Active Diversity is a promising practice of the Women’s Centre, and it is something we work to uphold, every day. Women face many different kinds of oppression, including sexism, classism, racism, ableism, ageism, and heterosexism. Supporting a culture of inclusivity and celebrating diversity requires work, vigilance, and recognition of every woman’s inherent value.
Last year, 48% of volunteers and 67% of staff identified as diverse. Our annual Outcomes Survey also indicated the vast diversity of women who came to the Centre for assistance, to connect with others and work for change, as seen in the diagram below. The Women’s Centre is a safe space for anyone who identifies as a woman and our non-judgemental support and trust-based practice emphasize respect and inclusion.
One of the ways we uphold diversity is by raising awareness and offering workshops on this topic. Our Active Diversity workshop is a part of our recurring training series, offered every six weeks at the Centre. This workshop discusses the different diversities at the Centre and how women experience discrimination because of them. Every time I hold the workshop, however, I linger on the question of why am I, a Caucasian, cisgender woman facilitating this discussion? What do I have to contribute to the discussion or discourse about diversity? While I do recognize the barriers I face as a woman, I also see and hear about the negative experiences women in our community have endured because of the colour of their skin, their abilities, or their socioeconomic status. Aboriginal women are three times more likely to be the target of violent victimization than non-Aboriginal women. Women with disabilities are contained to low wage positions and earn 1.9% less than able-bodied women in the highest wage quartiles. Visible minority women of core working age who worked full-time, full-year in 2005 earned about $34,000, roughly $4,000 less than non-visible minority women.
What comes back to me when I think about how to be supportive to women who experience other barriers is a safe space to validate their concerns. Time and again, I am reminded the Women’s Centre is this safe space where women can feel included and valued. All women are unique and at the same time they have in common the fundamental experience of being women. This common thread is the foundation for empathetic peer support. 96% of women who responded to the Outcomes survey feel safe here, 93% notice that there are many different types of people here and 86% feel a sense of belonging at the Centre. Women tell us that this space is where they can be themselves, meet people they would not normally meet, and talk about issues that are important to them.
When conversations about diversity are dominated by non-diverse people, as is often the case, people who are experiencing the issues in question are excluded, as if they are invisible. At the Women’s Centre, all women are recognized and treated as experts in their own lives. This extends to their experiences with prejudice such as racism, ageism, ableism, and homophobia, among many others. Women with lived experience can lead workshops on issues that are important to them, or share their thoughts and ideas on what changes they’d like to see in Calgary communities The fact is, I may have a place at the table, but I must be aware of my own privilege and how that can translate into facilitating a workshop, and, more broadly, in the rest of my life. It is not my voice that needs to be heard.
Perhaps the questions I should be asking myself are not about my own limitations but about how can we make more space for diverse women to have a voice and how can we ensure active diversity is core to the environment at the Centre? If we can continue to celebrate diversity such as ethnicity, ability, culture or language while recognizing less traditional forms such as sexism and ableism then we can move towards acceptance, community, inclusivity, curiosity, and strength.
This post was written by Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren.