Living Courage in Victoria
By Glenys Verhulst
Glenys Verhulst is a volunteer with the Victoria Philippines Solidarity Group, a small, grassroots organization that seeks to raise awareness about and seek justice for human rights issues that link Victoria and the Philippines, including mining and migrant issues.
The LIVING COURAGE tour set out to make connections between gender-based violence at home and around the world, and to share inspiring stories of actions to promote women’s rights and build more just, sustainable communities. It was a big undertaking, but, in myopinion, we did just that at this first public event of the tour.
I was very impressed with so many things about the evening’s dialogue, including the energy, goodwill, and diversity of people who packed the venue to the rafters, the breadth, depth, and wisdom of the speakers, the laughter in the room, and the generosity of the hosts at the Bayanihan Filipino Community Centre offering space and food. Most importantly, I am grateful for the stories that were shared by the speakers and by everyone who attended about courage in working for women’s rights.* I am, indeed, inspired.
Carol Anne Hilton, a Nuu chah nulth economic and social development leader, shared how her culture immensely values women. Her sharing of these traditional values towards women’s lives sharply contrasts with the way the hundreds of missing Indigenous women have been ignored by Canadian society at large. She also spoke of the violence that is caused by the economic apartheid in our own communties. “Violence is a symptom of everything we’ve forgotten,” she said, and taught that a key to stopping violence is to bring the best of our ancestors forward to inform how we communicate and relate with each other today.
Annette Beech, with the Victoria Filipino Canadian Caregivers Association. shared stories from the important work the Caregivers’ Association is doing and has been doing for the past 25 years, helping women get out of abusive situations, providing much-needed information to newcomers to Canada about the rights of people in the Live-In Caregivers program, arranging for embassy services to come to Victoria, and so much more, including a training event the Association held to support Caregivers the day after this dialogue.
Chantal Bilulu, Program Coordinator for Women and Children with Héritiers de la Justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shared stories of the intense bravery of women in the DRC who, in the midst of the terrible violence of war, of rape, and of hunger, have come together to shape the future of the country, to pass laws against exualized violence, and to ensure women’s participation in government is entrenched in the new constitution. She called for support from the international community for justice and peace in the DRC.
Samantha Claver, a 17 year old playwright, actor, and human rights activist, stepped in for Vernie Yocogan-Diano, and reminded us that Indigenous women’s rights are directly and negatively impacted by development aggression by extractive resource corporations and the
military backing they receive. She emphasized the need for unity for effective action on many different levels, including constructive
dialogue, peace-building within tribes in the north of the Philippines, and developing strategies to deal with authorities and institutions that can respond to peaceful resistance with violence. She issued a challenge to the room to share in the courage shown by the indigenous women of the Cordillera.
Dianne de Champlain shared the history of the Victoria Women’s Transition House. I was moved to hear about the work with youth to break the cycle of violence, and the work with older women who are, thanks to the support they received, free of abuse and living the rest of their lives in joy. Dianne reminded everyone that when a few women get together with an idea, it can have tremendous power. She spoke about the history of women’s movements, and named that we might be on the cusp of a new, broad movement that connects the dots between oppressions and works to end violence to land and people. I hope we can all continue this work to make it happen.In table groups, everyone who came to the event got to share their stories, insights, questions, and ideas. There were so many stories, and I hope many people can contribute their stories to this blog as the tour continues! I’ll just share one of the stories I heard. Marie, a nun who had been working in the north of Canada, heard women say that they wished the priests there would speak out against domestic violence. Sister Marie brought their concerns to the Bishop, who had all the priests in the region explicitly condemn violence against women in the home. The church is not as powerful as it once was, but it still can make a big difference when it speaks out against, rather than remains silent, in the face of violence.
Thank you to KAIROS for being the catalyst for dialogue that has brought so many people together around women’s rights, and for helping to strengthen local work for change here in Victoria through linking local groups to share ideas, stories, strategies, calls to action,
solidarity, and inspiration.
*There were stories we missed out on due to the Canadian government delaying visas for Vernie Yocogan-Diano and Rebecca Nyagai Kafi. I sincerely hope that they obtain their visas in time to join the next part of the tour.