Tag Archives: Advocate

Question of the Month – Voices

As 2014 comes quickly to an end, it’s a natural time to look back and reflect on what the year has brought. And this year – especially very recently – has produced National news that forces us to confront how far we still need to go to achieve equality of race, gender and religion. I often think that as women we act as peacekeepers – whether that is in our nature or something that we have internalized through our culture – too unsure or afraid to use our voices in the face of some form of adversary. And I mean that quite literally. How many women have stayed silent while experiencing sexual harassment? Or watched while we witnessed someone harassed for their sexual orientation or skin colour?  So, our question for this month asks what we can do to change that. Please, weigh in in the comment section, and take a look at this great story on LinkedIn about a woman’s response to a man harassing her at the pharmacy counter.

 As women, how could we use our voices to advocate for what we believe in?

Opinion #1

It’s struck me as an interesting switcheroo lately how the two figures at the centre of the most talked about sexual harassment and rape scandals of the past few weeks, Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, once very vocal and empowered voices, are now silent. But silent by choice, of course, and not because they lack voice and agency.

Jason Priestly, Jian GhomeshiBoth men have been accused of seriously vile acts. Ghomeshi has recently been charged with sexual assault, amongst other things, and he awaits further criminal proceedings. Cosby has become a persona non grata after several women alleged he was a predatory serial rapist. He has not been charged with any offenses.

One of the oft heard undercurrents with both stories is “why didn’t these women say something when the alleged events happened?” It’s the kind of question that when asked or implied, makes me grit my teeth. And it relates very much to the question of how and whether we use our voices, because first and foremost, in order to voice something, we have to feel we have the ability to speak, and that our voices will be heard. I don’t want to speak for the many women who are now coming out with their stories of assault at the hands of these men. But I will say choosing not to speak does not mean you have nothing to say—or, perhaps more appropriately in these cases, that nothing happened.

Saying Something vs. Saying Anything

I read an Internet meme recently that said “It costs nothing to speak out, but remaining silent could cost everything.” Like many of the anonymous (and sometimes attributed or misattributed) quotes that stand in for meaningful dialogue on some social media sites, this one was ambiguous. I saw it and thought, “well, that depends…” It depends on who is doing the speaking, what they mean to say, and how and where they say it. Clearly, privilege and power allows some to speak louder and with more weight, than others. And it’s also not true that speaking out costs nothing. For women speaking out about their own harassment and abuse, the cost is great. They risk ridicule, disbelief, and punishment. It requires a lot of courage to “use your voice” and I don’t blame people for weighing the costs and deciding not to.


So then, where do we go from there? How do we use our voices to advocate for what we believe in? If these recent cases have done anything, they have given us more opportunity to collectively talk about the things that silence all of us or some of us, and to examine how we can remove the fear and shame from using our voices. Social media has been one very hot venue for this. Even as the Ghomeshi story was hitting the news, Twitter was erupting with support for the women who were revealing their stories. This kind of viral advocacy shouldn’t be dismissed.

notokay_logo_enNew hashtags are invented everyday to put voice to our stories and issues. Okay, so discussion on Twitter (and blogs like this one) may not entirely change face-to-face interaction, but they can give us another way to speak and be heard—particularly for those who otherwise lack a forum. The trick will be to turn the ideas being discussed in social media, into concrete societal change by altering the structures that make it possible for those who have power (or benefit more from their privilege) to silence those who don’t.

Opinion #2

A voice is a precious thing to those without one. The famous line “No one puts Baby in the corner” expressed more than her position in the room. I’m no Swayze, but when an opportunity arises to Advocate for those who are oppressed, ignored, or incapable of utilizing their voice, my insides boil without a lid to cage me. Meet me in real life and you would never classify me as brave. Stick me in a situation where I know my voice can be used to help those in need and I morph into ‘Supergirl Whose Voice Cannot Be Ignored’ no matter the brawn I face.

Well…there’s no cape, or fancy emblem, and technically people still shut me out BUT I speak and that right there is the key.

un-women-auto-complete-truth-1-600-25762There’s no shortage of those who need others to speak for them for one reason or another, so I’m sure to build my self-awareness to better articulate my response when the time comes. Having an opinion is half the puzzle, learning to utilize it in a respectful manner is another. You can’t slap every person you disagree with, and verbal communication filled with anger, inappropriate expletives, and nonsense only weakens your cause.

And that’s coming from a potty mouth.

In my work at the YWCA as a Women’s Advocate, I make calls and sit in meetings for/with some others who only listen to those with a title. I also encourage the women to learn to speak for themselves. At some point in their life they were stuck in a corner, one surrounded by an invisible box designed to cripple their confidence or force the belief that their opinion carries little to no worth.

Every person’s opinion matters. Even if it’s off-the-wall or created to anger others, it still matters. We as people have the choice to voice a rebuttal if we choose and sometimes learning when that battle is only a minefield meant to antagonize is difficult, so I weigh my options. If I stay quiet and this in anyway perpetuates harm to others, I speak up and step in regardless of the price. If speaking up does nothing but make me heard in a room of closed ears, I laugh and walk away.

The line can be difficult to navigate.

Another form of speaking out is at our fingertips. Literally. As in our keyboards. I blog, I respond to comments on social media (again, if worth the carpal tunnel aches), I sign petitions, write to those regarding my opinion on something without expectation of a response, but only to educate others that it exists.

Sitting back and letting others speak for you leads to miscommunication and loses its heart. If I can properly interpret others needs and relay them appropriately, it has been a good day. I’ll Swayze someone if need be, but the best gift you can give is the gift of voice. To hear a once timid person speak with empowered confidence for their needs or wants is not something I take for granted.


An Advocate Drowning in a Sea of Hotshot Executives and Board Members

We would like to introduce you to our newest blogger, Sami-Jo. Sami-Jo has been a women’s advocate at the YW for 5 years, starting as a student and working her way to becoming one of our permanent, full time staff. Sami-Jo along with Suzanne Veenstra, YW’s Community & Public Relations Coordinator, were selected to attend the YWCA Canada‘s 2013 Annual Members Meeting through the Young Women’s Leadership Miles Fund, empowering women under 30 to attend national and international events. Sami-Jo has put together her reflections of her time at the AMM.

Having never participated in the YW’s events or blogs and staying mostly silent in staff meetings, not to mention having never traveled alone or looked 5 years in the future when considering my career, I found myself shocked when I handed over an application for the YWCA’s Young Women’s Leadership Miles Fund. Expecting anyone to fund a perpetual non-joiner was laughable, especially considering I was asking them to send me to Winnipeg for the YWCA’s 2013 Annual Membership Meeting. Unless a colleague briskly encouraged me to do it (*cough cough* Outreach Worker/Family Shelter Advocate Lori Papetti), I never would have thought twice. Nonetheless, I’m glad I stopped being so stubborn and gave in. Many times frontline staff have a sense their superiors think of them as transitory employees who are intelligent and useful but will ultimately spend a cameo of their lives in the company before moving on to other endeavours. Confession? I definitely thought so.

While in Winnipeg at the YWCA’s 2013 AMM’s I learned that it’s not easy for others who spend days sifting through policies, procedures, motions, allocations, membership fees, travel pools, committee reports, governance, succession planning, risk management plus the national strategic plan as well as Form 4301 threatening to change not-for-profit organizations forever AND a whole whack of issues my brain couldn’t process … (phew! That was a lot)
My rambling point again? Right! Management and Board Members have their plates, side dishes and serving bowls overflowing with issues I can’t even begin to tackle in my day to day life and we can’t expect them to understand what it means to be face-on in the trenches getting our hands dirty when they have bigger fish to fry. Fish that effect change to hundred’s or thousand’s of woman and families, instead of the ones directly in front of them, reaching more than I do in a year.
And…it all comes from funnelling ideas and needs from frontline staff; from the employees who speak to the woman and families we service, who see the changing atmosphere in our communities and who exhaust themselves trying to make people’s lives a little brighter, with the idea’s trickling down from the top. If we don’t let these “toppers” know what’s happening below we can’t expect greatness.
Left: Sami-Jo, Suzanne, Elisabeth (E.D.), Carolyn (Board Pres.)

In large meetings and ballrooms it didn’t make a difference to the others, that I was the “only frontline staff.” They were happy to hear stories and answer my questions about the world I had let my colleague talk me into delving deep into and I found myself absorbing all the positive vibes and spirit the YW seeks to spread not only in my community in the Niagara Region but around the world.

In those few days I felt a sense of belonging to this organization, in a way I had never felt before; a deeper understanding for what my role “should” entail. I felt a comradely with another colleague who I never knew what she did all day (though she was only a flight of stairs away) and a realization that “toppers” really aren’t all that scary and neither are the issues they face, they are just different than my own and reflect everything I try to accomplish everyday in a ‘wow-that’s-a-lot -of-responsibility’ kind of way.
Moving forward I will hold what the YWCA’S 2013 AMM and their keynote speakers imbedded within me and seek to tap into that reserve the next time I feel my confidence in my role wavering. Above all, I whole-heartedly recommend anyone not in upper management or board member level attend a future AMM and soak in the spirit of an organization who does everything they can to address issues concerning woman, girls and families struggling through every day life no matter what their budget, exhaustion or role entails.

– Sami-Jo
Women’s Advocate

The YWCA Niagara Region is one of 32 YW member associations across Canada. For more information about the YWCA Canada and the women’s movement we are a part of, click here.