Tag Archives: YWCA Canada

Still Missing, Still Missed, in Nigeria and in Canada

So, this April marked the one-year anniversary of the kidnapping of roughly 270 girls from their school in northeastern Nigeria (Chibok) by militant group Boko Haram. One year on and 219 are still missing. At the time, the kidnapping elicited a wave of indignation, with famous folk, celebrities, and ordinary people lending their support to the cause — namely, finding and bringing these girls back home. And the anger and frustration engendered by the kidnappings brought about a huge social media call-to-action. It nabbed spokesfaces as diverse as a solemn Michelle Obama holding up the homemade #BringBackOurGirls campaign poster, and a provocative Irina Shayk shielding her exposed breasts with the same sign.  As an aside, I happen to think both approaches—the sober indignation, and the feisty “this is my body, I’ll do what I want” are symbolic and defiant F-Us to the woman-hating likes of Boko Haram.

Going viral brings an issue the world’s attention but we can’t stop applying pressure.
Going viral brings an issue the world’s attention but we can’t stop applying pressure.

Does Action Equal Action?

But sadly, this clarion call hasn’t brought about much productive political action in terms of finding the missing girls. At the time of the kidnapping, the Boko Haram leader boasted that “just because I took some little girls from their Western education, everybody is making noise. I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.”

“just because I took some little girls from their Western education, everybody is making noise. I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.”

How do you deal with this kind of jaw-dropping callousness?  You fight back when and where you can. In Nigeria, as in many other areas of the world, including Canada, that means fighting your government’s inertia, ignorance, and seeming disinterest as well. So far, it seems the ones keeping the flame lit in Nigeria are those still most at risk—the mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters of the captured girls who still rally everyday in that country. But they are supported by some kickass women (and men) around the world. The social media protest group #BringBackOurGirls was founded by four accomplished and respected Nigerian women who could not and would not sit back and do nothing: Hadiza Bala Usman, Maryam Uwais, Obiageli Ezekwesili, and Saudatu Mahdi. All four are educated and it can be argued, privileged, but they are also fearless and relentless. They rallied when they realized their government was doing absolutely nothing to find the girls. They have the backing of other people of good conscience throughout the world who rally and march to support them and to pressure their own governments to take action and do something.

How Much Are We Worth?

I wonder if Boko Haram stole (or occupied) a commodity of far less value, say 300 oil pipelines, or 300 corporate executives or world leaders, whether they’d still be missing one year later. Kidnapping and selling or forcibly marrying off girls and women is a vital hobby and business for Boko Haram, which has, according to Amnesty International, abducted about 2,000 women in the last year. Imagine, 2,000 women missing, gone, without a trace, with their loved ones left wondering where they went.  Of course, for some here in Canada, that isn’t something just to be imagined. It’s something that is lived. The agony felt by the loved ones of the missing Chibok schoolgirls isn’t any different than that felt by the loved ones of missing and murdered Aboriginal women here. And the government inaction is just as unconscionable.

I wonder if Boko Haram stole (or occupied) a commodity of far less value, say 300 oil pipelines, or 300 corporate executives or world leaders, whether they’d still be missing one year later.

Stolen Schoolgirls, Stolen Sisters

The YWCA Canada supported the 2009 No More Stolen Sisters report produced by Amnesty

source: http://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/campaigns/no-more-stolen-sisters
source: http://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/campaigns/no-more-stolen-sisters

International. It called for a government response to the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The report is seven years old folks, and still nothing has been done that could change the status quo. Our government hasn’t even acknowledged that misogyny and racism plays a role or that Indigenous women enjoy fewer economic and social rights in our society. Of course, the evil overlords of Boko Haram are an easier target for indignation. They represent one relatively cohesive group bent on preserving their patriarchal privilege through a perverted religious ideology. They swoop in commando-style and kidnap, terrorize, and kill dozens or hundreds at a time. They don’t seek to hide their actions and in fact are open about what they hate seek to destroy: the education of women, women’s rights, potential for equality etc etc. In contrast, the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada weren’t taken en mass from one location. They were picked off one by one by different people—some perhaps known to them, some not. But picked off nonetheless, and picked off because they were indigenous women.

Support Your Sisters

Boko Haram is a pox on Nigeria and a problem that needs to be addressed through government intervention. The murderers of Indigenous women in Canada, although individuals, have their own ideology of hate. This hate points to a social problem we need to address. We can’t fix it without government acknowledgment and help. Like the kidnapped girls of Chibok, the lives of indigenous women are worth something.

What To Do?

So, all that said, you ask “okay, what can I do that matters?” It may sound too simple, but you can start by really noticing.  That’s exactly what the founders of #BringBackOurGirls believe and they’re not giving up. You can get active and support organizations that are pushing for government intervention on the missing schoolgirls in Chibok and the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) Sisters in Spirit projects, and Families of Sisters in Spirit. NWAC has even produced a community resource guide on how to be an ally. You can apply pressure on governments by writing letters, joining rallies, and supporting the families of the missing (again, in Canada, see NWAC’s guide on how to help in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner). You can also vote for a government that believes the lives of vulnerable girls and women matter, and ask candidates if they would support inquiries and action plans. Nigeria recently had an election and the president who promised to retrieve the schoolgirls but instead did nothing was ousted. The new president, Muhammadu Buhari has promised to go after Boko Haram, but could not promise to bring the girls back. Canada will have a federal election in the fall. Let’s see if we can act in solidarity with Aboriginal families and groups who have been fighting this fight for years and get missing Indigenous women on the election agenda.

The Rose Campaign

imageAs 2014 comes to an end, we begin to reflect on society’s progress regarding feminism and how it has evolved for our generation and for the generations to come. December 6th marks the 25th anniversary of a heinous act of violence against women known as the Montreal Massacre. In 1989, a man named Marc Lépine shot 28 people before killing himself at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Canada. He started his attack by entering a classroom at the university, separated the men and the women, and asked the men to leave. To the 9 women remaining in the room, Lépine said to them in French that they were all feminists, and then proceeded to shoot them. 6 women died from their injuries. He then started shooting people as he walked around the school. That day, a total of 14 women died and 14 others (both men and women included) were injured. Lépine not only targeted women, but the feminist movement. The anniversary of this event leaves people wondering if the progress made within the last few years has had an impact on people’s opinion of feminism and violence against women.


Although we can attest that feminism is widely talked about as either a current event or in passing, there have been minimal results from actions taken to achieve gender equality within the 21st century. After many years of fighting for women’s rights, we can say that there has been progress, albeit slow, but many could also argue that our goal is getting farther away from our reach. Recent events in 2014 show that violence against women is still an ongoing problem. Events like the Jian Ghomeshi and the Bill Cosby scandals and even the catcalling video promote our rising concern of how women are treated in our current culture but they do not help with the fact that we may not be moving towards a safer society for women and girls at all. These issues are constantly occurring all over the world and they have been happening for hundreds of years yet we pose the question: when will violence against women stop? We witness awareness but are the actions really strong enough to create change? It is difficult to transform and re-root the fundamentals our society was built upon and that’s the biggest challenge when it comes to implementing gender equality. What we’ve learned from the Montreal Massacre is that it took a really long time to initiate a conversation about the repercussions from Lépine’s intentions. A plan to change the way society portrays feminism should be applied. We can’t wake up one morning and have gender equality because changing culture is something that can’t happen overnight. At the same time, it is our job to prevent these violent attacks from happening and that won’t get done if the public just stands by.


YWCA Canada created The Rose Campaign to commemorate the lives that were taken on that tragic day and to prevent future events like this from ever occurring. The message this year is: End Violence Every Day. The campaign works year-round in order to raise public awareness and to put a stop to violence against women and girls. The Rose Campaign initiated Light The Night Against Violence, where on December 6, buildings and monuments will be lit either the campaign colour red or another colour of their choice to promote awareness and the need for action to stop violence against women. The Rose Campaign suggests ways for people to take action on violence against women, like raising children from a young age to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and non-violent manner and to ensure the home and workplace are safe for women and girls by taking the necessary actions. This campaign works hard to initiate change by educating men and women to speak up about violence and to stop gender inequality. A strong plan needs to be coordinated so that violence against women becomes more unacceptable behaviour.

We remember the women who lost their lives on December 6, 1989

Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz


Rest In Peace

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.