Helping women reclaim their power and resiliency at North York Women’s Centre
ONN was pleased to welcome Taraneh Vejdani of North York Women’s Centre to Nonprofit Driven 2021. This profile is part of an incentive prize at the conference to recognize attendees and their work.
I joined the nonprofit North York Women’s Centre (NYWC) in August 2020, during the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic. What started as a two-month contract blossomed into the full-time role of Program Manager, and it’s an honour to support women every day with my colleagues.
My passion for gender equality and women’s rights is an important part of who I am. Even as a young girl, I never accepted or understood why boys and girls were treated differently. When my family and I migrated to Canada about 10 years ago, I had to learn a new language and navigate a new culture. However, the most painful lesson was that even in this “new world,” women and girls were treated unfairly. My education and commitment to understanding the experiences of women and my gender identity led me to NYWC.
The North York Women’s Centre has been advancing equality and women’s empowerment for over 30 years. Today, we offer a Virtual Women’s Lounge, one-to-one support and many free group programs for woman-identifying and non-binary people, such as a three-part Women’s Empowerment Series (WES). WES is one of our longest running programs and includes weekly sessions led by skilled facilitators, independent learning, and one-on-one support for participants as they step forward and create positive change in their lives. (We offer this program throughout the year, so join us in the journey of exploring and gaining our power.)
I have learned so much about women’s resiliency, strength, and wisdom through this program and all my work at NYWC, and it’s a joy to hear how women benefit. For instance, one recent WES participant shared that she appreciated the diversity of participants and how everyone treated each other with kindness and respect. As she said, “This program helped me accept and love myself and to not be dependent on anyone for approval or acceptance.”
Impact of the pandemic on programs
Transforming the Women’s Empowerment Series and other NYWC programs into online-only services during the pandemic was a huge but worthwhile task. We also relaunched our website and created a program that provides tablets, internet access, and one-on-one digital literacy support to help women connect. As NYWC Executive Director Iris Fabbro says, “The switch to virtual programming expanded our reach and made our services more accessible to some – including more women who live outside our traditional catchment area of North York and Toronto.”
As COVID-19 continues, women need access to community and support more than ever. The online WES groups are crucial for maintaining personal and collective wellness. While virtual spaces can’t replicate in-person groups, our online offerings still provide vital skills development and camaraderie. We’ve learned that building connections is as important as innovative activities and interesting content. While our team and instructors remain committed to delivering key information, we have become even more focused on nurturing the community.
Gender-based violence (GBV) during the pandemic
One particularly alarming aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a rise in intimate partner violence, especially during lockdowns. That’s why NYWC is embarking on a new project, supported by Women and Gender Equality Canada, which will examine how to strengthen the privacy and security of digital services aimed at helping women experiencing gender-based violence.
Ways to engage with NYWC
At NYWC, we are always grateful to connect with other nonprofit groups and individuals who are interested in supporting women and working toward systemic change. Some ways that people can assist NYWC include:
- Raise awareness: When you follow and share our newsletter or posts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter, you help us reach potential new participants, donors, volunteers, and members.
- Donate: A monthly, annual, or one-time donation helps us create positive and sustainable futures for women.
- Become an NYWC member: Show your support for our vision and mission by becoming an NYWC member.
The rewards of this work
Anyone who works in the nonprofit sector will tell you that it’s challenging but also incredibly rewarding. There are many ups and downs, but what has helped me the most is the mindset of “no opportunity to help is too small.”
At North York Women’s Centre, I’ve discovered that every person who comes to us has a story full of learning, power, and strength. It’s a privilege to listen to these stories and a true joy to become part of their journey. When I hear NYWC program participants call their group a place of refuge, a place for self-care, and a place they look forward to joining each week, it makes me very proud of the work that we do.
This blog was written by Taraneh Vejdani, Program Manager at North York Women’s Centre.