I have to admit that when I was first asked to cover the Every Woman Festival (EWF) in Edmonton, hosted by the Every Woman Organization, I had no idea what it was about. With it being held in a Lexus dealership, and a few other telling signs, I was half expecting a bunch of upper middle-class white business women to be sitting around stroking each other’s egos, patting each other on the back for taking an evening out of their unknowingly privileged lives to do some “meaningful community work”… as it turned out, that was not the case.
The Every Woman Organization (EWO) is working towards a pretty beautiful thing. While they don’t explicitly state that they address how structures and intersections (race, class, ability, gender expression, sexuality) of oppression impact women and those who don’t identify as cis-male, their point is getting together in the spirit of loving and helping each other. Lauren Alston, volunteer coordinator for EWF Edmonton and co-founder of Hollaback! Alberta, feels they are about community, and the important role community plays in lifting and honouring its most vulnerable members.
They also have the potential to grow and develop in some pretty radical ways.
March 12th, 2014 marked EWO’s first Edmonton event. Like the International Women’s day events they have been hosting since 2008 around the world, the purpose of this EWF was to raise money for a local women’s charity, and raise awareness around gender-based violence. WIN House, Edmonton’s longest running women’s shelter, was chosen as the kick-off charity.
EWF was also a space to celebrate local women from business, martial arts, science and music. There were talented local female entrepreneurs featured during the mini-market-collective-style reception, a spectacular fashion show featuring local (non)models and designers, as well as an inspiring varkour performance and a gentle, yet powerful demonstration by Humble Aikido.
The founder of EWO, Sophie Serafino, dazzled the audience with her musical stylings as she lead us pied piper style from the front showroom of the dealership into a massive car-bay where the main event took place. We heard from likes of Sarah Chan (read her blog!) and her husband, Mayor Don Iveson (who, for the record, was the only one to mention that we were on treaty 6 land). We had Ann Armour, a distinguished scientist and tireless advocate for gurls and young women considering careers in the sciences and engineering, share her story using chemistry to display how every one of us can have an affect.
Yes, the EWF sure put on a show. It was creative and entertaining, and it used glitz and glamour and high profile Edmonton celebrities to make talking about gender-based violence sexy. And it raised over $10,000 through ticket sales and silent auction for a community staple I’m sure a handful of people in that room hadn’t given a second thought before coming to this event, let alone knew that it recently lost funding to one of their houses specifically for immigrant women. Which isn’t an easy task, and I applaud them for it.
Police officer, active community member, mother and woman who accessed the services at WIN House back in the 90’s, Mona Gill, shared her story that night, which I will remember long after the $10, 000 that was raised – which is roughly the cost of running a shelter for woman and children fleeing domestic violence for 1 month – will last. “Events like this do not let people forget that this problem still exists,”she said – they also remind people that the government needs to be doing more to protect its vulnerable community members.
With Alberta being one of the few provinces lacking its own government ministry dedicated to addressing the many issues women continue to face in our communities and province, we need events like this.
We need events like EWF, but we also more groups and intersecting communities getting together in the spirit of loving and helping each other and working towards a change. And after seeing how successful the inaugural Every Woman Festival was this last week, I am positive that we can at make this a reality.