Guest Post by WAVAW Volunteer, Ruwani Dadallage
I had first heard about WAVAW almost a decade ago when I got one of their buttons in high school during anti-bullying week. I thought the moniker was really cool and imagined what it would be like to work for an organization like that. Little did I know that I would actually follow through on that idea and end up volunteering with WAVAW all these years later. I dream of a world where we would not have to create crisis centres, or be concerned for the safety of our women and children. But until then, we got WAVAW.
When I first started my training in September this year I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. In my previous volunteer experiences we went through a few hours of team building exercises and support skills training before helping women. Meh. I thought it would be the same here.
So I was certainly not expecting to have my head spinning in the world of ‘isms within 11 weeks, immersed in exploring my own internalized misogyny and other types of oppression, or going through the process of rewiring myself into a feminist warrior! WAVAW helped me find the vocabulary when I was struggling to articulate the experiences women face every day.
There were many more details I began to notice after I started training with WAVAW. I learned more about politics and the legal system in eleven weeks than in my seven years in post-secondary studying Political Science and Human Rights Law. Now I am an academic advisor by day and patriarchy smasher by night… how thrilling!
One of the things we all agree on is how strong the survivors who use WAVAW services are. It can be so difficult to pick up the phone and call a complete stranger for help, let alone sort out the mental, physical and social aspects of what they are going through at that moment. Often I find myself thinking what I would do if I were in the same position. And I am reminded that I could very easily end up in the same position in this capitalist rape culture where women still need to fight objectification and dehumanization. So I was privileged to even be in a place where I can learn about this and learn ways to support other women who experience violence.
The emotional support skills combined with a deeper understanding of social context also helped me be more supportive to the students that I meet with every day at my day job. The first rule of feminist support I remember was that women are the experts of their own experience. I work with emerging artists and designers, so I adjusted that golden nugget to apply it to everyone that comes to me for advice on something. Of course there are moments when I can directly tell them what needs to be done and create certain boundaries or give targets to accomplish.However, for the most part I work alongside the artists so they can empower themselves by recognizing their existing strengths and experiences to find the best course of action. And every time a student leaves with a smile on their face, I mutter “thank you, WAVAW!”
I see students who are survivors of colonization attempting to thrive in a commercial and colonialist culture without the opportunity to study the art of their ancestors which has been invisibilized and devalued. I see women who take on more debt to escape poverty and create better opportunities for their children by studying design. I see students who are unable to maintain a basic living standard in Vancouver and rely on food banks to get them through, or worse have to leave half way through because they cannot afford the education. Then there are the students who battle depression, anxiety, and mental health issues struggling to stay in school despite the system not knowing how to support their mental or emotional health alongside their artistic development. Add to that the task of navigating a greater system rooted in racist/classist/sexist beliefs that impact educational institutions and employers. The deeper I went into WAVAW training the more I was equipped to support them. I appreciate their resolve to keep going despite their struggles that had risen out of oppression and I am there to support them through their journey.
So I want to acknowledge the numerous women who guided us through the process: those who inspired us through their writing; taught us through their workshops; those who fought for the status of Canadian women by defying the existing patriarchy; those who still fight bravely to improve the lives of women and children all over the world. And hail to the next generation of compassionate and brave women who will strive even further for a violence free society.
November 2014 grad