Every year I take part in CARE Canada’s Walk In Her Shoes, an event that raises awareness about what women and girls go through in developing countries, and that supports women’s empowerment projects. This story describes my walk in Ottawa in 2018.
I wasn’t feeling it this time around. I was in a new city – well not exactly new, it’s the city I grew up in, where my parents had lived for nearly 36 years. Really I should have felt right at home but I didn’t. Every day I missed Toronto.
Oh well, I thought to myself, at least there are still things that are important to me, things that I love to do. I headed downtown to participate in a cause that is very dear to my heart, CARE Canada’s Walk In Her Shoes. The event happens annually, and raises awareness on the current situation of women’s rights around the world, and supports women’s microfinance and empowerment projects. I had been participating in the walk for nearly eight years now, but this was my first time doing it in Ottawa.
On the bus ride into downtown, I thought about how in 2018 we still haven’t come that far in terms of women’s rights across the globe. Women in Saudi Arabia still can’t drive, girls in India are forced to get married at young ages, and in the last few years, the level of abuse and harassment in the workplace throughout the U.S. and Canada has been exposed to a staggering extent. Not to mention that an obnoxious misogynist was currently President of the United States.
I tried to push these negative thoughts out of my head and focus on the positive, like Malala Yousafzai, who has come so far in campaigning for education for girls, and Sally Armstrong, the Canadian journalist who has seen the worst of it but is still incredibly upbeat and inspired about the future of women’s rights and the fact that so much media attention is now given to women’s causes. I like to think that I play a tiny little part in this progress, that me walking each year and spreading the word matters in some small way.
The downtown scenery distracted me from my thoughts, and I noticed my body relaxing as the bus entered the city. The suburbs were definitely not for me! I felt instantly at home with the hustle and bustle, the high-rise buildings, and people criss-crossing through the streets, off to meetings, to government jobs, to complete the next item in their busy lives.
It was cold and the grass was covered in thin patches of snow. I walked towards Parliament Hill, thinking about how different this walk was from all the others I’d done in Toronto. In T.O, I had recruited my friends and family to walk alongside me. We had walked either along Lakeshore or University Avenue, sported “Walk In Her Shoes” signs and talked to curious people along the way. There had never been a city-wide organized event like this one. This walk was being kicked off by the Prime Minister’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, who was yet to arrive. I registered at a desk that was set up on the hill, and picked out an orange toque that said “CARE” on it to wear for the walk. The people at the desk were friendly, but I felt a little alone coming on my own, and felt the pressure to mingle and make friends. Everyone was talking amongst themselves, and I asked a few people if this was their first walk in order to make small talk.
Close to noon, the emcee of the event, journalist Catherine Clark, introduced the event and its purpose. She said, “With no further ado, I would like to introduce a champion of women’s rights and a lady who has supported CARE’s projects for many years. Please welcome Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.”
There was a lot of applause as Sophie came to the stage, seemingly by herself and unprotected by body guards – they must have been very well hidden in the crowd. She had on a peach scarf, a dark green jacket, and her long dirty blonde hair was half tied back and flowed down her back. Her cheeks were flushed red from the cold and as she took the microphone, she looked animated and happy.
“I’m so happy to be here in Ottawa walking with our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and celebrating the uniting efforts with CARE to ensure that women across the world have the opportunity to go school and to go to school safely and not be caught in the cycle of poverty that does not allow them to flourish in their own communities.” She paused as the crowd started to applaud.
I felt instantly elated by her words and her energy. I definitely had a girl crush on this woman! I loved how she and her husband were young and hip and related so well to young people and cared so much about human rights. Not to mention that Justin Trudeau was an unabashed feminist. As she repeated her speech in French, I started to feel more upbeat, looking forward to the day.
Sophie smiled a winning smile as she wrapped up her kick-off speech, and just then the Peace Tower directly in front of us struck twelve, and the chimes could be heard throughout the downtown core. It reminded me of Toronto and the clock at City Hall. Nostalgia swept over me once again. I pushed the feeling aside and focused instead on the energy of the crowd and the walk ahead.
Soon after, hundreds of us started to walk towards City Hall, holding CARE and Walk in Her Shoes banners, signs, and chatting amongst ourselves. I went straight to the front of the crowd – the one advantage of attending an event on your own is the ease in which you can work the crowd.
I noticed Sophie in front of me. She turned around and looked at me and said, “Hi!” I was a little taken aback – at first I thought she was talking to someone else, because of the familiarity with which she spoke and the warmth she exuded. I said “Hi” back and smiled. She continued, “How are you?” and I stepped in line with her. Surely she had me confused with someone else! I said “I’m doing well – I’m really happy to be doing the walk in Ottawa this year. Normally I do it in Toronto.” She said, “Oh, did you move here recently?”
For the next few minutes, we chatted about my life in Ottawa, and how I was doing some private tutoring and Salesforce consulting. I asked her if she had heard of Salesforce and she instantly answered yes, and I mentioned that the company had invested over $2 billion in its Canadian business and that Justin Trudeau had met with their CEO recently.
She was very interested in my tutoring business, especially when I described how I specialized in mathematics, and tried to make it more interesting for students by teaching not only the core curriculum but also the mathematics of the universe, patterns, and synchronicity. Her ears perked up at the word ‘synchronicity’, and I knew this was a topic that interested her because she was very spiritual and intuitive, believing in cosmic energy and such – topics that would make my dad roll his eyes. I said to her that I believed that there were no coincidences in the world, and that like energy attracted like energy, and that this was actually scientifically proven. To my amazement, she asked me to repeat some of what I was saying. I couldn’t believe that she was engaging with me so much while others were clearly waiting to speak to her and have their pictures taken! I quickly asked someone close by to take a picture of the two of us – there was no way I was leaving without having a photo of this magical encounter!
We walked through the downtown streets, passing St. Paul’s church and waiting at the traffic light to cross Gloucester Street. At one point I thought to ask Sophie about her recent trip to India, but thought it was best not to considering all the negative press coverage about it (especially in regards to their festive Indian clothing). I couldn’t believe the public’s extreme reaction to what was clearly a gesture of goodwill.
Sophie and I chatted more about the purpose of the walk and how it was unacceptable that in this day and age that women and girls have to walk for miles to gather wood and water, often risking their safety and even their lives. This is a topic that makes me very emotional – I really do feel that it’s the greatest human rights crisis of our time, and that if we address this basic inequality in the world, that every other issue in the world will move forward. The power of a woman is an indomitable force.
And then just like that she was gone. She walked down a side street with her body guards, while the rest of us continued onto City Hall, walking for justice, walking on behalf of women everywhere.
Photo Credits: CARE Canada