The stereotypical image of a bundled women asleep on a sidewalk is what comes to mind for most Canadians, when homelessness is mentioned. However, that is not always the case, the reality is more varied and complex. With no roof over their heads and no door to lock safely behind them, women are at a greater risk of physical, emotional and psychological harm. In Canada, women’s hidden homelessness is largely present. Women with precarious living situations are highly vulnerable. The number of young women that are homeless is alarming which is why a shelter is a safe space for them.
Women’s homelessness is often hidden and largely underestimated
Women’s homelessness is rarely visible. We often think that it looks like someone sleeping on the street, but homelessness can also be couch surfing with friends, trading sex for housing, or living in a tiny, overcrowded apartment. All these describe the hidden homelessness that makes it difficult to accurately estimate the number of women and families experiencing homelessness in Canada.
In 2019, the YWCA partnered with local image maker Michal Pasco. Together they embarked on a project to shine light on the faces of homelessness. The ‘YW Faces’ objective helped to bring awareness to hidden homelessness.
Women are constantly at risk when homeless, thus they tend to hide more. Their focus on safety first leads to the undercounting of women’s homelessness.
“This undercounting is not unique to the Canadian context: global trends demonstrate that women have been under-represented in research on homelessness, in part due to the hidden nature of their homelessness.” – The State of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness in Canada
By using inefficient measurement strategies and largely undercounting women, we also fail to identify the level of need for infrastructure that support women and families in poverty. Effective research can better inform policies and interventions that give women access to the resources they need.
Intergenerational homelessness starts and stops with mothers
Canadian evidence shows that adult homelessness often has its roots in childhood experiences of housing instability and violence.
“I thought it was the way life was…there was no safe house, there was no shelter that a wife or women could run to and be protected. So, many women, including my mother — they stood there, and they took it…and I took on that generational trait. You were just supposed to take it.”
There is less attention on the childhood experiences that are intertwined with the experience of the child’s primary caregiver, which in many cases is a child’s mother.
We must take action to break the cycle and address the housing challenges faced by many Canadian women. Addressing the housing needs of women, particularly the families headed by single women, is a critical aspect to solving chronic and intergenerational homelessness.
When we fail to address the needs of single mothers and their children with a lack of resources, we create a condition for their children to continue the cycle of homelessness.
The reality is that you can’t truly help a family if you’re not helping the whole who leads it. We know that generational poverty starts and ends with mothers. This is why safe environments and critical services are needed to help entire families out of poverty.
Public systems disproportionately drive women to poverty and homelessness
Women’s homelessness can be seen as interpersonal violence but can also be rooted in structural violence. Structural violence stems from social structures and systems put in place which are driving women to poverty and homelessness.
An example of such public system failures includes contradictory polices across systems (between social assistance, child welfare, and social housing) that make it difficult for women to qualify for income or housing supports.
Most social assistance systems cut entitlements for a mother as soon as her child is apprehended by child welfare, putting her at risk of losing her housing. This dramatically affects her ability to have her children returned to her care. Similarly, housing providers often consider a woman over-housed if she loses custody of her children. Nor will they consider the mother’s family size for future housing entitlement if her children are not currently in her care. Recognizing the harmful cycle in this one area could have a dramatic impact on homelessness amongst women.
Last year, YWCA Niagara Region served more than 500 women and 230 children with emergency shelter or transitional housing programs. Consistently over-capacity and frequently spread thin, the YWCA Niagara Region advocates for policies that prioritize women’s well-being and stability. Help us advocate for a better life for women in Niagara.
We’re already one month into 2020 and a lot of people have been working hard on their New Year’s resolutions. Some people are looking for eat healthier this year, or hit the gym at least three times a week. Here at the YW, New Year’s resolutions look a little different as our clients work to make 2020 a year of stability and growth. This may be the year they find affordable housing for themselves and their families, or it could be a year of empowerment as they build the courage to leave difficult environment and come to the YW for help. Everyone’s resolutions look different and this year, so do mine.
This year, I am dedicating to my feminist self in hopes that
creating these healthy, self-positive habits now will continue on for me for
years to come and maybe even help some people along the way too.
Be proud of who you are
Every person is a unique complex being with an identity
comprised so many different layers. This year, I want to be proud of every one
of those layers that makes me unique – that makes me, well, me. An important
layer of my identity is being a woman and being a feminist woman. I no longer
want to be shy about talking about the female experience. This year, I will be
loudly proud of my identity, speak openly to my male peers about my unique
experiences and refuse to let my female identity to be quieted.
Don’t quietly accept sexist treatment
I can’t think of a situation that makes me more
uncomfortable than unprompted street harassment. It happened to me recently and
I am sure it will happen again. Except next time, I won’t let a stranger makes
me feel uncomfortable or ashamed for walking down the sidewalk alone. I
recently learned that if someone makes you uncomfortable in public, you can
tell them. You can make a scene and draw attention to the situation. You can
yell, “Don’t you see you’re making me feel uncomfortable?!” and “I don’t like
the way you’re talking to me?!” If you’re tired of keeping your gaze low,
staring at the sidewalk and praying a catcallers doesn’t decide to follow you down
the street, you have options.
Talk about the taboo because being “ladylike” is overrated
It’s 2020 and, while it is hard to believe, there are still women’s issues that are taboo to talk about. Important, meaningful topics that are “unladylike” to talk about. Birth control, sexual health, mensuration, post-partum depression, sex work, the list goes on… when we never talk about these topics, they become a seed for shame in our lives. If we don’t talk about these things, there will be no one to advocate for the person too embarrassed to go to the doctor with women’s health concerns, or the struggling new mom who doesn’t understand why she is so sad during what she expected to be the happiest days of her life. Whether I am telling a personal story or supporting a friend or family member talking about her female experience, this year will be a year of making the taboo not taboo anymore.
Don’t be embarrassed to exercise your basic human rights
It is my basic human right to walk down a public sidewalk at
any time of the day. It is my basic human right to go to express my opinion on
topics that are important to me. It my basic human right to skip my makeup
routine if I want to. Yet, when I do these things, I feel embarrassed and
judged and sometimes even unsafe. Entering this new age of Feminist Me, I am
going to work harder to understand why I feel this way when I go against the
grain and take steps to empower myself when I exercise my basic human right. I
know I am in a fortunate position to be able to be in public alone, speak up
when I want and express myself however I feel – it is time to be proud about
My resolutions for the start of a new decade look different
than they ever have before. And I know
this is the first step of many to seeing and moving through the world with a
feminist lens. I am excited to take charge of empowering me this year and I
hope I am able to empower other women who feel embarrassed, isolated, judged
and afraid to talk about their unique female experience. So cheers to a new
year and a new decade of female-forward action.
We thank our newest blogger, who wants to remain anonymous at this time, for sharing this beautiful blog post with our readers! Your strength and courage is an inspiration to all of us.
It’s January 2019. Two years ago, January 2017, I was pregnant with my daughter, awaiting her arrival with my then partner. Within these 2 years I have gone through some very rapid transformations. From woman to mother to single mother. From postpartum depression to domestic violence to “just enjoying life” so to speak. My daughter has undergone many transformations too. From babyhood to toddlerhood. Every day I watch her and it gives me new joy and hope.
I feel strange that I now stand here with a new paint brush and a blank canvas.
It dawned on me the other day that now I am in my own territory. Completely on my own. Through the violence from her father, police interruptions and a family court case… my daughter and I made it out! And it made me a better person in the end. I write this now, as a reflection. Sitting with the unknown future. Sitting with past attitudes and outlooks. I feel strange that I now stand here with a new paint brush and a blank canvas. It’s foreign to not have specific stress which looms in the background. I am more than pleased to have this peaceful beginning.
There is light at the end of that dark and scary tunnel.
After much therapy and self love, I was able to heal. Connecting with my community, friends and family. It’s really important to reconnect with oneself after ending an abusive relationship. Making my art, having art shows, jogging, meditation and yoga helped me ground myself through all the stressy mess.
For anyone going through a tough time, I get it. There is
light at the end of that dark and scary tunnel. Believe in your strength.
To anyone who has been abused, in any way, always remember that it’s not you. It’s a reflection of how low this person feels to make sure they put you down. It’s a reflection of their own hurt. Hurt people, hurt people. Don’t let them dim your light🌟
The discomfort hit almost as soon as I lay my head down on my fluffy pillow. In a tent, with a small yoga type mattress, I could still feel every single bump in the ground. The roots digging into my bones made me continually adjust myself into a position that seemed tolerable. Tossing and turning most of the night, hearing sounds in the distance, I couldn’t help but think about the homeless people sleeping on a park bench. How exposed they must feel. How uncomfortable, terrified, and lonely they must feel. Shuffling to try to avoid those thoughts, I fell into a rough sleep. Well into the night, the cold crept upon me. Wrapping myself deeper into my warm comforter, putting my hood up, I fell into a light sleep.
The sun came up quickly and early. Groggy, I woke up so sore. Almost every part of me was aching. I struggled to pull myself together and get out of the tent. My goodness, I was exhausted. It felt like I didn’t even sleep. And yet, there are so many people in our community that sleep on park benches, in cars, on floors night after night. They’re waking up feeling awful, going to work, and going back “home” to any of those positions and doing it all over again. Can you imagine?
The thing that kept me up in the morning was knowing that in a couple of hours, I’d take a long hot shower. Id’ be able to brush my teeth and clean my face in my sink without any inconveniences. That evening I’d be able to crawl into my comfortable queen-sized bed in nice sheets and a clean comforter. The night prior’s discomforts would be all but a distant memory unlike the reality it is for so many people. And let me tell you from my experience that a tent is much more spacious than a car and it allows you to be in a better position. So I really had no reason to even have a slight negative thought about it.
One night was uncomfortable. Being sore for the entire day was awful. Every single person that participated in this event was grateful to go back to the comfort of their home. But so many people in our community don’t have that luxury. They don’t have a home or any comfort.
That’s why we take a night out of our lives each year to help the YW help our homeless. Because what’s one night compared to all of the people who do it for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years.
Is it a multipurpose room set as a meeting space during the day and a bedroom to multiple people at night? A child’s safe place with their mom? Is it someone’s temporary home?
Here at the YWCA Niagara Region, ours is regularly just that.
I will never forget that one Friday morning I came into work at the YWCA Niagara Region. It was a little earlier than usual. I was on my way to the Fund Development office, walking past the boardroom when I noticed the lights were on. That was rare for that early in the morning. So, naturally, I glanced into the room.
What did I see?
Not one, not two, but three beds. In our boardroom! Unbelievable. The purpose of a boardroom is for meetings, not for someone to sleep at night. The fact that there were three was even more alarming. That meant three people were crammed into a room with all of the tables and chairs for a meeting along with the three beds. Three people!
The YWCA Niagara Region St. Catharines Emergency shelter already holds at least twenty women and their children every night. To think that more people needing a safe place to lay their heads are being put on pull out couches and cots was extremely upsetting. I then found out that there were two more cots in our Kate Leonard Room (another boardroom across the hall). Five people in total were sleeping in what was intended to be a meeting room. This was in decent weather. Can you imagine what the demand is like during terrible weather? I teared up a bit as my heart went out to these women and children.
How would I feel if I were tossed into a boardroom with two other people or with my little kids? How would you feel? Vulnerable, to say the least. Grateful, of course and happy to be safe; but sad, scared, and uncomfortable. I can’t grasp exactly how they must feel. Unless you’re in the position, how could you? The thought of small children and their mothers curling up in a room that I personally use to plan events and gain community support is upsetting. One that’s used to make decisions to help clients, not house them. It’s not a bedroom, there is no closet to put away clients’ belongings.
After taking a minute to let it sink in that this was a daily reality, I stepped outside with my hand to my lips in utter shock. The advocate on duty apologized that she hadn’t had time to clean up the beds. Well no kidding, there were at least 25 women and their children who most likely needed her attention in the morning. So, no, she didn’t have time to clean up all of the meeting rooms. This is what we have to do to ensure that Niagara women and children have somewhere they can safely sleep, have a warm meal, and the comfort of a shower, even if they have to be placed in a boardroom with others. At least they have a safe place and a semi-comfortable cot.
“I was shocked and heartbroken, tearing up. I mean, who wants to sleep in a boardroom? My heart went out to these women and children living in this type of situation!”
The unfortunate thing is the YW as well as all of the other shelters across the region and country have been running overcapacity for quite some time. They’ve been struggling to find the room for women and children in need. In 2017, the YW operated at 110% capacity. Hotels are thrilled when they reach 60% capacity. That’s how high the demand for just a bed is. Not to mention the fact that the demand for meals went up 42% in the last year at the YW, which had us serve a total of 94,691 meals.
I can’t explain my heartbreak. We are trying our best, but the demand is still rising and we are running out of room.
This is why I’m participating in No Fixed Address and supporting the YWCA Niagara Region, and this is why I am passionate about my job.
Because there are women and children, as well as men (in the men’s shelter) who live in impossible situations and deserve better. Who would I be if I didn’t try to make a difference? I certainly would hope for help if I was in the situation, and the hard reality is it can happen to any one of us.
So, what is your boardroom used for?
Help me make a difference and participate in the YW’s No Fixed Address event on June 8th-9th, where we can help end homelessness.
This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress. It’s kind of sad that in 2018, we still have to have this type of theme to try to gain gender parity. But it’s a fact, there just isn’t the same ratio of women to men in decision-making roles, politics, STEM, etc. There just isn’t.
Now is the time to make a difference, to start finding ways to support other women to get into those positions. Women and allies need to do more than have the conversations at this point. Last year I think the #BeBold theme really initiated a lot of conversations and a movement as did a lot of the things happening around the world. This year, let’s rally together, take those conversations to the next level, and make things happen.
This year is an election year for us, meaning we have the chance to make some changes this year. What better way to do so than to get out, help women campaign, spark the interest in other women, rally with them, and VOTE. There are so many ways women can be leaders in the community other than being in politics but being educated is a great start and voting is even better. If you learned anything from the YW’s Niagara Leadership Summit for Women’s 2017 Breaking Barriers conference, we have the support, the interest, and the ability to help make Niagara stronger, better, and move towards gender parity.
If you go onto the International Women’s Day website, you can see all of the ways you can #PressforProgress and I have to say, it’s worth the read. Here’s the main examples:
All of these options are doable and meaningful. I believe that International Women’s Day really sets the tone for the year and this year we can make even more progress than the last year, and the year before that. I challenge everyone to pick a way (or multiple ways) that they will #PressforProgress. Let us know which action you choose by tagging us #ywca_niagara. Let’s #PressforProgress together!
Personally this year my action is “Forge positive visibility of Women,” what’s yours?
So while the average folks of today only expect to hear a song like this at Shoppers Drug Mart on a Thursday, my partner and I enjoy incorporating wholesome 1950s music into our everyday lives – while we’re cooking, cleaning and subverting traditional gender roles – you know how it is with modern coupledom.
The only problem is, these songs are actually really not that wholesome. And a lot of time incorporate a whole lot of traditional gender norms (which shouldn’t be a thing), subtle sexist commentary, or straight-up overt “WTF” themes.
Most people reading this blog are probably familiar with some of the myths and harmful messaging that YWCA and other feminist organisations tackle:
Boys will be boys. (What does that even mean? And how can I get in on that excuse?)
Girls should be “good.” (Ew. That’s not how I racked up all those detentions in school.)
Women are property owned by a male (parent/sibling/husband). (I’m hoping most people have got this one out of their systems come 2018)
We know these messages are damaging, not only to the feminist movement but truly, in everyday life. They normalise rape culture. They uphold the gender binary. They keep individuals in boxes dictated by the social and cultural norms of the present day and the past. “Let’s put a halt on progress and equality!” they cry.
So it was much to my chagrin to hear this sort-of love song on one of our favourite 8tracks playlists. Despite the conditioning and acceptance of many other songs with similar messages, none managed to so bluntly threaten today’s movement as this one by Doris Day (sorry, Doris!):
“Guy Is A Guy”
I walked down the street like a good girl should He followed me down the street like I knew he would Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be So listen and I’ll tell you what this fella did to me
I walked to my house like a good girl should He followed me to my house like I knew he would Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be So listen while I tell you what this fella did to me
I never saw the boy before So nothin’ could be sillier At closer range his face was strange But his manner was familiar
So I walked up the stairs like a good girl should He followed me up the stairs like I knew he would Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be So listen and I’ll tell you what this fella did to me
I stepped to my door like a good girl should He stopped at my door like I knew he would Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be So listen while I tell you what this fella did to me He asked me for a good-night kiss I said, “It’s still good day” I would have told him more except His lips got in the way
So I talked to my ma like a good girl should And Ma talked to Pa like I knew she would And they all agreed on a married life for me The guy is my guy wherever he may be
So I walked down the isle like a good girl should He followed me down the aisle like I knew he would Because a guy is a guy wherever he may be And now you’ve heard the story of what someone did to me
And that’s what he did to me
After reading the lyrics (or listening to the song), it may come as no surprise that Doris Day was more known as an Animal Welfare Activist than a Women’s Rights one. I make no digs at Ms. Day, as she was a pretty stellar lady for her time. But it’s clear to see how this “good girl” was fully wrapped up and embraced by the patriarchal forces that still exist today (just not this overtly).
I’m not saying I don’t still listen to our 1950s playlists or get this song stuck in my head. And I’m certainly not trying to corrupt – in the words of Youtuber Gema Ibarra – “a song reflecting a beautiful innocent romance between a young man and woman.” There is certainly enough warring in the comment section – some pointing out the inappropriate stalking/uninvited stranger kiss/overall normalisation of rape culture, while others point out and try and save the wholesome and innocent virtue of the white, straight, cis-gendered romances of the 1950s. I could put my English Degree to use and go on and on about how things happen TO the heroine of the song and that she appears to be lacking any agency of her own. But I’ll save the over-analyzing for those interested in reading the comment sections. I’m way too tired for that.
Today in some ways, the sexism – through media like music – is less in your face (in other ways it’s not). It can be harder to deal with, confront and change when it is hidden. However, I am so glad that the #1 hit today doesn’t use the line, “Like a good girl should” as it did in 1952.
(Or does it? I actually stopped listening to the radio a while ago… Most of the time I think I’m just *hoping* we’re not moving backward. Keep me posted, would you?)
On Saturday October 28th, YWCA Niagara Region hosted the fourth Annual Niagara Leadership Summit for Women. Since October is Women’s History Month, it seemed to be fitting to end the month on such a positive note. It was great to see a few men present in the crowd, who supported women’s rights and ability to lead in a rather male dominated community. I hope to see more men in the future at the summit because gender inequality does not only concern women; it is a larger problem concerning the Canadian community as a whole.
Ashley Callingbull was the keynote speaker for the summit, who became the first First Nations and Canadian woman to win the Mrs. Universe title in 2015. She is devoted to supporting the community. She shared with the audience her struggling childhood, and how she as a First Nations woman has to work extra hard to make achievements. Shining light on this issue, she further explained how she experienced racism from a young age. She brought attention to cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. However, most importantly she reminded the crowd that you can do anything you want to do, and be anything you want to be, and that the only person holding you down is yourself. So let us hold on to that and try to change the gender divide one-step at a time.
Once Ashley wrapped up her address, we had an opportunity to attend a workshop from a choice four, which included; Leadership in parenting, Women in politics, Breaking barriers in mental health, and Business and entrepreneurship.
I attended the Women in politics workshop, which focused greatly on the Niagara region. It was led by Elizabeth Zimmerman, Mishka Balsom, Debbie Zimmerman, Joyce Morroco, Carol Stewart-Kirkby, and Shirley Cordiner. We discussed as a group about Niagara’s democratic deficit in women’s representation in local politics. There is a link between low female voter turnout and low female representation in politics. After the workshop we took a short break and had a choice of attending another workshop from the following options; Aboriginal community justice, Conquering barriers to success, Decolonizing language, Disability leadership, Fair trade, Race and racism, Self-care for caregivers, Success in a male dominated industry, Women in STEM, and Volunteerism
I chose to attend the workshop on Aboriginal Justice, let by Celeste Smith. She spoke about the over-representation of Aboriginal youth as incarcerated individuals, regardless of Aboriginal people making up only 4% of the Canadian population. Smith is the director of Three Fires Community Justice Program, which is a diversion program that provides healing for Aboriginal youth and adults charged with criminal offence. It focuses on the community taking responsibility of the individuals that is at fault. The program begins with the belief that everyone is worth something.
Based on the two workshops I attended, I only wish I could have attended all of them, as they were quite insightful. The summit came to a closing with a discussion panel about women in politics; with a focus on voting, and closing remarks from Elisabeth Zimmerman (Executive Director of YWCA Niagara Region).
This summit was a Call to Action, a call to show up, take action and support one another. In order to make a large impact we need to start small, we need to start somewhere. Even the women’s rights movement started with only a handful of likeminded people who eventually got women the status of being ‘people’ in Canada and the right to vote. It may not be as bad as back then, but we are still far from being on the same playing field and having the same representation. As I end this piece, I encourage, just like most of the presenters at the summit, to save the date OCTOBER 22ND 2018 to go out and vote in the municipal elections. Have your voice heard. We can do anything we want; we just need to start somewhere.
Today is World YWCA Day. The theme for World YWCA Day is Rise Up! Support and Invest in Young Women’s Rights. It’s one day where we can celebrate our accomplishments. It’s also National Volunteer Week. Immediately, we thought of our Board President Jennifer Bonato. She is the perfect example of rising up.
Jennifer is a life-long Niagara resident who is passionate about social justice-based advocacy – which is why the YWCA has been a great fit for her. With an academic history grounded in women’s and gender studies and feminist theory, Jennifer actively promotes the use of one’s sociological imagination in the every day.
Jennifer completed a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 2013, and a Graduate Certificate in Public Relations in 2014. In 2016, Jennifer received her Master of Arts in Critical Sociology. Jennifer’s Graduate research explores the social and political aspects of biotechnology in agriculture, and was presented at the International Rural Sociology Association’s 2016 World Congress.
She’s taking on more of a role this year as well becoming Co-Committee Chair of the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women. What does this mean? Along with Julie Rorison another board member and influential female within the community who rises up constantly, they will ensure that this Niagara Leadership Summit for Women will be the best one yet.
Her impact doesn’t stop there. Jennifer wanted to create more awareness in high schools about the growing problem of homelessness in Niagara. But she wanted to do something that would be fun for the students to participate in to ensure that they students actually came out. This is how our Hockey Helping Homes event began.
We are extremely grateful and lucky that Jennifer chooses to dedicate her time to our organization, furthering our mission of empowering women.
When we hear about feminism in the media, it seems to be this homogenous idea for all women, that represents all women but what pop culture understands as feminism is only a small portion of the vast varieties of FEMINISMS. Yes feminisms, plural not singular. The movement in its inception was only represented by white, upper middle class, heterosexual, cisgender women. Black women, lesbian women, immigrants, indigenous, poor, disabled, trans, none of these women were talked about or represented and as the second wave approached feminism started to redefine itself by these women who felt they needed a voice of their own.
By the time the third wave had hit, we had defined feminism through the
concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality looks at how a person’s various identities can affect their experiences. For example, how would ones class and race affect their experiences of the world? If for example you were poor and white, your skin colour would give you privilege. Simple truth is, you wouldn’t have to worry about being followed around in a store in fear that you might steal something because rationally we know stealing is about an individual’s choice. But we make it a race problem because we associate certain qualities like criminality to different groups of people. In this way we disempower certain people based on the categories of identity they inhabit.
To me, history plays a key role in understanding feminism because if the structures of the past were really gone than it would be history but they’re not. To say something is in the past like slavery is to deny the structure of oppression has just transformed to something more subtle like when racist ideologies within a society link criminality to race. That’s why the argument that feminism is not needed anymore because women have achieved rights means nothing. Patriarchy has just transformed the way it oppresses women, regardless of the rights we won.
This understanding of the importance of history in feminism came from me trying to learn about my own historical and cultural identity. Personally, I never felt I fit into the stereotypical Serbian identity but I couldn’t throw away my heritage. I enjoyed having a unique culture but I was also assimilated within the Canadian context. Never fully Serbian or Canadian where ever I went. However, recently I have accepted that I am both a Canadian citizen and a Serbian Immigrant and I don’t have to choose either identity. Both pieces makeup the whole that is my existence.
Unfortunately, with the rise of nationalism and colonial ideologies of the “white nation”, time has shown that nothing is ever truly in the past, it just changes form. As Trumps America is resembling Hitler’s Nazi Germany in the 21st century context of globalization and capitalism, more and more. We need feminism more and more. We need people to understand that tearing others apart and oppressing them because of their differences won’t make a country great. Instead, it will tear itself apart.
I am very lucky to have so many strong, amazing and empowering female friends. We have had many discussions about how we don’t really feel affected by gender inequality because we grew up feeling equal to men and we have always been very independent. I have one amazing friend, Kelsey, who ended up becoming a tool and die maker, and is one of the only women not in an administrative role at the company she works for. She’s been featured in newspapers and magazines about her success in the field, and is a role model for other women to start a career in the trades. Our friend group always jokes about her success and badassness (that’s a word), and her ability to do, well, anything. She had graduated 2 different programs with honours and awards by the time most of us had graduated university. When we were talking about International Women’s Day/Month at the last Blogger’s Meeting, I immediately knew I wanted to interview her about her journey in the tool and dye field.
Amazingly, she had been asked to instantly fly down to South Carolina to do some work at another factory. She was working non-stop down there and still found the time to answer these questions for me, so thank you!
D: So what the heck do you do for a living?
K: I am a red seal certified tool and die maker, I work for a company that builds the dies for many different companies such as Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes etc. I work as a lead hand delegating jobs, fixing issues with the dies, making sure we meet the customers’ timelines, and provide a die that will make a dimensionally and cosmetically correct car part. My company often builds dies that produce more complicated parts and the ones consumers actually see, such as the body side, tailgate, and doors. Tool and die is a hard trade to describe to people, but there’s my attempt explaining it in one sentence.
D: Well you did a pretty good job at explaining it, in my opinion. Did you always want to be a tool and die maker, or what did you want to be when you grew up, as a child?
K: I remember as a child saying I wanted to be a veterinarian, often a popular choice with kids who like cats and dogs but I never obsessed over a certain career.
D: So what did you do after high school?
K: In high school I used the co-op placement to work at a bakery, and that experience helped me decide to go to George Brown College for Baking and Pastries Arts. I remember in grade 11, really having no idea what I wanted to do but knowing university wasn’t right for me, so I picked baking as a career path.
D: [Sidenote: Kelsey then became the friend we would force to make cakes for us when we had a party or holiday coming up.] So what made you want to change careers?
K: I found the culinary trade relies heavily on your passion for the work, and often the desire to open your own business. I enjoyed baking but you work long days, often really early mornings, and you have to work holidays. I never really got a chance to enjoy my time off, or get time off to begin with. I knew I would never open my own bakery and I felt the job would never allow me to be financially independent. All the job postings I was seeing for bakers were often lower paying with no benefits. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.
D: Okay, so you decided you wanted to do something different. What made you think of a tool and die worker?
K: I decided I didn’t want a career as a pastry chef, but I also didn’t know what I should do instead. My father works in the trades as an insulator and said he thought I would make a good millwright. That made me start looking into millwrights and possible schooling options. I discovered the Centre for Skilled Trades and Development in Burlington. They offered a Millwright/Tool and Die Pre-Apprenticeship Program affiliated with a company that would hire you depending on how the training goes. The program was also only 6 months, which was great because I wouldn’t have to take a long break from working full time. Based on the schooling, I decided I would become a tool and die maker (not a millwright) and was hired as an apprentice. I continued my training for 3 more years by going to Sheridan College one day a week while continuing to work. It was great because I wasn’t racking up any student debt (my tuition was only $400 a year) and received government grants from companies supporting the skilled trades.
D: What was your very first day on the job like?
K: The first day was extremely over whelming! No amount of classroom training can prepare you for, what looks like, such a chaotic environment. A production plant is fast paced with many moving elements. I could feel that eyes were on me. To make things worse, I didn’t have a proper work uniform yet so I felt really self-conscious walking around in my jeans since they are more form fitting than regular uniform pants.
D: Were you scared at all to work in a mostly male-dominated industry?
K: I feel like scared is the wrong term. I think I was just as nervous as anyone would be starting a new job, regardless of gender. I had no idea if and how I would be accepted. I honestly believe the men I worked with were just as nervous and worried that they might say something wrong or inappropriate to me. For the first couple months, I don’t think I had a genuine conversation or joked around with any of my coworkers. The conversation was often super formal or just filler talk about the job. It definitely became easier to bond with my coworkers when I got a new job at a different company that had more employees closer to my age.
It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.
D: What are you most proud of during your time in the tool and die industry?
K: My current role as a lead hand has come with a lot of responsibility, stress, and a strong feeling of pride. I am one of very few female tool and die makers and it’s even rarer for one to take on a supervisor type position. It is the most stressful and challenging job I have ever had, and that just proves to me what a smart decision I made with this career path.
D: What are some funny or crazy stories that you can share with us?
K: I have been in a fair share of strange, awkward, and funny situations at work; most times it becomes a good story to tell my friends and sometimes it’s something that really pisses me off. I can share that the men’s washroom is covered with graffiti and inappropriate writing on the walls. When a co-worker told me about that I was so confused because they were all working adults, I just didn’t get it. There was also a time when a mystery person was drawing penises all over the factory, and it got so bad that management had to get involved and start checking security cameras. It was so embarrassingly unprofessional and they never figured out who it was.
I remember at the first place I worked, there was this one line worker that wouldn’t stop asking me out. The first time he asked me, I politely said “no sorry, I have a boyfriend.” But he would still always ask to take me out to dinner! I would walk a different way around the shop to avoid him because it was always such an uncomfortable conversation. Eventually he quit or was fired, so I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Now, if anyone asks me out I just immediately shut it down. I have worked at my current company for so long everyone knows me and that I’m married and it’s not a situation I face anymore.
Other than that type of thing, every now and then at the lunch table someone will be looking at their phone and they start laughing and pass the phone around to the other guys at the table. Then they stop and realize I am also at the table and they don’t know if they should pass the phone to me or not. I guess they don’t want to take the chance of potentially offending me. It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.
More recently, I found myself working down in the States fixing issues an assembly plant had with the dies we built them. The plant manager would go and talk to one of the guys who was down there working with me and asked him for timelines and the progress of the job. My co-worker paused and proceeded to point at me and say “I don’t know, go ask my boss.” Honestly, I find nothing really phases me any more. I really enjoy my job and the work environment. The job is awesome; not just the work and the financial benefits, but all the entertaining stories I get to tell my friends.
D: Tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments, or something you are most proud of.
K: I have had a lot of success in my career, (considering I have only been working in this industry for 6 years) and I am already a lead hand at my company. But, I am the proudest of the fact that I am able to inspire other woman to work in the trades, and breakdown the preconceived beliefs about women working in this industry. Volunteering with Skills Ontario and talking to high school girls about the many career options out there brings me great pride. I have had a couple different women tell me that my career story gave them motivation to pursue a future in the trades.
D: What does your husband think about your profession?
When we were first dating and I told him I was quitting the bakery to go back to school for a tool and die maker, he was confused. Mostly because he had no idea what a tool and die maker was, and secondly because he didn’t want me to stop making delicious cookies. Now that he gets what I do every day, he is really impressed and proud of what I have been able to accomplish. However, sometimes he can get frustrated with the amount of hours I work. There are times when I will work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week and get home and immediately pass out on the couch. We have talked about balancing work and life, and how there will be times when I have to work those long days, or randomly go to the States for three weeks for a job. He knows how important my job is to me, and he’s the person I confide in when I had a bad day, when nothing goes right, and when I’m questioning my abilities. My career has also been beneficial to him: he doesn’t have to be the sole breadwinner in our household, and was able to take a lower paying position with better options for advancement because I could support us.
D: Thank you, Kelsey! You can add this blog post to your wall of newspaper and magazine articles about how amazing you are!
I had the privilege and pleasure of attending multiple International Women’s Day Events throughout the region. I wish I could have attended them all. I can’t even describe the empowerment I felt while being surrounded by incredible, strong, brave, bold, and passionate women.
The keynote speaker was Teresa Cascioli. I was thrilled to be able to hear her speak. I was torn between typing out all of the impactful things she was saying so I could tweet them, or just soaking up the moment and letting her words really resonate with me. I did a mixture and I’m still not sure which one would have been the best option.
Teresa said, “Prior to selling my business no one listened.” It was as though Teresa’s voice didn’t matter because she had yet to have a great accomplishment. She then asked the important questions and you could hear the room nod in agreement: “Why do women have to say it more often? Why do we have to say it louder? Why do we have to prove ourselves?”
One of the most important and reoccurring messages throughout the event was you have to be impatient for results.
The WIN council also presented Rosemary Hale with the International Women’s Day Award. I was so excited to hear her speech, I couldn’t even consider recording any notes. I watched as Rosemary accepted the award with grace and honour. She inspired us all with talk about her past being the first female dean at Brock University. She is now retired and loving it as she has time to be a strong advocate for arts, volunteer at Hospice Niagara, and continuing to write. When she brought into focus her mentor Nora who said, “Life is drama. Every minute of our lives is drama…a slice of drama.” The idea that drama can be a good thing and not just with an arts background. Taking to the Be Bold For Change theme, Rosemary emphasized just how important it is to start demanding results, and start demanding change. To really do something about what you are passionate about in order to make a difference. “It’s about loving your bold, showing your bold.”
Broadband’s 25thAnniversary Performance ofWomen in Music Benefit Concertfor the YWCA Niagara Region happened this past Sunday.The event is to celebrate International Women’s day focusing on Women in Music.
It was amazing! Listening to the inspirational songs including one about Nellie McClung. If you’re interested in catching a little taste of what the music was like, check it outhere. The positive and empowering vibes from the band and the attendees was refreshing. Hearing reflections of the past made me want to do more research and spend time thinking about women in our history who really have made a difference for us.
Thursday was actually International Women’s Day. I attended the Be Bold For Change eventwhich happened atGwen’s Teas. Although I showed up late and missed networking with some other attendees, I really enjoyed the event. It was nice to see people have an outlet to write down how they would be bold for change and why they identify as feminists. Everyone brought their own thoughts, opinions, and reasons for being there. The discussion around politics was insightful. It just clarified all the more how important it is to involve women in politics. These discussions are exactly why we need more events, more meetings, more conversation around what women really can do.
All of these events opened my eyes to so many things. They made me really think. “It’s about showing your bold,” ran through my mind for days. That’s when I realize, being bold isn’t just about what is outlined on the International Women’s Day website (although those are great pledges), it’s about finding what works for you. I did make the pledge to celebrate women’s achievements because I think successes need to be acknowledged. I still stand by that pledge. Earlier this year, I also made a promise to have my voice heard in ablog postfor the Practical Feminist after the Women’s March in January. But now, after all of these events, I pledge to find my bold and use it to help women.
YWCA Niagara is hosting it’s 11th Annual Power of Being a Girl conference within the region.
Many events lose interest of the community and participants after that many years, but this conference remains popular. Why? Maybe it has to do with the powerful impact it has on the grade 10 girls from all over the region who participate.
Throughout the years, the event has touched many lives. One of the speakers in previous years explained that at one of the conferences, some of the girls came up to her individually to self-disclose issues they have felt including thoughts of suicide and the difference the day had made to them. 12 girls that day felt empowered enough to find positives in their lives, things to look forward to as well as to speak about it. That’s some of the differences these events can make.
As huge a success as that story is, Power of Being a Girl has also inspired girls to discuss body image issues, negative feelings of loneliness. The discomfort most girls face during the ups and downs of teenage years. Some students have said:
“I felt alone and isolated. I was living in everyone’s shadow,” she said of the difficulties she once had but has since overcome. “Now I want to help others get out of the shadow and let their light shine.” – St. Catharines Standard
More participants said:
“Your skin is the costume. Your personality is the beauty,” she says.
“If you keep trying to be what society thinks is perfect, you’ll never experience peace.
The conference gives girls a safe place where they can check in with themselves and realize they are not alone in their feelings. They have the chance to ban together and encourage confidence in each other.
“At first, I was really nervous. And then I realized, we’re all girls here,”
“Everyone has flaws. They have to learn to love those flaws. They have to learn to love themselves.”
“Really, really good. Made me proud to be a woman.”
“My favourite part was knowing that I’m worth something and finding strengths I never thought I had.”
This year’s conference speaks to healthy relationships. We have no idea what’s truly in store for these participants in terms of revelations but we sure look forward to exploring them. If it’s anything like the last ten years, it will be a huge success, change the lives of so many.
Feeling anxious? Down? Overwhelmed or even angry? I get it. We’re a few weeks into the New Year and the weather and light seem to be in perpetual November gloom. There’s no snow to brighten things here in Niagara, and spring is by no means just around the corner. Maybe you have bills piling up and no way to take care of them. Or you’re scared and raging that your neighbour next door is installing an angry billionaire as president, because, you know, he says he cares about the little guy. Or perhaps you are grieving or hurting from a loss. You might just be bone tired of slogging through life. I just want to say it won’t always feel this way.
I just want to say it won’t always feel this way.
It might feel worse, yet. But however wretched you feel, you feel. And it’s okay to feel miserable. It’s even okay to retreat a bit and rest away from the world.
But not forever. You don’t deserve interminable torment. If you feel like you can’t go on, give yourself permission to reach out and ask for help. Try a helpline, a doctor, a trained counsellor, or a friend. Join a group. Talk to someone. Getting help for your hurt is a radical act of self love.
If your pain is mild and just the temporary or situational bruises of life, resolve to look after yourself in little ways that give you joy: Go for a walk and look for ragged beauty (let’s face it, it’s dreary now and that may be the only beauty we can find); eat some ice cream; have a nap; write a letter; paint your nails; crank a tune and sing; volunteer; say “I love you” (doesn’t have to be in words and it doesn’t have to be to a human).
If this event was called Men 101 it might be a training event for women to better understand why some men exhibit harmful behaviour towards women. We learned during the training that women have always taken a leadership role in ending gender violence so that’s an event that’s probably already occurred many times over. Women’s leadership on this issue was easy to see at the event itself. Behind almost all the display tables of community organizations that work to end gender violence, stood a woman. As we also found out during the training, if this event was called Men 101 it could realistically be a training program that explains why not enough is being done by men to end gender violence even after men participate in this training.
I believe the group of men I was with at 101 Men Event in St Catharines, Ontario will show courage and do something, not nothing.
I’ll start with this article.
Let’s be clear the main problem when it comes to gender violence is men abusing women. This abuse can take a number of forms including verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. To end gender violence we learned this has to be a “men’s issue” and men in positions of power and influence, like the men with me at the 101 Men Event, need to step up. And punch up, not down, if required.
We learned that the best place to influence or intervene is by attacking language, attitudes, beliefs, and aspects of our culture that support abusive behaviour towards women or make it seem acceptable. By the time the gender violence occurs it’s too late and we’ve missed a ton of opportunities to address the root causes of gender violence that are so pervasive around us. It can be as simple as using active instead of passive language. Passive language says “how many women were raped?” while active language says “how many men raped women?”. You can easily see that using passive language takes men out of the equation when the opposite should occur and the men involved should be held accountable.
“Passive language takes men out of the equation.”
General Marsden of the Australian military said it best when he made a statement of action while dealing with inappropriate men’s behaviour in his own organization. He said “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
On Friday November 18th, 2016 I spent 8 hours with 101 Men, community leaders from across Niagara and the surrounding regions who were there because they want to take action. I saw an outstanding group of men who were there to make a change, to not walk past, to take ownership of a men’s issue and to create higher standards in their sphere of influence in order counter gender violence.
Everyone knows someone who has been, or is being abused. It may even be yourself. The problem is that nobody likes to talk about such a horrible subject. Everyone wants to believe that it will never happen to them. But the truth is if you were to look around at the people you know, there’s at least one person who is suffering in silence.
Abuse comes in many forms and may be difficult to spot at first glance. The person who is being subjected to abuse will often lie or cover up what is happening to them because they are ashamed or embarrassed. They often live in fear and believe that they are helpless to do anything to stop the abuse. Sometimes they have been beaten down so badly that they can’t see a way out.
I know a few women who are in unhealthy relationships, but one stands out more clearly than the others. She is someone I love very much and it kills me to watch her being treated so horribly. To the outsider it seems like she lives a privileged life. She has been married over 30 years to a successful businessman who earns a six-figure income. They have a beautiful large home on the outskirts of town with a swimming pool and hot tub. They both drive new cars and go on vacation to the Caribbean every winter. It looks like she’s living the dream. But, appearances can be deceiving! She is married to a man who controls every aspect of her life, from the way she cooks to the correct way she’s expected to stack things in the fridge and cupboards. He decides when and where she can drive her car. He has driven away every single one of her friends with his rude comments and obnoxious behaviour. He has worn her down to a shell of her former self. He undermines her confidence and tells her she isn’t capable of doing anything without his input and permission. He barks orders at her and monitors her every movement. He talks down to her and degrades her publicly. He beat her dog every time it did anything he perceived as being disobedient. He has had multiple affairs and she finds evidence of the gifts he buys for other women. He hides money from her and closed their joint bank account. He comes and goes as he pleases and never offers an explanation for his whereabouts. He talks to her like she’s a child and treats her like an object that he owns.
We were both married in the same year to the same kind of man. Except that I left after 10 years of abuse and heartache. I left with nothing but my children and my sanity. It wasn’t always easy but I have never regretted leaving. I’ve put myself through school multiple times, I’ve travelled and experienced so many opportunities that life has to offer. I wasn’t able to live in a big fancy house but at the end of the day I could come home with my children and lock the door behind me knowing that there was no one there to ridicule and belittle me. I was free to make choices and learn through my mistakes without someone degrading me. I didn’t know what life held for me when I left but I knew anything was better than living with someone who enjoyed suffocating the life out of me.
I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to get my friend to understand that she has so much more power than she’s aware of. I’ve tried to explain to her that she holds the cards to her future and that she has more power than she realizes. She would never be destitute because he would have to give her a very generous settlement, in spite of his underhanded ways. And yet, she still feels trapped in her golden cage. It should be illegal for someone to abuse their spouse but until she’s ready to make a move, all I can do is offer her unconditional love and support.
If the day ever comes that she finds the strength to detach herself from this selfish, arrogant, abusive sociopath I will be there to help her pick up the pieces of her life.