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Women changemakers transform neighbourhoods through advocacy 

3 MIN READ

Story Highlights

  • United Way East Ontario works with partner City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) to build a more inclusive Ottawa by providing advocacy education to local women. Residents work together to find solutions to neighbourhood problems, such as improved wheelchair and mobility accessibility.

  • Making Voices Count is a CAWI-led initiative that empowers residents from various backgrounds, cultures, and income levels, equipping them with essential skills in building confidence, fostering collaboration, and effectively engaging with municipal decision-makers.

  • Often, Ottawa residents  living in low-income housing lead these discussions, collaborating to find solutions to issues such as voter engagement, food security, affordable housing, transit accessibility, childcare, and more. They then inform city councillors with the goal of creating positive change in their neighbourhoods. 

Peggy Nesbitt is a resident leader who strives to make meaningful change in her neighbourhood for the causes she cares about—causes like ensuring people with disabilities and seniors have access to food, transportation, housing, and other basic needs.  

To do this, Peggy builds up her leadership skills through her involvement with Making Voices Count, a platform made available to residents by United Way partner, City for All Women Initiative (CAWI)—a non-profit that works to influence policy changes with a gender-equity lens. 

For residents like Peggy, Making Voices Count offers civic engagement training and education on how to influence city councillors and candidates on the issues residents want known, and addressed. 

One issue Peggy highlights is when residents are unable to leave their homes because of improper snow clearing. For people with mobility impairments, snow can prevent access to a doctor’s appointment, buying groceries, or simply getting outside for some fresh air 

It’s a barrier that increases isolation, which isn’t seen by those who don’t experience it. By bringing this firsthand experience to the table, Peggy and other leaders recommend solutions to decisionmakers and advocate for change. 

Driven by residents, Making Voices Count ensures groups who are often sidelined have their voices heard and concerns meaningfully addressed. In low-income neighbourhoods, it’s less likely that residents have access to the tools they need to influence social policy. Learning how to collaborate and communicate effectively is key to Making Voices Count’s mission. 

Civic engagement and advocacy training creates confidence

“When I was first disabled, I didn’t have that confidence. Now I do. I see that I’m valuable. I also have the ability to see other people in CAWI that have skills that I would like to have, and so it empowers me to try more things.”

 Having survived domestic violence, Peggy knows the importance of being heard. She feels it’s important that she work to bring to positive change for the health and wellbeing of her community.  

“When we come to the city councillors and the mayor, we do really feel heard.” Peggy says. “They want to consult with us because that’s why they have their job—it’s to help us, in our city, with housing, with roads, with snow clearance.” 

Sometimes we just need to think differently

Lais Maurilio, CAWI’s Communications Officer, talks about how Making Voices Count finds solutions to share with local legislators. 

When you talk about solutions for problems in the city or in the province, we always think about funding, about money, ‘We need more budget.’ And sometimes we don’t need more money, we just need to think differently.” Lais adds, “The lived experience that the residents have brings this, ‘think outside the box’ [mentality] back to the legislators.”

“Making Voices Count is very beneficial to our communities because we have people with lived experience, we talk about topics that need to be challenged or fixed. It’s not just, you know, ranting and raving. We find answers.” Peggy says, adding “It’s changed my life.”

Changing lives

At United Way, we believe that when we build civic engagement opportunities for all residents, we can achieve a more equitable society. Part of how we do this is through initiatives that bring key community stakeholders together to pursue a collective mission. 

Women United, United Way’s women’s giving initiative, has proudly supported Making Voices Count. This local network of 845 donors, including 114 members, are dedicated to leveraging their time, talents, and funds to empower women in our communities to build strong, independent lives.  

Women United’s vision is that all women, at every stage in their lives, have the supports they need to thrive. Through resident-led community action grants and investments in United Way’s community fund, Women United ensures vulnerable women and their families have equal opportunities for a successful life. 

Thanks to our donors, we can help people build skills and confidence to make positive changes and create solutions to issues in their neighbourhoods.   

Ensure the future of advocacy efforts in our communities
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