International Women’s Day event in Woodstock honours local women for achievements in moving forward the status of women
There is a special kind of ambience in a room filled with 500 women.
“You can feel the energy in the air – it’s powerful,” said Linda Smith, one of two local women presented with the AppreSHEation award Thursday at the International Women’s Day event at the Oxford Auditorium.
Smith, a long-time organizer of the annual Take Back the Night event, has been on the board of Ingamo Homes and a volunteer with STICH a supper club in Ingersoll that addressed food insecurity.
A long-time delegate and activist with the Oxford Regional Labour Council, she was also chair of Local 88 women’s committee for a decade in membership made up of less than 25 per cent women.
“I’m so excited, honoured and humbled,” she said. “It’s just great to be part of this.”
Also honoured at the event was Nicole Zinn-Schadenberg, whose ordeal made national headlines when her story about being sexually assaulted by a visiting Nigerian priest in 2004 came to light.
Like so many women, at first Zinn-Schadenberg said she kept quiet about the sexual assault for a long time due to “shame, guilt and fear.”
But when Zinn-Schadenberg, who had won a law suit with Roman Catholic diocese over the matter, learned the priest had returned to Canada in 2013 she bravely went public to share her story and fight for changes in the system.
A media investigation determined millions of visitors weren’t being fully screened at the border through CPIC, the country’s major police database.
After multitudes of emails to officials and having many doors slammed in her face, Zinn-Schadenberg was eventually informed that the loopholes the priest had utilized were being rectified.
Zinn-Schadenberg said she was “stunned but honoured” to learn she had won the AppreSHEation award.
“The women in the group (nominated) are so skilled and talented,” she said. “I’m just glad changes have been made. Thousands of people coming across the border (illegally) have been caught.”
The effects of the sexual assault “that are so difficult to live with” have followed Zinn-Schadenberg for many years.
“The reason I fought so hard was so something positive could come out of this,” she said.
Other women nominated for the award include Woodstock city councillor and avid volunteer Connie Lauder, Kate Leatherbarrow, an advocate and activist who organized a Women’s March earlier this year, and realtor Julie Brenneman, who “uplifts” many of the women around her every day.
The ninth annual International Women’s Day was the largest event to date, attracting about 500 women and a few men.
“There are 500 women here today who are saying ‘I matter and I’m important,’” explained co-chair Phyl McCrum. “That matters to us.”
McCrum said next year, the 10th anniversary, will be the last year organized by the current committee.
“The committee by no means wants this event to end,” she said. “But they have put out a challenge to find a way to keep it going,” she said. “The committee is prepared to act as mentors over the next year to assist a new committee to take the lead and learn the ropes.”
Anyone interested can send a private message to the Facebook page Oxford County Celebrates International Women’s Day.