Violence against women condemned at Women Transforming Cities

Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of the Women's Support Services, Kristyn Wong Tam, Toronto City Councillor, Chris Morrisey, Chair of Seniors Advisory Committee for the City of Vancouver,Rita Chetnovsky, of the Coalition of Childcare Advocates for B.C. and Linda Solomon, Publisher of the Vancouver Observer, who also wrote this piece, composed an eclectic panel today at Women Transforming Cities.

Rita Chetnovsky, of the Coalition of Childcare Advocates for B.C., speaks, as Chris Morrisey, Chair of Seniors Advisory Committee for the City of Vancouver, Chris Kristyn Wong Tam, Toronto City Councillor, and Linda Solomon, look on at a Women Transforming Cities panel

"What we have all across the nation of Canada are for the purposes of violence against women, sacrifice zones. Zones where men can come and do violence against women with impunity." Angela Marie MacDougall's voice rises as she continues. "The DTES was certainly a place where over 22 years we have seen horrific violence against women in that neighbourhood specifically." 

MacDougall is Executive Director of Battered Women's Support Services and she speaks with authority. She's speaking to about 60 women participating in the Women Transforming Cities conference, organized by former City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth. I'm on the panel, too.  I'm completely engrossed in MacDougall's talk. And I'm taking notes.

The conference at Segal Graduate School of Busness at SFU has drawn municipal leaders, urban designers and planners, and women and girls interested in transforming cities into places where women are more involved in electoral processes, and municipal governments are responsive to their priorities.

At least for today, the women are looking at all issues through "the gender lens," weighing how women fare and how they could do better.

When it comes to violence, the picture is dark.

There have been "years of apathy" when we had a very prolific serial killer operating in this city, who was "operating with impunity," she says. "And we had our city officials, we had law enforcement, literally ignoring this, blaming women for their own disappearances. How could that be? We have to look deep into our hearts and ask that question. How can it really be that we could create a climate in the city that would create apathy when members of our community were dying?"

"There's a fog that comes over people when the issue of violence against women arises," MacDougall says, her powerful voice rising.

"We've seen this over and over again in terms of how law enforcement responds in terms of sexual violence, the most under reported crime, how cities have neglected to provide funding for groups that are working to address violence against women."

Taking to the streets has helped, MacDougall says. "It is important to address this piece which is called civil disobedience. I like to think of it as standing in power and making visible that which has been rendered invisible.

Kristyn Wong Tam, Toronto City Councillor

Moderated by Chris Morrisey, who was once a Roman Catholic nun, but is now chair of the Seniors Advisory Committee for the City of Vancouver, the panel includes Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam, who speaks of her efforts to get Toronto to create a "women's equality office."

When Rob Ford became mayor, that became unlikely.

"You have a progressive mayor and maybe you can use the opportunity to get him to do a women's equality office," she suggests.

"It's important to get down to talking about money," Tam says. "Budgets. It's impossible to talk about social improvements for women without talking about the budget. Gender budgeting. I don't think cities do it well."

But it isn't always easy to say what needs to be said.

"For those holding elected office, we cannot be scared, we have to be willing to push back," she says.

"There's a lack of funding for infrastructure, for housing, libraries are falling apart, parks are falling apart. And yet we're giving corporations massive rebates and programs that are allowing them to make more and more money. Yet it's the people who are told they have to tighten their belts."

$10 a day childcare campaign

Rita Chetnovsky represents the Coalition of Childcare Advocates for B.C.

She describes a childcare crisis where childcare is the second highest expense for young families, running as high as $1,900 per month.

And despite the fact that excellent childcare delivers rewards that extend far beyond childhood, Chetnovsky says, childcare workers are so poorly paid they can barely survive themselves.

"Current approaches are not working. After 30 years of describing the problem, We've stopped complaining and now we're campaigning."

The campaign is the "$10 a day daycare" project.

"We have engaged women in designing the solution. We're proposing to bring in new legislation that enshrines the right to childcare."

Media is the message and the messenger

I'm up. I talk about how  important it is for women to be telling not only the big stories.

Media can be an instrument of change, it can open minds and change minds. But it depends on who is piloting the ship.  Katie Couric said that. 

Media is the message and the messenger. 

Until more women own media companies, women will continue to be portrayed as sex objects.

There's no appreciation for women intellectuals in the media. 

Media is derogatory to the most powerful women.  

Media creates consciousness. 

"Media treats women like sh*t", Margaret Cho said.  

 "You can't be what you can't see." Marie Wilson said that.

For more information on this conference, go to Women Transforming Cities.

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