It was a rise and shine kind of morning Friday as hundreds of invited guests made their way to Ottawa City Hall to attend the annual International Women’s Day breakfast, hosted by Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, council’s first ever liaison for women and gender equity.
The 370-person crowd was packed with women and men of all ages, backgrounds, professions and interests. Yet, they shared at least one commonality: a desire to make their community a better place.
After grabbing a bite to eat and the prerequisite cup of coffee or two, everyone filed from Jean Pigott Place into Andrew S. Haydon Hall, where extra seating was brought in to accommodate the large turnout. This year’s keynote address was delivered by Ottawa entrepreneur Catherine Clark, president of Catherine Clark Communications.
Clark, a gifted public speaker, recognized her family members seated in the audience: mother Maureen McTeer, 13-year-old daughter Alexandra, and 10-year-old son Charlie. Her husband, Chad Schella, was out of town, as was her father, former prime minister Joe Clark. He’s travelling on behalf of Canada’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Clark, an only child, was raised by feminist parents. It’s been almost a year since her family was last together in council chambers. It was for the presentation of the Key to the City to McTeer, in recognition of her work, as a lawyer, author and advocate, on behalf of women’s rights and women's healthcare.
The room heard how increasingly more women are becoming breadwinners in their families. In the United States, women now comprise more than half of the workforce, with about half of those women earning as much or more than their husbands or partners, according to a new survey by TD Ameritrade. Back in 1960, less than four percent of women were bringing in as much bacon.
“It does demonstrate that, over the past 50 years, women have finally and quickly become one of the most powerful and influential forces in modern global history,” said Clark, speaking in both official languages.
“Worldwide, women earn almost $20 trillion in income and they drive the majority of purchasing decisions.”
In Canada, more women attend university than their male counterparts and more women turn out to vote, said Clark.
Efforts are ongoing to get a higher number of women elected to office, she added, “But, they do turn out to vote, because women are actively engaged in their communities and they are revolutionizing the way that the world thinks, act and works.”
Clark is teaming up with another successful entrepreneur, Jennifer Stewart, president and CEO of Syntax Strategic media and public relations agency, to create The Honest Talk. It’s a new multi-platform initiative to shed key messages and talking points and to provide a venue for authentic conversations with women who have broken down barriers. The Honest Talk will launch with a podcast in April, a living website and a series of events later this year. Stewart, who was in attendance, is also one of this year’s finalists for a WBN Businesswoman of the Year Award. As well, she and Clark are former recipients of Forty Under 40 awards.
“More than anything, we wanted to ensure that women — who are struggling or questioning or simply looking for a better way — know that they are not alone,” said Clark. “We are trying to ensure that they know there is an entire community waiting to support them.”
Clark spoke about the volunteer work she’s been doing with CARE Canada and CARE International in Kenya as a member of their boards. CARE helps women and girls lift themselves out of poverty in almost 100 counties around the world by giving them the tools they need to make positive change.
“Time and time again, when you give a woman the power to change her own life for the better it has a ripple effect,” said Clark, while encouraging everyone to help these women achieve their hopes and dreams for a better future, for themselves and for their children. “From our place of privilege here in Canada, I really feel we owe them that opportunity.”
On the domestic front, the issues of violence against women and the current affordable housing crisis were also raised. At the Shepherds of Good Hope, a non-profit organization that provides emergency shelter and supportive housing, there are more women than ever seeking shelter, with no place else to go, the organization’s president and CEO, Deidre Freiheit said during the Q&A. “We’ve had women as old as 80 in our women’s shelter this year. It’s unacceptable.”
International Women’s Day officially takes place this Sunday. There is also a woman’s march happening tomorrow, beginning at 11 a.m. at Parliament Hill and finishing at Ottawa City Hall.