Last weekend I accompanied my mother to the 2019 Awards Gala for Voice of Women for Peace, held at the 519 Community Centre in Toronto.
Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) is a grassroots organization that next year will turn 60. That’s quite something for an NGO. And it is the oldest women’s organization in Canada. My mom has been involved with VOW for decades – writing letters to MPs, going to protests, helping to organize events. So, the evening was a chance for us to do something together, celebrate the work of this organization, while also celebrating Mothers’ Day.
There were several women and girls who were recognized at the VOW Awards Gala on Saturday. All awards were named after women who have left their mark on the peace movement (Anne Goodman, Ursula Franklin for example). VOW is about what the name suggests – peace. Most of their efforts have been around nuclear disarmament. But on Saturday night we also heard about climate change, and the youngest award recipient was 11 years old.
It was amazing to sit in the room and hear the many ways that women are helping to raise awareness and creating & supporting change. I hadn’t heard about School Strike for Change for example – an international movement where school aged children and youth take Fridays off to take part in protests about climate change. Zoe, the young girl who won a VOW award for her participation in School Strike for Change shared the speech she read at the Ontario Legislature. She rightly pointed out that if adults cared, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
It was a great evening filled with good vibes and positive role models of all ages. Ursula Franklin’s daughter, who presented an award named in honour of her mother, reminded us of one of her mother’s quotes: “Peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of justice.”
Great quote, right?
Which brings me to one last point.
Privilege and Activism
As I looked around the room of about 90 people, there were only two other faces of colour, and one Indigenous woman (that I was aware of): Katrina Leclerc, who won an award, is the Parliamentary Affairs Advisor to the Honorary Marilou McPhedran. It reminded me that activism like this often requires privilege. And privilege isn’t necessarily an overarching identity. Nor does it exist in isolation.
Our identities impact things like what we have access to, the things we do, and how we are impacted by systems. We can see the result of this relationship in things like health outcomes, employment, representation, graduation statistics, as well as in activism. Privilege (be it racial, economic, or otherwise) are often overlapping and impacts access to information, finances, opportunity, decisions and time (among other things).
Being able to take time off school to protest, for example, is not something everyone can do:
- because of the time it takes away from studies
- because of the requirement to travel to the legislature
- but also because it requires that one has good grades – which are impacted by things like income (enough food to eat), parent schedules, housing, and engagement (which is impacted by how we are perceived and treated by teachers).
Also, the perceived importance of the event or issue plays a role in parents’ letting their children participate in School Strikes for Change. Not because climate change isn’t on their radar, but because compared to some of the immediate challenges a family may be facing, or the role of education in their lives, taking time out of school to protest may not be seen as a priority. For example, participating in School Strikes for Change may not be a priority if you have to get good grades in order to get a scholarship for post-secondary education, or when you need to be at school to make sure your siblings are OK, or if you are in charge of making sure that they get home safely after school.
And remember that even when doing the same activity, we are perceived differently depending on who we are and what we look like: protestor or troublemaker, for example.
Voice of Women for Peace
VOW is an amazing organization. For decades, many incredible women have raised awareness, spoken in parliament and at the UN on behalf of peace, and were instrumental – through a baby teeth campaign – in ending nuclear testing.
And, alongside these women are many women who every day and in quiet (and often unrecognized) ways fight for justice in their own lives and in the lives of their families.
Congratulations to all of the VOW award winners! And, when you have a moment. Take some time to also notice and recognize those women in your life and communities.