What we learned about the power of advocacy

4 MIN READ

"Every day, every second is an opportunity for advocacy."

– Sawsan Al-Refaei, Women and Gender Equity Specialist, City of Ottawa Tweet

There’s a wide variety of ways you can show up for the causes that matter most to you. But where to start? Sometimes, it’s easy to feel powerless or overwhelmed by this question.  

Women United believes that together, we can use our voices to make an impact. We want everyone fighting for gender equity to feel empowered. Our latest Disruptive Dialogue event with local leaders did just that—breaking down the steps you can take to make a difference today.  

Early in the pandemic, Women United started a series of virtual events called Disruptive Dialogues to bring women together and learn from United Way and our partners about the most pressing social issues facing our communities. In November 2022, we jumped into the world of hybrid events, offering both an online experience for supporters at home, and in-person viewing parties hosted by workplaces. We were thrilled to welcome more than 150 virtual attendees and 5 viewing parties. Thanks to Accenture, BLG, Algonquin College and BMO for hosting our first-ever Disruptive Dialogue viewing parties! 

Hosted by United Way East Ontario’s own Preeti Prabhu, our panel included Sawsan Al-Refaei from the City of Ottawa, Erin Leigh from Counselling and Family Services Ottawa, and Anna MacDonald of Survivor and Advocacy Support Initiative. This inspiring panel of diverse voices led a thoughtful discussion on gender-based violence, advocacy, intersectionality, and how to use your voice to create change. 

Show up however you can

"There really isn't a finish line. We need to remember that we are constantly in a state of change. All of those little things that are happening at those local levels, all of those conversations that you're having with other people are changing the world."

– Anna MacDonald, Founding Member, Survivor Advocacy and Support Initiative (SASI)  Tweet

Advocacy can take many different forms. Showing up for and supporting others, researching and sharing information, attending events like a Disruptive Dialogue, or even practicing self-care, can all be types of advocacy. Whether you’re speaking out during a meeting to shut down a sexist remark, protesting in the streets, or using your privilege to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves, it’s all advocacy in action.  

All our speakers highlighted the importance of community as a form of advocacy, giving credit to the women and gender-diverse folks in their lives who believed in education and empowerment, or who faced similar hardships, for playing a part in their decisions to become advocates. Women United understands the importance of community. We raise our voices, roll up our sleeves, and leverage our powerful network of local leaders to create lasting change. 

'We only gain by listening to more voices’

We know that gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination contribute to a further lack of safety and resources for marginalized people. It’s key to keep intersectionality in mind when we’re talking about advocacy.  

Anna MacDonald, an advocate for gender-diverse youth living in rural areas, highlighted the importance of looking through a rural lens. While the same issues can exist everywhere, solutions are not going to look the same in rural areas as they do in urban ones. Anna noted that we need to rely on rural knowledge to properly inform how we make decisions.  

“We are stronger when we continue to listen to each other, when we continue to value all the experience along the gender spectrum, from all sorts of different places in life, all sorts of different intersections of identity... We only gain by listening to more voices.”

Sawsan Al-Refaei, an expert in equity, public policy and advocacy, noted the need to ensure a safe space for marginalized women and gender-diverse folks to get involved in these conversations. She suggested that if data continues to speak about the binary and not include marginalized groups, our policies will never work. Al-Refaei stressed the importance of being aware of who is missing at the table and opening a platform for other people to speak up. 

Prioritizing the inclusion of diverse voices, especially in positions of leadership, is key to achieving gender justice. Women United ensures that all women have the supports they need to thrive.  

From conversation to action

When asked about how we can start to take action, Erin Leigh, an advocate and policy influencer, shared resources such as bystander intervention training with Right to Be or Project Soundcheck to build up your skills and support women who may be stuck in uncomfortable situations. MacDonald suggested that community care can be a form of advocacy. Having supportive allies allows for a safe space to practice and discuss activism. Al-Refaei said when someone makes a sexist remark or undermines a gender-based violence survivor, we can use our voices to make it clear that is unacceptable. As a Women United donor, you can also use your time, talents, and resources for advocacy.  

“I am a true believer that, just in the context of United Way, that contributing resources, financial or otherwise, that is being part of a movement for change. And to think otherwise, I think, is minimizing the impact of donors because nobody could do this work without it.”

– Erin Leigh, Executive Director, Counselling and Family Services Ottawa Tweet

Advocacy begins with the desire to make a change. Too often we wait for tragedy to strike before realizing the power we have. You have the power to affect change today. 

In case you missed it, you can watch the full event recording on our YouTube channel. If you feel inspired by this Disruptive Dialogue, consider joining Women United on our mission to create a world full of opportunities for all women and gender-diverse folks. Together, we can empower local women to build strong, independent lives.

 

Special thanks to Women United’s program sponsor, Accenture, for making events like this one possible. 

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