A blog by SI UN representative in New York, Bette Levy
“If there is one thing you can count on Soroptimists for… they will go the extra mile, and for the most part, Soroptimists will get it done! What started as a causal conversation on the final evening of the SIA biennial conference last July, became a reality on Saturday 17 June, Vancouver, Canada.
The SIA Conference Programme Committee last year decided to break out of the usual mode and deliver a day that included the more global aspects of SI’s work at the United Nations, with a keynote speaker with knowledge of what is happening around the world. To achieve this goal the committee reached out to me, as lead representative of the New York UN team, inviting the SI UN representatives to organize two workshops on the subject of SI at the UN, and to offer suggestions for a keynote speaker. I didn’t have to think twice about this request and quickly pulled together Marie D’Amato Rizzi, SI UN representative in New York and Linda Witong, Special Advisor to SI Advocacy for the two workshops. I suggested the person best suited to be the keynote speaker would be Emilia Reyes, from Mexico.
Emilia and I discussed several ideas for the format with Suzanne Heron and Lourdes Rodriquez de Hall, Soroptimists from different clubs in the Western Canada Region, however as the year progressed, and following several emails and telephone conversations, it morphed into something entirely different.
On 17 June, A Road Map to Gender Equality Now: Symposium for Action, an open event in Vancouver was held, with Soroptimists making up almost a third of attendees. Other women also attended from Business and Professional Women, University Women City Gender Advisory Councils, councillors from city and local government, a Canadian Senator, in addition to unaffiliated women and three men. The room was packed – I’m told to get women out on a Saturday in Vancouver at the cost of $100 is a major feat – and people stayed all day and the attendees were engaged and ready to be proactive. It was a great honor to be a keynote speaker alongside Emilia Reyes at this incredibly vibrant event.
Kudos must go to Governor Rita MacKenzie, Suzanne Heron, Loudres Rodriquez de Hall, Lois Taylor, Veronica Loat and SI Assistant Director of Advocacy, Sharon Fisher.
The goal of the day was twofold – first and foremost to educate the women of Western Canada to what is really happening around the world and what they need to do locally and nationally. The second goal was to recruit new members for the various Soroptimist clubs in the region… on the spot, five women joined … Success on both counts!
With this symposium, Soroptimists stepped up to a leadership role in Western Canada in the fight for gender equality. This was not the usual watered-down version but rather quite political. Both Emilia and I set the stage about the global north taking responsibility for their personal and national actions and how they affect our sisters in the global south. It’s not my fault or problem, is no longer acceptable. Emilia spoke of the Canadian extractive mining industries in the global south, and eyes opened wide. I spoke of the timid role women play in government and the need for women to run for political office or at the very least, support and campaign for those who do. Senator Mobina Jaffer, wholeheartedly supported what we both said in our keynote addresses, faced with her own challenges about gender-sensitive budgeting.
Throughout the morning people were asked to put their questions on cards and following lunch, there was a moderated question and answer session. The questions were tough and very directive, people wanted steps on how to get started, how to be more proactive. The room was fired up.
The last part of the day, we broke up into small working groups and each group was set the task of coming up with three ‘next steps to action’ at the local level. The groups were fully engaged and no one wanted the day to end. Some action steps were very simple and personal, such as calling their financial planner and seeing if any of their money was going to Canadian Mining Companies and to move their money if it was, if their city didn’t have a gender advisory committee, to advocate to get one started, and most importantly, to keep the momentum of the day going by continuing to be a united group, putting aside affiliations and working together.
The organizers collected contact information from the attendees and by the next morning, had sent everyone a link to a new Facebook group, and a write up with the suggestions from each group.
The day was extremely successful, and it achieved what we all hoped it would. Emilia and I couldn’t stop talking about how great the day was, not because we were the speakers but because the audience really came to learn and to become more proactive … for an activist that’s music to your ears!”