Women’s Contact Society executive director Irene Willsie (left) and society worker Eva Navrot (right) present Irene Johnson with the 2017 Women with Heart Award.

Women’s Contact Society executive director Irene Willsie (left) and society worker Eva Navrot (right) present Irene Johnson with the 2017 Women with Heart Award.

Women celebrated and supported

More women than ever before were nominated for the seventh annual Women With Heart Award sponsored by the Women’s Contact Society.

More women than ever before were nominated for the seventh annual Women With Heart Award sponsored by the Women’s Contact Society.

A total of eight women were recognized with nominations for the award that was presented to Irene Johnson during a gathering held at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre on International Women’s Day, Wednesday evening, March 8.

The evening was attended by 41 women and men and included a buffet of appetizers and refreshments, songs by the Just for Fun choir and drum songs by both women and men’s drum groups from Esket, (Alkali Lake) First Nation community.

Women’s Centre executive director Irene Willsie announced the names of all the women nominated for the award and said the judges had a very difficult time choosing the winner.

In addition to Johnson, the nominees include Ana Rawlek, Christine Constable, Crystal Wells, Deb Radolla, Arin Butler, Janna Gertzen, and Sherry Yonkman.

Eva Navrot, a longtime friend of Johnson’s read her nomination letter.

In accepting the award Johnson moved many people in the audience to tears recounting her history of childhood abuse and alcoholism and how she turned her life around at 18 to work for her community in areas of alcohol and drug recovery, health care, and now as education advocate.

“If it hadn’t been for strong people around me and a strong community I wouldn’t be here,” Johnson said in expressing her appreciation for the award.

“I am just happy to be here.”

At the end of her acceptance speech she talked about commitment sticks and the men who accompanied her to the gathering handed out 26 of the sticks to audience members.

The sticks represented a commitment to work to stop violence against women.

Women and men at the gathering also had their pictures taken with #BeBoldForChange signs affirming their commitment to campaign against violence, challenge bias and inequality, champion women’s education,  forge women’s advancement, and celebrate women’s achievements.

The pictures will be posted on Facebook.

“It is time to celebrate the social, economic, political, and cultural achievements of women,” Willsie said in her introduction.

“We have plenty to celebrate this women’s day. We have a gender balanced cabinet under Justin Trudeau.

“Brenda Butterworth-Carr  was named commander of the BC RCMP, becoming the first indigenous woman to hold the position.

“Women, including Kayla Moleschi of Williams Lake, who dominated the Canadian medal count in the summer Olympics.”

Despite such achievements Willsie said women are still a long way  from gender parity.

The World Economic Forum estimates the gender gap will not close entirely until the year 2186, long after she is gone, Willsie said.

She said women are still under-represented in politics.

Currently the House of Commons has 88 female members of parliament, compared to 245 males.

Canadian women who work full time, year round earn 72 per cent of what men earn on average.

And she said women are still far more likely to be victims of violence.

She expressed concern that the child poverty rate in the Cariboo is 23.7 per cent, higher than the B.C. average of 19.8 percent and the Canadian average of 18.5.

She said technology and social media make it possible for women and girls to have their individual voices heard around the world and join groups and send messages in  a matter of minutes.

“However, we as females now have to deal with cyber violence in addition to all the types of violence we have dealt with in the past,” Willsie said.

“Laws and law enforcement resources and techniques have never been adequate to deal with violence against women and girls.

“We must demand that our governments and leaders do better; it is unacceptable that girls still face a future that is less because they are female.”

She said the Women’s Contact Society’s vision is to empower women and girls in all areas of their life and in doing so accelerate the rate of closing the gender gap.

“I ask you to be bold, challenge bias and inequality when you see or hear it, in person, in the newspapers, on the radio, on social media, at the movies, on TV, in your homes, neighbourhoods, schools, businesses, coffee shops and elections.”