The many roles that women play and the depth of their contributions to society were the focus of the biennial conference of OPSEU/SEFPO’s Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC).
‘I am more than’ was the theme of the conference, which was opened on October 18 by Elder Jeanette Corbière Lavell with a virtual smudging and teaching.
OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the conference’s theme fits in with the union’s commitment to ensure women get full equality in the workplace.
“It’s about recognizing women’s skills, talents and contributions to our society, which aren’t always understood, encouraged or celebrated enough,” said Thomas. “Our union has power and influence and we will continue to use it for good, to improve the lives of women and all working people.”
First Vice-President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida highlighted the significant role unions play in strengthening women’s rights.
“When women have solid collective agreements, with good benefits and pay, access to the mental and physical health supports they need, and a rock-solid retirement plan, that’s when our families, our communities, our province and our country thrive,” said Almeida.
Second Vice-President Sara Labelle, the union’s highest-ranking woman, spoke about the collective power of women in the labour movement.
“It is that much more important for us as unionized members, as women in the labour movement, to push women’s issues forward. In times like these, it’s so wonderful that we have a union and the strength of all of us working collectively,” Labelle said.
Over the course of the two-day conference, participants learned about cross-cultural communication, discussed the importance of Indigenous, Black and racialized women holding leadership positions in the union and their communities, and talked about the need for gender equality. Insights were shared by Krista Maracle, Chair of the OPSEU/SEFPO Indigenous Circle and OPSEU/SEFPO member Dawn Woodruffe who recited her poem “Breathe”.
These enlightening, productive conversations were complemented by sessions on self-care, including yoga and mindfulness breaks led by Thushani Yogalingam.
Participants also heard from a powerful self-care panel. OPSEU/SEFPO member Cristine Rego spoke about the Indigenous way of self-care and provided a glimpse into the traditional way of connecting to oneself and healing. Samantha Peters unpacked the nuances of self-care and encouraged participants to think beyond a colonial approach to self-care. The final panel speaker, Susan Hopkins, discussed how to recognize and cope with stressors as well as self-regulate related actions and behaviours.
Following this, in true spirit and essence of self-care, participants enjoyed a timely comedic relief with Comedian Jen Grant.
PWC Chair Dianne Clarabut closed the conference by thanking participants and OPSEU/SEFPO staff and sharing a comment from OPSEU/SEFPO member Natasha Joseph-Grenier from Local 664: “This has been a tough time for everyone, but what sets this period apart is the distance and isolation from one another. I often look forward to gathering with my OPSEU family because sometimes, as issues pile up and we feel wary, it’s our OPSEU family that rejuvenates us.”