Women’s issues remain relevant

When International Women’s Day was instated in the early 1900s, women were up against much more oppression than they are today. At this time they had just begun their movement advocating for the right to vote and better pay. Despite all the strides women have taken toward gender equality since then, International Women’s Day has not lost its purpose today.

International Women’s Day was on March 8, but many businesses and organizations in Waterloo took the week to celebrate.

The Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce hosted a breakfast on March 6 for professional women in the community.

“It’s very positive, I find, the conversation that ensues after the event,” said Teri Hetherington, events coordinator for the chamber.

The breakfast is part of a series of programs the chamber puts on that are meant to support professional women in the community. The event kicked off with a chance for the women to network with each other, followed by breakfast and a keynote speaker.

The keynote this year was Anne Miner, president and founder of The Dunvegan Group.

“Anne’s messaging was about courage and determination through her work life,” Hetherington explained. “It’s nice to hear someone else’s story and realize they’re not so different than you.”

She said Miner’s message was one that could help women in their personal lives as well as their work lives.

Around 300 women participated in the breakfast.

“Its success and the positive conversations that come out afterward is really why we do it,” Hetherington said. “Get women thinking, get them talking, get them participating.”

The Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region works year-round to help support women who are the victims of domestic violence. Accordingly, International Women’s Day is an important time of year for bringing attention to these issues.

“Typically 90-some per cent of the time the abusive person is a man and the person being abused is a woman,” said Merle Fast, director of quality assurance at WCS. “It has to do with society somehow believing that men are allowed to get away with this and women somehow believing that they have to take it.”

According to Fast, the Waterloo Regional Police Service gets over 6,100 calls about domestic violence each year. Moreover, she said WCS serves over 200 women each year. However there are many more cases of women who experience domestic violence that goes unreported.

WCS is currently working toward opening a larger shelter in Cambridge due to the need in the community.

Fast said she was impressed with the number of events taking place to celebrate International Women’s Day in the community, however she recognizes that there is still work to be done. They still encounter people who are perpetuating misguided beliefs about domestic violence.

These beliefs include feeling the woman somehow deserved the abuse and that it is her fault. They also question why she “doesn’t just leave.”

“Again, it puts all the onus on the person who is being victimized and abused and saying just get up and leave, when getting up and leaving is really, really hard and there are many good reasons to stay even when there is violence in the home.”

Fast explained that sometimes women feel obligated to stay because of children or because he supports the family financially. The fact that people still hold these beliefs indicates to Fast that there is still a problem.

“The question is why aren’t we holding him accountable?” she continued. “Why can he go off apparently without any consequences at all from his friends, family, neighbours as well as from the justice system?”

Fast said the next steps have been focused on helping men to join the conversation. She highlighted campaigns such as the White Ribbon Campaign and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.

“Women by themselves are not going to change society,” she said. “Men and women both have to work together side by side.”

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