It’s the first ever Gender Equality Week in Calgary and boy has it been a wild ride. The week started off promising as we got ready to talk about the important work we’re doing to advance gender equality at a resource fair hosted by the City of Calgary. We spent much of the early part of the week anticipating the lunchtime panel discussing advancing gender issues in Calgary, which our fearless leader Sue Tomney was moderating. The panel was full of strong women bringing a diverse perspective to gender equality, the work left to do and what we need to remember as we push forward for a more equitable and representative community.
We were especially blown away by Michelle Robinson, a community advocate and 2017 city councilor candidate, with her comments on the need to see colour and other differences because if we don’t we miss the issues those marginalized communities face. As an inclusive organization supporting women from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences, we witness firsthand how failing to understand or recognize the differences in each of our experiences can lead to even greater barriers in accessing service for some folks. Making our systems more inclusive enables greater participation from marginalized individuals and makes our communities stronger and more vibrant.
While the week started with some highs, we were also reminded why we need to continue to speak up and out on issues impacting women. We were disappointed with the publishing of an opinion editorial comparing #MeToo with the Salem witch trials by a local newspaper. The condemnation and conflation of #MeToo by the author of this article failed and demeaned all survivors of sexual assault and the organizations that exist to support them. This article told young women that if they are sexually assaulted in high school that their experience doesn’t matter because their abuser will “grow out of it”. It told these young women that they are not safe to come forward and share their experience because their stories will be seen as a witch hunt. Instead of acknowledging the problematic article and offering a retraction, the paper in question doubled down on the article citing “freedom of speech.” As a values-based organization, this kind of justification is a slippery slope in our eyes as it leaves room for other sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic or transphobic material to appear in the paper because “freedom of speech”.
This piece does harm to girls, women and all survivors who have come forward or have yet to come forward. Sexual assault is never excusable, it is never justifiable and we must hold our each other and media to a higher standard. It’s wrong to ask people who have been subjected to non-consensual sexual conduct or abuse to stay silent in service to another’s career or reputation. Societal standards and expectations are changing.
Later this fall, our YWHISPER Fundraising Gala will feature Terry Crews, an actor and advocate with his own #MeToo experiences. Terry will talk about how “boys-will-be-boys” attitudes are damaging to all of us. And he’ll address how the ways some men got away with treating women in the past can no longer be tolerated.
As Gender Equality week comes to an end, we are even more encouraged and impassioned to create long-lasting, systemic change for the women we serve. We all benefit from gender equality and we want a world where all of us can live free from violence, have economic security and thrive in our communities.