By Rosalind Russell – Women must actively validate other women … that’s the simple message brought to Espanola by a world renowned feminist in mid-March.
Julie Lalonde is a Canadian women’s rights activist. A native of Sudbury, Lalonde is a proud French speaker and also deems Ottawa home. She was the keynote speaker at the annual Women’s Wellness Day held in Espanola in late March.
Lalonde is the power behind Carleton University’s Sexual Assault Centre and Hollaback! (Ottawa) as well as the voice behind the radio show, “The Third Wave”.
Lalonde shared her own story from fear to fearless sharing her experience of having been stalked for over a decade by one man. The stalking only ended when he died in a car accident.
“In my undergrad, I started off in journalism because I wanted to tell people stories. I hated the program, so I switched to Women studies and Canadian studies and that really made me realize how much privilege I had, and how my life revolved around me in terms of going to school, working, socializing.
“I felt like it was really important for me to kind of walk the walk in terms of what I was learning. So, I started working with young girls, in particular. I discovered these girls had all had experiences of violence in their lives and that really drove me to talking about the prevalence of violence against women and in particular, how it is normalized from the day we are born to just sort of expect that we are going to experience violence, at some point. That sort of led me on this path and I guess the rest is history.”
Lalonde’s message focused on women validating women. When a woman says she has been assaulted, she should be believed. Lalonde shared some interesting statistics. For every 1,000 sexual assaults that take place in Canada, only 33 are ever reported, 27 make it to court and three lead to convictions.
She says women have to learn to speak their truths. Lalonde is also a powerful advocate for the Never Again and Me Too movements, which have gained so much attention lately.
“I think an empowered woman is a woman who doesn’t censor herself, who can speak her truth anywhere, anytime. Whether that’s like speaking truth to power or just speaking her truth, she is a woman who feels that she is entitled to having a voice.
Lalonde continues to share that message, not only in Canada, but around the world. She is a frequent media source on issues of violence against women and her work has appeared on Al Jazeera, CBC’s The National, TVO’s The Agenda, Vice, WIRED magazine and FLARE, among others.
She counts getting a sexual assault centre at Carleton, keeping calm while debating Margaret Wente on live TV and having Stephen Harper side with her, as career highlights.
Lalonde has won numerous awards for her work including “Best Volunteer in a Leading Role” by Volunteer Ottawa, a two time winner of the “Femmy Award” and she is a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.
The day was also filled with crafts, socializing, life skills training and sharing stories. The Women’s Wellness Day was hosted by The Town of Espanola and the Mnidoo Mnissing Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Photo – Julie Lalonde, keynote speaker at the Annual Women’s Wellness Day.
Photos by Rosalind Russell and Elly Charette