All it takes is an amazing speaker, a beautifully set room full of more than 1,000 individuals, and a program filled with excitement and fun to melt away the past three years. That was the feeling on Wednesday, March 8 as we celebrated International Women’s Day at the 11th annual YWHISPER Gala with exceptional keynote speaker Gloria Allred. 

It was clear that everyone was excited to be back in person after all the online events we muddled through. The last in person YWHISPER Gala was on March 4, 2020 – which turned out to be the only large-scale event that year – and a short week later we were all learning how to function in a digital world. 

This year’s event brought back previous sponsors – as well as several new ones – along with community members and friends of YW to an elegant evening out where they bid on over 50 silent auction items ranging from luxurious getaways to food and beverage opportunities. In addition, we had two raffle draws. One for a pair of Air Canada Business Class tickets and another for an original piece of artwork by the late Cathy Daley.  

A new addition to this year’s fundraising, which saw a lot of excitement was limited edition YWHISPER Tote Bags available for purchase. The bags were filled with item generously donated from a variety of women-owned businesses and featured one of Gloria’s iconic quotes on the bag itself – a real keepsake! 

Of course, the highlight of the evening was the keynote by Gloria Allred and following conversation with her, our Emcee Dave Kelly and co-host Nardos Tecle. This was a unique format for the event but adding the perspective of a young newcomer woman currently in her third year of university studying psychology and philosophy – with a dream of becoming a lawyer – contributed a poignant and impactful component to the conversation. 

Gloria told stories! Stories of legal battles related to iconic cases such as Roe v Wade, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. She reminded us that women were never given rights; we had to fight for them and must continue fighting; she embraced a theme of being comfortable talking about the uncomfortable; and rallied the enthralled crowd around the statement ‘giving up is a luxury we can’t afford”. 

As a lifelong advocate for women and those whose rights are barriered, Gloria knows how to lean into challenging topics. In a time when it seems we are again turning back the clock on rights and opportunities for many, having someone who stands strong as a fearless feminist and continues to seek social justice was the perfect fit for the return of the YWHISPER (in-person) Gala.  

International Women’s Day and the gala are over for this year but the work to embrace equity, advocate for those who continue to experience barriers and trauma and keep the uncomfortable conversations going continues every day – at YW and beyond. Mark your calendars for March 8, 2024  when we will gather again for YWHISPER 2024!