At the Sunshine Coast Labour Council’s 15th annual Women’s Day event, a Community Services manager put out a challenge to those in attendance by way of a question.
“Where in your life have you spoken truth to power?” asked Denise Woodley, manager of Together Against Violence programs at Sunshine Coast Community Services Society (SCCSC).
Woodley was invited by the labour council to speak to an audience of approximately 175 people who attended the annual potluck at Roberts Creek Hall on March 8.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme was “balance for better” – and Woodley used that theme as a springboard to show how “speaking truth to power” can change politics both nationally and locally.
Since February, the SNC-Lavalin affair has gripped Ottawa. The national scandal erupted after former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould accused staff from the Prime Minister’s Office and the prime minister himself of exerting “inappropriate” pressure on Wilson-Raybould and her staff for political ends in a corruption case involving SNC-Lavalin, a large and influential Quebec construction company.
“Seeing examples of women standing up and speaking truth to power, even with risk to career or reputation – this inspires me to continue doing the work I do at a local level,” Woodley said. “I also see that every day in my work at SCCSS.”
Woodley’s work involves overseeing programs that support victims of crime, survivors of violence and other vulnerable people on the Sunshine Coast by offering counselling, housing, outreach and other services.
Reaching out for these services means disrupting the status quo and can profoundly change people’s lives, Woodley said. “Women have lost jobs and have lost community or family… That we still have to have transition houses in our community, we still have to have counselling and support services, we’re still seeing that in our community,” Woodley told Coast Reporter.
She also highlighted another problem – bias against women’s testimony – and how it can create problems for women at the local level and in federal politics. “If the highest government, even with gender equity, is running into issues around believing women who step forward … how do we change the status quo?”
Woodley said the scandal is also an example of how gender diversity can change power dynamics, and suggested that having women leaders at all levels of government and within organizations can level the playing field.
At the end of her speech, Woodley challenged those in attendance to share their experiences of speaking truth to power with others. “The more we confront power and speak our truths, the more we can create the change we want for our community.”