International Women’s Day would not be complete without 100 women dancing on the Heffernan Bridge, and the longstanding tradition was continued Thursday afternoon.
But before the celebration was a serious panel discussion about municipal politics and how government, social agencies and individuals can remove the barriers that keep women from seeking office or other leadership positions.
Elaine Weirs, facilitator at Bridges Out of Poverty and one of the panellist, said the challenges for women haven’t really changed. Pay equity, childcare costs and availability, domestic violence, social conditioning and the stigma of being females and having to prove they are capable continue to hold women back.
For women living in poverty, those challenges loom even bigger.
“And if Canadian-born women struggle, what will it be like for immigrant women?” agreed Mitra Salarvand, family support and diversity program coordinator at the Shelldale Centre.
“We often don’t have the knowledge of how politics works here, how to run or even how to vote.”
Jessica St. Peter, public educator at Guelph Wellington Women in Crisis and a developmental support worker at Hopewell Children’s Homes Inc., said agencies would have better success if they worked together at least on the overlapping issues.
“I advocate for intersectional support. We can build that list together,” she said.
Sarah Wilmer, manager of programs and services at ARCH – HIV-AIDS Resource Centre, said there are different “systems of oppression” for different marginalized populations – racism, sexism, and homophobia, for example. Fighting the stigma is the main challenge, she said.
“It’s not just the formal structure that needs changing,” said Ward 5 Councillor Cathy Downer, who moderated the discussion. “It starts with us and our families and expands from there.”
TD Bank also presented $10,000 to Women in Crisis to support a program to teach financial literacy to its clients.