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Ending global poverty begins with women’s rights

Eliana Clay

Eliana Clay

by Oxfam | May 17, 2010

I am an MA student in Women’s Studies at Saint Mary’s University, with a background in Communication Studies and International Development Studies. I am writing my thesis on violence against women in Latin America. My dad is from Nova Scotia, and my mom is from Chile.

I am very interested in development, but sometimes worry about the ways that development can take place—often from above, without active participation and input at the community level, and without including the voices of women and girls.

When I first learned about Oxfam Canada’s work, I was impressed with the ways that women’s voices, and other marginalized voices, are included and valued. I agree that it’s essential to address women’s rights if we want to take poverty or oppression seriously.

As part of my program, I am taking a course called Community Based Learning. The idea is to learn at the community level, and to engage feminism in a very real and practical way, rather than just focusing on theory. So, when I found out about Oxfam through one of the students in the class, I was thrilled.

I couldn’t have made a better choice. I was originally very nervous about volunteering. I wasn’t sure that I would have much to contribute, but Oxfam has helped me to contribute to my community in a real way. The Halifax office staff is very knowledgeable, and has been supportive and encouraging. I feel like I’m learning from them all the time.

My project at Oxfam as part of my internship has been to raise awareness about violence against women during the 16 Days of Action. However, my activities have been very fluid. I’ve collected stories about violence against women to educate and inspire our community. I’ve worked with reporters at the Chronicle Herald to pick up some of these stories. As a result, they have written some very thoughtful pieces that have already gotten people talking.

I also participated in a planning committee for a citywide Dec. 6 vigil for the Montreal Massacre. This has been an amazing experience, because it has brought together some very diverse women with diverse perspectives. The event was all about raising our voices against violence against women, and is in memory of the women who died in Montreal, and to all women who experience violence.

It looks like I am also going to help facilitate a workshop about violence against women with a parent resource centre sometime in the New Year.

My project has kind of morphed each time a new opportunity has arisen to raise awareness. Janet Rhymes, in the Public Engagement, Advocacy and Campaigns Team, has been especially supportive in encouraging me to take opportunities as they come, and to value the spaces that are being created to really talk about the issue.

I have interviewed several people as part of the project. One woman who I interviewed told me later that whatever happened, whether the stories were published or not, I should know that the project was a success because it had gotten her family talking about violence they experienced when she was growing up. I almost cried. This is what it’s all about getting people to talk, so that violence is no longer hidden, or something to be ashamed of. It is something very real, and very common, that we need to address in Canada and around the world. When we talk about it, we name it, and we make it an issue that is worthy to be addressed. By creating this space for people to talk, Oxfam is making a real difference.

I have learned so much from this experience. I have learned that it is possible to make a difference. I have met so many active women and men who prove to me that positive change is taking place. I have learned that it is possible to connect local and global issues. Women’s experiences are similar around the world, and by connecting with each other, we can learn from each other. I have been inspired by Oxfam’s work and commitment to social justice and change at the community level, but also at the level of societal norms and values… which is where our future lies.

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