Knowledge is power was the theme of the 2017 Women’s Conference, but it was also the key message that Unifor women took home after three days at the Family Education Centre in Port Elgin.
Over three days 300 hundred women were inspired, engaged and reminded about the power of sharing their personal story and skills to seize political moments and create progressive change.
Opening the conference was Lisa Kelly, Director of the Women’s Department, who offered a snapshot of the ongoing struggles and activism of the past year. Kelly said that with the rise in sexism, racism, and hate that has been fueled by right-wing politics in the U.S., women have been challenged by the daily everyday struggles that are faced. But she added that the past year has also been inspiring to see so many women get active. “We have persisted! We protested, collaborated, and collectively we showed the strength of our sisterhood.” The task at hand as described by Kelly was to remember that women’s voices belong in every space, “women’s knowledge is powerful, and women must use their own story to fight for justice for ourselves, but also for others.”
Keynote Candy Palmater reinforced the message of grounding women in their own power. Through humour, personal story, tears and wise words Palmater captivated the room with an important message, “understand that you are enough, so be relentless and together we will change the world.”
The three Unifor Regional Directors and France Paradis from Quebec began day two of the conference to share the struggles and political victories in each region. Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director opened the session discussing why social unionism is at the core of the union, “While bargaining is a single tool for the advancement of workers, we must be part of the struggle for equality to advance social justice.”
In discussing the work in Ontario Naureen Rizvi, Regional Director, talked about the years of mobilizing and organizing undertaken to get the government’s commitment for a $15 minimum wage. Rizvi reminded women that “change is slow, but the power of your voice to speak the truth brings issues to the forefront and makes a difference so speak up!”
After the recent success in BC where Unifor members helped to end the Liberal reign and elect the NDP, Joie Warnock Western Regional Director delivered a powerful message about activism. “The time for talk by governments is over, it’s time for action. So we must push back.”
The panel closed with a political action exercise where participants engaged in a flurry of activity, through email, text messaging, and social media to send elected officials a message and support struggles across the country. For many it was the first time that they had contacted their member of parliament. It was an important teaching moment as numerous women commented about the need to use their voice for political action. Over the course of the conference participants shared a flurry of views and political action on Twitter with over 1,000 tweets.
On two separate panels Unifor women shared their stories about the importance of activism on gender equality and the opportunities within the union to gain these skills. Through the power of herstories attendees laughed, were inspired and moved to standing ovations.
After the conference concluded participants went home with new energy and a sense of urgency to get involved. One delegate posted on Twitter to say “Less than 24 hours since I got home and I have accepted a nomination to run for Trustee on my local executive. My fire is lit #UniforWC17."
Now that's an energizer and just one of the many acts that Unifor women will do to create transformative change in their community and in our union.
To read a few stories and highlights on Twitter search #UniforWC17 or #UniforCF17. Be sure to check out the photo album at Facebook.com/UniforCanada.