By Lori Van Rooijen
CALGARY, Feb. 12, 2014 /CNW/ - Calgary is often heralded as one of the
best cities to live in, not only in Canada but in the world. Recent
incidents seem to point to a key caveat - it's a great place to live as
long as you are not a marginalized woman.
We have come a long way since women did not have the right to vote or
the right to an education. And certainly women in other parts of the
world face oppression and abuse which is the stuff of nightmares. But
Calgary and Alberta still have far to go before women can live without
fear of violence and abuse.
Just last week a man accused of raping a woman who was struggling with
addiction and homelessness was acquitted by a judge because of the
judge's concern with the credibility of the alleged victim.
"This is a classic 'he said, she said' case'" the judge said, indicating
believability is difficult, considering the histories of drugs and
street involvement of both individuals. The judge said, "lying for each
of them is something they do to survive."
The accused in this case was a known drug dealer and faces additional
sexual assault charges in a completely separate case. However, the
judge observed "the woman admitted she is so addicted to alcohol she
would go anywhere, with anyone and do anything for a drink."
In other words, was she asking for it?
A few weeks prior to this case, an arbitration ruling in favour of a
woman who was repeatedly sexually assaulted in the workplace by a male
colleague was making Calgary headlines. The victim came forward to
supervisors up the chain of command again and again and again. In every
instance, she was ignored. Her concerns were brushed off. She was made
to feel like it was her fault. Even after she hid a camera at her
workstation and brought videotaped proof to her supervisors, the
evidence was labelled "inconclusive." There were no workplace
repercussions for the perpetrator, who has since been criminally
convicted and retired with full benefits. Supervisors who failed to act
remain on the job.
These stories are remarkable because in both cases what the victims are
most deprived of is their power.
Every day at the YWCA of Calgary we support women who are vulnerable
because of poverty, family violence and their relegated place on the
fringes of our society. We support women with safe places to stay,
clothes to hide their scars and supports for their aggrieved children.
We help women to build language and employment skills and prepare to
contribute to our community.
Lest we forget in our city of great wealth and opportunity that there
are many women who are simply not able to keep up with you and me. Many
struggle in minimum wage jobs, debating whether to pay the rent or
maintain that coveted childcare spot. Others have seen their
connections slip away until they find themselves at the doors of the
YWCA seeking assistance. Last night, nearly 200 women, many with
children, slept under a YWCA of Calgary roof.
One incredibly challenging dimension of the YWCA's work is the
restoration of a woman's sense of self worth. After she has been
repeatedly told by parents, partners, supervisors and community that
her complaints don't register or cannot be believed, supporting her to
find her voice is critical.
She is truly every woman but often we serve Aboriginal women, recent
immigrants, women of colour and those battling years of trauma,
addiction and crippling poverty. Often the women we support tell us
they feel invisible, disregarded and off the radar because of the
colour of their skin, the balance in their bank account and the
appropriateness of their behaviour.
With the support of community, we help women find their voices. However,
it's up to the rest of our community to ensure that when they use them
to shout from the rooftops that women can be heard and believed. And
that we will act.
Collectively, we do have the power to transform this culture and create
safer communities so women need not suffer in silence and fear at work,
in school and in the community.
Each of us has a role in ending violence. I challenge you to determine
what your role is.
Lori Van Rooijen is the chair of the board of the YWCA of Calgary.
Image with caption: "YWCA of Calgary (CNW Group/YWCA of Calgary)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20140212_C9732_PHOTO_EN_36647.jpg
SOURCE: YWCA of Calgary
For further information:
Manager, Communications, YWCA of Calgary