The initiative is championed by Councilor Bev Esslinger and Mayor Don Iveson. It is composed of:
- Women’s Advocacy Voice of Edmonton (WAVE) Committee: a volunteer council of 15 members, appointed to advocate to City Council on behalf of women and girls in our city
- Women’s @ the City: a group of City employees who advise on women’s issues within the municipal structure of the City of Edmonton
- Volunteers at large
- City of Edmonton staff who oversee and support the initiative
The purpose of the initiative is to add a gender lens to policy discussions that shape the direction of our city. Women and girls in Edmonton are disproportionately under represented in areas like government and business leadership, and over represented in areas such as poverty and violence.
By including women and girls in discussions and decision-making that shape Edmonton, and ensuring that we, as a city, address the unique issues women and girls face, we’re working to create an optimal future for all citizens in our city.
The seed of the idea for the Women’s Initiative originally came from community stakeholders who approached former Mayor Mandel with the idea of creating a group designed to advocate for the needs of Edmonton women. City Council was already supporting initiatives for other groups, such as the Youth Council, Next Gen, and persons with disabilities, and it was felt there was need and value in establishing a focused initiative for women.
In 2012, several community forums were held, including two symposium events, and more than 700 diverse women were involved in conversations about women’s issues, engagement and leadership. This phase of work was spearheaded by the former Mayor, and his vision is supported and now championed by Councillor Bev Esslinger and Mayor Don Iveson, and the City’s Community Services Department. The WAVE Committee was formed in 2014, after a public recruitment process, and they are currently advocating for women and girls on myriad issues in our city.
Respecting that issues of gender are complex, and that imbalance affects both sides negatively, the Women’s Initiative does not demean, belittle or challenge the rights of men. The Initiative, however, is tasked with providing a woman’s perspective. Our research and activities are focused on the unique experiences of women and girls in our city to make sure that the concerns they face are brought to the table in conversations about the future of our city, while making room for, and respecting the needs and opinions of other groups, using an intersectional gender lens, which takes the needs of men into account.
Yes, insomuch as we are promoting the social, political, and economic equality of women in our city, which is the definition of feminism to which we subscribe. But we do understand that for many, feminismis a loaded term. And while most of the people involved in the initiative self identify as feminists, you do not need to do so in order to be a part of our movement. Feminism is a continuum of actions, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, and we invite you to engage with us, and enter these dialogues, in the way you are most comfortable.
The feminism we subscribe to is: “The advocacy of women’s rights, for the social, political and economic equality to men” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
We totally recognize that feminism can be a challenging word, as the perception among some people is that feminism is about female supremacy, or that feminists are against men. Let us be clear: we do not subscribe to any version of feminism that is anti-man.
That said, the term feminism can unfortunately be off-putting, and there are many people who would rather focus on more inclusive terms like humanism or equalism.
But in order for women to reach that social, political and economic equality to men, and for women’s rights to be an important part of public discourse, we believe it’s important to have “specialists”advocating for these specific issues. In the same way, we think it’s necessary to have seniors’ advocates promoting issues important to older adults, or civil rights advocates championing issues about race, just to name two other important social justice groups.
We absolutely support the goals of equality inherent in humanism and equalism. In fact, we’d also call ourselves humanists as well as feminists. We think intersectional feminism is an important part of these excellent movements.
We compare the goal of building an equal and just society to the building of a beautiful house. In order to build a strong structure, one that will keep us all safe and sheltered, we need blueprints. That’s where humanism comes in. Humanism provides the overall goals: safety, justice and opportunity for all human beings.
But to build this house, we need electricians and plumbers, framers and painters. Specialists who are well versed in their trade, and who work together to build this beautiful structure.
That’s where feminists come into play. Feminists are like the electricians, who are focused on their job, but who are working with the plumbers and the framers to build the house. And in order to create the best outcome for all, a team approach is necessary. That’s why we’re delighted to work together with other advocates and citizens to build a fair and just society.
But why can’t we just leave it at humanism? Why do we need these specialists in the first place?
Because without a specialist to raise the issues of their group, whether that be for civil rights, or accessibility or the rights of older adults, these important voices and issues can be lost in the fray. And to continue with our house-building metaphor, while a general contractor (the humanist) is frequently very skilled, he (or she) still needs to call on the specialties of the trades in order to get the job done well.
So we, as feminists, are working along side other advocates, like those for civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, youth and senior issues and all other social justice champions to fulfill the goals of humanism: a free, equal and just society for all.
The Women’s Initiative is approaching the issues connected to women’s equality from a number of fronts. Based on the themes of leadership, engagement and best practice, we have set goals to guide our work, including the following:
To increase the representation of women in all levels of government, but especially municipal; to provide leadership and networking opportunities for women and girls; and to provide mentorship support.
To engage women in city and culture-changing conversations; to connect with and empower women to use their voices; to actively seek meaningful input from women on issues that impact them, to increasewomen’s civic participation; and to break down barriers to participation in the city and the workforce (supporting issues like affordable childcare and safe transportation).
To advise on City policies from women’s perspectives; to research and implement best practices from other jurisdictions; and to develop and implement our own best practices for City of Edmonton employees and Edmonton women and girls.
In order to accomplish these goals, we need research that gives us a snapshot in time to show us the current status of women in our city. Therefore, one of our first steps is to undertake this research and develop a score card that will set some parameters for change, and help direct our work.
At the same time, our WAVE Committee has created subcommittees that are addressing these goals through targeted work. Each subcommittee is tasked with not only developing mechanisms to meet these goals, but to also engage volunteers in order to create an even broader network for change. The Women @ the City group have similarly mobilized, and have divided into two subcommittees – one focused on networking and mentorship, and the other on research and policy, to ensure the City of Edmonton, as an employer, walks the talk.
In our first year, we have accomplished a great deal. We have developed custom governance structures and guiding principles that allow us to function at our best; we have built large, engaged social media communities to advocate for change in the online sphere; and we have advised on policies (such as Transit Safety, Poverty and childcare) to make our city a safe and opportunity rich place for all.
Now that we’ve entered our second year of work, our focus will be on policy, advocating for women’s interests on City Council issues, as well as other municipal issues that impact women and girls.
There are lots of ways to get involved!
You can also sign up for our mailing list to find out about our meetings, events and volunteer opportunities.
If you have special interests, or if there’s something you’d like to approach us about, please bring it forward to our WAVE Committee, and come present at one of our meetings. We want to hear from you!
For any other questions or ideas, please contact us to get involved and be part of changing our city for the better!