeless individuals.  According to Housing Authority Executive Director, Cal Ross, the closure is necessary due to changes in HUD regulations.

“The summer months are when our shelter population is at its highest,” said PCM Executive Director, Heidi Suhrheinrich, “Many families can exist temporarily doubled up with other families or friends during the school year, but the pressure of so many people under one roof often explodes with the onset of summer vacations.  We just don’t know where these folks are going to go. We need a solution as quickly as possible.”

According to Suhrheinrich, PCM has been unable to assist homeless women and homeless women with children since receiving the May 6th Housing Authority directive not to accept any new clients, “PCM has already had to turn down 11 single women and 13 mothers with a total of 29 children.”

In 2013, PCM served 63 single woman as well as 42 mothers accompanied by 79 children.  In addition to providing a safe place to sleep, PCM seeks to break the cycle of homelessness by providing support services and counseling in the areas of mental health, landlord/tenant relationships, money management, parenting and life skills education.  The PCM Shelter is the only shelter in the eight county Purchase Area that houses homeless single women (emphasis added).  Only one other regional shelter serves single mothers with children.  PCM routinely receives referrals from area agencies including McCracken County High School, DCBS Family Support Office, Paducah City Schools Homeless Resources program, Probation and Parole, the Four Rivers Behavioral Health Crisis Unit and others.

“Unfortunately, the problem of homelessness does not end with the closure of the PCM Shelter; homeless women and children will return to the street because there is nowhere else to go,” said Suhrheinrich, “the closing of the shelter is not just a PCM concern, but a community concern.”

Suhrheinrich asks for help and input from the community on other possible spaces in which the shelter might operate.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Women-only transport service in Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Ladies Transport in Rawalpindi

Women-Only Transport

Location: Rawalpindi, Pakistan
Opened: March 2014
Closed: May 2014
Women-only public transportation is quite popular outside Europe, Canada, and the U.S. But even then, you'll see blatant attempts to underfund it, distort/undercount the ridership statistics, or otherwise destroy it. And that's not even going into the problem of men trying to crash the service in order to molest women.
Notice that the Transport Authority had only made a 4 MONTH COMMITMENT to the service, and even that was broken. And these guys can't even get their story straight. Was it because the investors stopped financing the service? Is it because ridership was down due to road construction (which just happened to start during the four month women-only service period)? Because the ridership reduction claim is contested too.
Notice that women conductors were hired for the four-month period, and now after 3 months, they are out of a job. They are protesting the decision.

I think all this is interesting for a number of reasons. Critics sometimes charge radical feminists with being "separatist" and that this is somehow a result of their "elitist" or "racist" tendencies. Yet in fact, separatism strategies seem to be the strongest outside the wealthier developed countries, and are supported by everyday women in India, Pakistan and other places. They're just women wanting to get around safely, and they seem to be far less spooked than Western women by accusations of "insensitivity" to men's feelings and the like.

Check out the public transportation tab below for similar stories of women's resistance around transportation.

Also see this piece defending women's space by a feminist in Zimbabwe, and this piece on a women-only settlement in Kenya called Umoja Village.
Last stop for women-only transport service
Published May 18, 2014 06:11am

RAWALPINDI: Just after three months of its operation, the Regional Transport Authority (RTA) has put brakes on the sole women transport service.
This created unrest among the women conductors of the service who staged a protest in front of the RTA offices near Fatima Jinnah Women University on Rashid Minhas Road on Saturday.

A public-private partnership, the transport service, comprising 12 wagons under the banner of ‘Tabeer’, was operating in collaboration with two firms, Al-Abrar Associates and cellular company Zong on two routes — Kohinoor Mills to Soan Bus terminal and from Saddar to Pakistan Secretariat.

A senior official of the local administration told Dawn that after the investors stopped financing the project, the RTA could not arrange alternative source of funding to keep the service running. But the RTA on the other hand insisted that the service had been suspended for a month due to construction work on Murree Road.

RTA Secretary Awais Manzoor Tarar told Dawn that after the start of work on Metro Bus Project the number of passengers for the women-specific vans reduced.

“In March, the seat occupation was 60 per cent but after the start of construction work it reduced to 20 per cent in April-May,” he said. He said the RTA conducted the survey to ascertain the reason for reduction in the number of passengers and found that working women opted for other fast means of transport as their wagon used to move slow on Murree Road due to the construction work.

“The daily expenditure of the transport service increased but the earning reduced. After seeing the gap between expenditure and earning, the RTA decided to stop the service for a month. It is the best project and will not be stopped permanently,” he said.

On the other hand, the senior official of the local administration said shortage of funds was the main reason as the RTA allowed the women transport service to use Murree Road and other transport had been diverted to alternative routes.

Meanwhile, more than 15 woman conductors gathered in front of the RTA offices and demanded the service be restored.

Under the scheme, the women conductors got a monthly salary of Rs14,000 per month and Rs2,000 per month for lunch.

“Services of the women conductors were hired for four months and after three months, the government stopped the bus service,” said Rubina Ashraf, a conductor while talking to Dawn.

She said the number of passengers had not reduced, adding that working women were using the service regularly. She said the RTA’s claim that the number of passengers had reduced was without any ground.

“I was shocked to learn that the women transport service has been stopped. I used this service daily from Committee Chowk to Zero Point as it was safe. It should not be stopped,” said Saeeda Parveen, a working woman while talking to Dawn.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2014