It’s been 30 years since the Kincardine chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women received its charter, and while the pandemic has curtailed any plans for a big celebration, this group of active, civic-minded women continues to move forward to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.
Originally founded in 1919, the organization was created after World War l to band women together and advocate for equality and equal rights. In the last 100+ years, the organization has grown (there approximately 100 clubs across the country) and used the collective voice of its members to empower women and shift its emphasis to social issues that affect women – employment, healthcare, child care and education. Members are advocates for women and girls in their own province, nationally and internationally.
The local chapter has 22 members from various backgrounds and vocations. Their careers include medical professionals, lawyers, teachers, artists, administrative workers and entrepreneurs – a true cross-section of women in business. Most are retired and about three quarters of the women are long-time members.
“We are a group of women from all walks of life, who care about women and girls in Ontario and around the world,” said member and president of the Ontario Council, Sandy Thomson. “We promote education for women at a grassroots level, provincially, federally and worldwide.”
Locally, the chapter provides two bursaries each year. One is awarded to a young woman pursuing post-secondary education and the second to a mature woman wishing to return to school to complete her education. Donations are made to community groups, including the Kincardine Food Bank, Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey and the Bruce Botanical Food Garden and wherever else the club sees a need.
Each chapter can take on specific initiatives that offer the promise of a better life for women and girls. The issues the club opts to take up the mantle on depend on the meaning it has to its members. Since COVID, co-chair Melanie Clark says the club has put the focus on matters including the availability and affordability of child care, knowing that accessible child care affects women and their ability to return to work during the pandemic.
The group has also made the improvement of mental health supports in the area a priority and is making their concerns known regarding the critical state of long-term care in the province.
“In response to the long-term care home (situation) at the beginning of the COVID crisis, this and other clubs began letter writing to improve the standards of care across Ontario,” said co-chair Melanie Clark.
The group is advocating for better wages for long-term care staff, increased inspections, better compliance with licensing standards, more staff and the implementation of infection control standards.
The goals of CFUW are achieved by lobbying the government at all levels, to communicate its views. The personal politics of each member are set aside and “we work with whoever is in government” said Thomson.
If you are under the impression the local chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women is all work and no play, you would be very much mistaken. All the members agree there has to be a fun, social side to the group. This has been achieved with the creation of special interest groups within the chapter, including everything from gallery and wine tours, mahjong, book clubs and networking. There are speaker sessions three times per year, and monthly meetings have been held via Zoom since the pandemic began.
“We are not bound by rules,” said Thomson. “Whatever a woman wants to bring to the club, we are happy to consider it.”
Clark has been a member of the club for 20 years. She moved to Kincardine after retiring in 2001 and was anxious to get out in the community.
“I moved here from Toronto after I retired and I didn’t know anyone in Kincardine,” said Clark. “I thought this would be a good way to meet people fast.”
Co-chair Jane Rigby finds the group to be very giving and non-judgmental.
“Everyone is very supportive and that means a lot,” said Rigby. “People are working with you and standing behind you.”
One of the challenges the group is tackling is how to entice more women, especially younger women, to join their ranks.
The members have thoughts on why younger women may not be attracted to the club. Jackie Clements says young women may already feel empowered by changes in society. They have come to expect opportunity, rather than have to fight for it.
“Younger people are not joining,” said Clements. “They are very busy and finding alternatives. The role of women has changed over the 100-year history of the organization. Younger women no longer feel the need to have a group to make them feel involved.”
Even with the positive societal changes women have come to expect in Canada, there is still much work to be done.
“We don’t stop trying to push our agenda,” said Thomson. “We cannot stop having our voices heard. We advocate for women who don’t have a voice.”
“We need to bring these women along,” she continued. “We need them as much as they need us. Issues aren’t going away. They (young women) certainly need the advocacy for childcare and violence (against women). We are all empowered if we have more voices.”
“Our work will be their work someday,” said Clements.
Like many other self-funded and not-for-profit organizations, the pandemic has taken its toll on the group’s fundraising efforts. Members are happy to see the return of the Treasure Sale on Aug. 7, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at 737 Princes St. North, behind Victoria Park. Money raised at the event will cover the costs associated administrative costs, speakers, community donations and bursaries.
Women interested in finding out more about Kincardine CFUW are encouraged to visit its website at www.cfuwkincardine.com or email email@example.com.
Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent