By Daniel Betts
Recently, Reverend Margaret Dempster showed The Valley Sentinel a newspaper clipping. It was of a picture taken on December 6, 1989 on the campus of École Polytechnique, in Montreal, Quebec. It shows a young woman, in a classroom, slouched in a chair with her head back, Christmas decorations hanging above her. The young woman is dead, one of 14 women killed in an infamous, horrific and violent act.
“It reminds me of things that go on in the world,” said Reverend Dempster. “Often times we hear about these things and we only observe them intellectually. There are some real concerns in the world.”
Reverend Dempster of the Anglican United Church of Canada, Robson Valley Shared Ministry, was recently elected to the International Anglican Women’s Network (IAWN) Steering Committee, which is made up of seven women from around the world who are elected as a result of international balloting. The IAWN was created to enable and empower women. One of their objectives is the elimination of all forms of violence against women and children. The objectives of the steering committee are to pool resources and talents, and ensure sound processes are in place for corporate decision-making.
“It’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be exciting,” said Reverend Dempster. “I’m working on my doctorate and I’m going to see if I can work all of it into a thesis.”
Reverend Dempster has been deeply involved with empowering women for many years. Each year, for the past five years, she has attended the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Two years ago she spoke to the UN Economic and Social Council in the main hall. “I spoke on behalf on the World Council of Churches (WCC),” she explained. For the first time aboriginal women attended the CSW. Reverend Dempster helped to organize a parallel event on violence and indigenous women. Women from around the world were keynote speakers and many women were in their native dress. “We gave the presentation twice to wall to wall people.” She also noted she visited embassies and spoke with the ambassadors to the United Nations for Iraq, Lebanon, and Chechnya.
According to Reverend Dempster the IAWN speaks to all women in the Anglican Communion and covers a multitude of issues, concerns and challenges.
Much of the work is lobbying. “Lobbying our own government and other governments and also raising awareness of issues, not just nationally but our own concerns. We tie into the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) in the fall.” The WRC is is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. Both men and women lead it but the focus is on educating men and boys. “The White Ribbon Campaign was started by Canadian men, which is awesome,” said Reverend Dempster.
“It’s not a ‘femanazi’ thing. Men have sisters, mothers, daughters, and aunts.” The IAWN bases its priorities on the Beijing Platform for Action, a declaration of the UN Women, which is the UN entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
“I’m interested in the issues and concerns that we have locally. I want to tap into the organizations that exist here.”
On October 22, Reverend Dempster will be in Auckland, New Zealand to attend the first meeting of the newly elected steering group. “I’m quite excited about it,” said Reverend Dempster. One evening during her visit the committee will be introduced to the Maori culture, which she is very much looking forward to.
“It’s going to be exciting and very interesting and very challenging. I think it’s wonderful for our communities to have a platform, if you will, on the international stage.”