Ask Women Anything: Women disrupting the film landscape

By Jessica Kassis

Thank you to all for another great night! You can check out the recap here:

On Thursday May 31st, in the season’s series final of Ask Women Anything, Media Action had a cozy sit-down with four of Ottawa’s remarkable Women Disrupting the Film Landscape by simply existing.

The intimate gathering at Bar Robo featured four influential young women who are, in their own way, tearing down the walls of Ottawa’s film industry. Over the course of the evening, the crowd was offered a sneak peek into the stories behind the artists. Veronica ‘Helvetica Bold’, Amen Jafri, Meeka Stuart and Emily Ramsay captivated the room with raw honesty, tales of eclectic lifestyles, and most of all with the part they play in ‘’Disrupting the Film Landscape’’.

Helvetica Bold, local dancer and burlesque performer, is an artist with many passions. With quite the background in the local entertainment scene and features in various documentaries and films, she shared an interesting perspective on life in front of the camera. What is her special brand of disruption? She refuses to submit to female stereotypes and has no interest in playing the typecast role of a female lead. Helvetica Bold represents plus-size women by tearing down the quintessential image of ‘sexy’ in her movement against the stigma of the sexualisation of ‘bigger women’. Her form of art is meant to be strictly performative and not interactive. When asked what challenges she faces as a performer, she gave the crowd an honest outlook on the trials of expressing herself in a culture that borderline pressures women in the business to learn to either avoid or accept sexual assault as a reality of their profession.

Amen Jafri, documentary filmmaker, launched her career in the local industry with the film The City that Fun Forgot?. She continued to uncover Ottawa’s hidden gems in, what is notably her most successful endeavour, The Secret Life of Public Servants, a quirky documentary web series where she challenges Ottawa’s stiff, government-centred reputation by exposing hidden local artists in the National Capital Region who have one foot in their creative art and another in the static world of federal bureaucracy. Amen disrupts the industry by representing often underrepresented women of color behind the camera and hopes to change the mold of how films are made by dismantling the profile of your typical film director. When asked what advice she would give to young women hoping to breakthrough as artists, Amen suggested that the hardest thing to understand is that there is no logical path to breaking through; she explained that every artist needs to find realistic ways to discover and fit their talent into the industry through mentorships, exposure, job-shadowing and volunteering.

Meeka Stuart, Director of Children’s Animation programs, who has been in the animation industry since 2000, had the crowd in giggles when she admitted the reason she steered away from visual arts and towards animation was because she realised she actually wanted to ‘’make money doing art’’. She has contributed to, amongst others, notable cartoons such as Cat in the Hat, Tom and Jerry and Caillou who, albeit public contempt, she said ‘’paid for her first car’’. Meeka is a Director at Pip Animation and is the first and only Female Director at her studio; she loves her job because she gets to “make cartoons all day and never has to grow up.” Meeka gave us insight to her ‘’Wow, I’m really doing this’’ moment to when was nominated for an Emmy in 2018 for ‘’Outstanding Director in a Pre-School Series’’ for her work on Through the Woods. Meeka told the audience that nothing fuels her more than people telling her that she can’t do something and disrupts her environment everyday by being the type of leader she always wished to follow.

Emily Ramsay is a producer and festival director in Ottawa. She admitted to the crowd that her journey towards the film industry was untraditional. After many years of post-secondary education, she began as a public servant and kick-started her career in the industry by making, what she called, a ‘’really really bad short horror film’’ with her boyfriend. She has come a long way since, and is currently producing Versus: Women in Combat Sports for Bell Fibe and is Co-Executive Director and Interim Board Chair of not-for-profit Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival. Emily confessed to the crowd the vulnerable truths behind transitioning careers at a later age, fighting against self-doubt and pushing through the lack of recognition before she won two awards in 2014 at the Digi60 film festival. She explained how motivating it was being recognized by peers and how it solidified her belief that she was on the right path. When asked to address the recent and controversial uncovering of the plague of sexual harassment in the film industry, she made it clear that the worst part was feeling like ‘’you’re the only one who’s experienced it’’ and speaking up and reaching out can serve to help validate one’s mental health.

These four wonderful women inspired us all to refuse the status quo, and stand up for our right to be women in ANY industry.

Thanks to Bar Robo, our panelists and the amazing crowd in Ottawa who showed up in their support of Media Action and local women in the film industry for the last inspiring event of the season.

Ask Women Anything: When the Justice System Fails Women

Join us on March 29, 2018 at 7 p.m. for our next Ask Women Anything panel discussion on the experiences of women in the justice system.

NOTE: Due to the popularity of previous events and the strict capacity at Bar Robo, this event will require pre-booked tickets on EventBrite (free of charge!) in order to be guaranteed entry. Those without a ticket will be let in on a first come first served basis after ticket holders. Click here to reserve tickets. See the Facebook event page.

Our panelists:

Mélanie Mellon is passionate about stopping the stigma for mental health. She is a woman who survived childhood sexual abuse and years of undiagnosed mental health problems that followed. She is a mom to four beautiful children. She also speaks in public forums about how her depression and PTSD affected her at home and in the workplace, but more importantly how she got help and was supported. Oh, and she has a job that pays.

Dillon Black is a gender non-conforming anti-violence advocate at OCTEVAW. They’re currently coordinating a groundbreaking project to implement institutional accountability and external oversight in policing practices around gender-based violence. All the while trying to do their PhD in Surveillance Studies.

Jessica Ruano is the writer and director of The Ghomeshi Effect, a documentary play on sexual violence and the legal system in Canada, for which she was awarded the 2017 Femmy Award for Media. She also volunteers at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa. Find her on Twitter @jessicaruano and @ghomeshieffect.

Jordyn Playne is an Indigenous social worker originally from Penetanguishine, Ontario. Jordyn earned her Honors Bachelor of Social work from Lakehead University and has since been working for Minwaashin Lodge; Indigenous Women’s Support Centre as a Women’s Counselor where she spends the bulk of her time working and advocating for Indigenous women and girls who have been incarcerated in the federal corrections system.

Ask Women Anything: Immigration in Ottawa – The Real Deal

Join us at 7 p.m. on February 22, 2018, for our next Ask Women Anything panel discussion. This panel will focus on immigration in Ottawa and the attitudes that surround it. This is sure to be another exciting discussion that you do not want to miss… and don’t forget you can ask them anything!

NOTE: Due to the popularity of previous events and the strict capacity at Bar Robo, this event will require pre-booked tickets on EventBrite (free of charge!) in order to be guaranteed entry. Those without a ticket will be let in on a first come first served basis after ticket holders. Click here to reserve tickets.

Our panelists:

SALLY DIMACHKI: Sally Dimachki is currently a Project Coordinator at Refugee 613, a coalition of settlement agencies, community organizations, private sponsorship groups, volunteers and local citizens, working together on refugee integration in Ottawa. As an immigrant to Canada, she is passionate about amplifying the voices of immigrant & refugee women and creating opportunities for young women in leadership. She serves on the Board of Directors of Immigrant Women Services Ottawa and is the Chair of the G(irls) 20 Steering Committee. In March 2017, she served as the Youth NGO Delegate on the official Canadian Government Delegation to the 61st Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Sally holds a Joint European Master’s in Human Rights and Genocide Studies from Kingston University of London. Follow her on Twitter @sallydimachki!

SARAH ONYANGO: A translator by trade, Kenyan-born Sarah Onyango is a well-known fixture on Ottawa’s community media scene. She hosts the monthly African cultural program Fontonfrom, on Rogers TV Cable 22 – Ottawa as well as the weekly radio programs, Ici l’Afrique, Afrika Revisited and Black on Black on CHUO 89.1FM (University of Ottawa community radio). She is very active in the Black community in Ottawa, and has done a great deal to promote its people, organizations, causes and events. In 2003, to make it easier for the Black community to stay connected, Sarah created a website called BlackOttawa411 which has become a virtual community “hub” of sorts. In addition to volunteering as a radio and television host and producer, Sarah has emceed and helped organize numerous community events. Sarah is also a board member of Black History Ottawa, where she is responsible for public relations and outreach activities. Since 2008, Sarah has also been a member of the United Way/Centraide Ottawa Community Builder Award Recognition team.

SUSIMA LOPEZ MARTINEZ: is a young mother, who immigrated to Canada from Cuba in 2008 after meeting and marrying a Canadian. She became a Canadian citizen in 2016. “Susi” as she likes to be called has put her studies on hold until her youngest of three children begins school. In Cuba she had studied nursing. She has dealt with the immigration system first hand and is still doing so as she attempts to sponsor her mother, who currently lives in the U.S. She currently attends the Spanish Evangelical church, which is mostly made up of recent immigrants from Latin America. Susi’s is also the story of the vulnerability of a woman immigrating to a new country. Her first husband promised her language lessons, help finding a job and a future family. Once she arrived in Canada he did not help her to learn either of Canada’s official languages and discouraged her from working. The relationship finally ended when he went on vacation to her homeland without her, stating that it was too expensive to take her. She was fortunate enough that a neighbor she had made friends with took pity on her and drove her to the home of a childhood friend from Cuba. From there she got a divorce and built her life.

RAMA AL SAFADI: Rama Al Safadi is a settlement counselor at the Somali Centre For Family Services. She has a degree in Translation for English and Arabic Languages in addition to a Business Administration diploma. Rama worked for LG Electronics international for 7 years in Syria before arriving to Canada. She worked in different fields Procurement and planning, administration and HR. Rama and her family arrived in Canada in September 2016, lived in Calgary for 6 months and moved to Ottawa in April 2017 in search of a better future.

Ask Women Anything: Women Influencers in Ottawa


Our next panel features amazing women who influence the Ottawa community in many ways, on May 25, 2017 at Bar Robo.

Presented by Media Action, Ask Women Anything is a series of unique, intimate evenings that give Ottawa’s most influential women a chance to share their thoughts and answer your questions without the filter of the media. Come on out on May 25, 2017, to chat with our panelists! Check out their bios below:

After a successful early career as a special education teacher, Katie Hession found time during a maternity leave to build a new career in the worlds of fashion and social media. She now runs an Ottawa-based fashion Instagram called YOW City Style, is a regular columnist in Ottawa At Home and The Kit Compact magazines and has taken on the role of fashion stylist for Bayshore Shopping Mall. Leveraging these experiences, Katie continues to explore new opportunities in fashion, style, and writing.


Chantal Sarkisian, a.k.a Chantsy, is a seasoned Marketing and Communications creative with expertise in Business development, Digital Strategy, and Social Media. Chantsy is passionate about her roles as a style blogger and Instagram lifestyle influencer. She loves sharing personal stories and is proud to be an Ottawa locavore, a beauty expert, a foodie, and an advocate for the empowerment and representation of plus-size women in the fashion industry. A completely self-made woman, Chantal’s success on the local fashion and lifestyle scene was not achieved overnight. Taking advantage of her outgoing personality and the power of social media, Chantal effectively uses channels, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to engage her audience and build her network both online and in person. You can catch Chantal’s regular Fashion segments on CTV Morning Live (Ottawa), where she chats about the local fashion scene in Ottawa and styles trendy looks for women of all shapes and sizes. In her not-so-spare time, she juggles being a wife, mom, and shopaholic.


Amy Karlin is a communications and marketing professional who’s been in the industry for over a decade. From running her own PR and events agency to working in federal government communications, she’s worn a lot of hats and knows how to hustle. Currently she’s a digital marketing specialist at the National Arts Centre, where she collaborates with Facebook Canada and others to develop killer digital content. Whenever she’s not at the NAC, she’s scouring Ottawa and beyond for gems to share with her 30,000 blog readers at She’s hopelessly addicted to Instagram and is a firm believer in the power of social media to grow real relationships. In her not-so-spare time you’ll find her fundraising for cat shelters, working out at Iron North Studio, blogging about body positivity, or (most likely) eating pizza.


Little Miss Ottawa works in marketing by day and as an Instagrammer by night. Little Miss Ottawa is sparked by a love for travel. Born and raised in Ottawa, she often compares her travel destinations to Ottawa. While abroad she thought, why not post about Ottawa through a traveler’s eyes’ and celebrate everything the capital has to offer. She’s a self-taught photographer and published author in An Insider’s Guide to Canada’s Capital. She recently released her new website/blog, Her hope with Little Miss Ottawa is to inspire people to get out and explore and that her account takes them on fun adventures.

Ask Women Anything: STEM panel discussion


Another successful AWA with Media Action! And what an evening it was, with a killer STEM panel and an engaged audience of all ages. Our four guests, Dr. Sue Twine (NRC), Dr. Winnie Ye (Carleton Univ), Vicki Iverson (CTO Iversoft) and Dr. Katey Rayner (U Ottawa Heart Institute) shared wisdom on their career paths and the excitements and challenges they faced along the way.

Dr. Sue Twine discussed the way in which development in the world of science can be very focused on the self, one’s own achievements and career goals. While a competitive atmosphere can foster this attitude, she said that one of the greatest joys of her career has been sharing her achievements with others and witnessing her colleagues’ successes. In her work at the National Research Council, the goal is to develop and make accessible drugs for those who need them. Sharing this goal, and working and succeeding as a team creates a truly rewarding atmosphere, she said. Dr. Twine finds it encouraging to see students whom she mentored making strides in science; some now have faculty positions across the world. She urges other women to surge forward — to take a career path that may be non-linear, or not entirely planned out, but that will lead to a rewarding life in their field.


Dr. Winnie Ye acknowledged that she has never been able to strike a work-life balance, but didn’t frame this as a downfall. She shared that she had recently been congratulated on being a successful “mid-career” person, which prompted the realization that she was, in fact, mid-career. In her junior career she had never been able to pause, it was expected that constant work be the focus. But she loved the work and the pace. Now, being mid-career, the hard work has some payoffs, and she can take some moments to herself. But Dr. Ye reminds us that she hasn’t worked hard so she can take time off – she built her career because she loves what she does, so she has built her life around it.  She said, “I choose this life.”

In the same vein, Vicki Iverson shared her experience building a company from the ground up. She put in the very long hours for eight years and she has seen her company take on new life. She has gathered a capable team whom she knows can take care of business should she need to step away. She has children, but “when you run your own company, there’s no mat leave,” so she remains consistently involved in her business. She values the respect she feels in her workplace and the moments she spends problem solving with her team.

Dr. Katey Rayner explained that because her work is building a research program, she consistently has to hire and train interns, and ensure her team can “woman the ship”. She called attention to the inconsistency between men and women being asked when they would “run off and have babies.” She asked, “Why can’t this be my life, and my family for now?” Dr. Rayner encourages all women to be confident that things will work out, that if they don’t like what they’re doing, they have the freedom to change paths.


When asked about the challenges of working in a male-dominated field, each woman expressed in her own way that they had not felt overwhelming marginalization as a woman in science, although they know the field is biased based on sheer numbers and anecdotal experiences. Dr. Ye, when asked about female competitors in the field, responded: “I look forward to competition!” — she has been the only woman faculty member in electrical engineering at Carleton since 2009.

Our panelists did some myth-breaking around the “leaky pipeline” theory, which suggests women are leaving the field to raise children. They pointed instead to a hard bias in the field, which excludes women from conferences and opportunities to share their science, and creates the impression that their work is not influential in the field. Ms. Iverson said that when she is invited to speak at panels, she no longer wonders if it’s because she fills some kind of affirmative action quota. She says that she takes every opportunity to demonstrate her success in her field. All panelists agreed that visibility and representation go a long way to fostering successful women in STEM.

Media Action would like to thank all of our panelists for joining us, and Bar Robo for hosting in such an inviting space.

Ask Women Anything: STEM panel discussion

Presented by Media Action, Ask Women Anything is a series of unique, intimate evenings that give Ottawa’s most influential women a chance to share their thoughts and answer your questions without the filter of the media. Come on out on April 27, 2017, for a special edition #WomenInSTEM panel discussion!

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields are largely dominated by men, but we are bringing together four fantastic women who excel in their chosen fields! Take a look at their bios below:


Katey Rayner is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in the Department of Biochemistry in Ottawa, Canada where she directs the Cardiometabolic microRNA Laboratory. Dr. Rayner obtained her BSc from the University of Toronto, and her PhD from the University of Ottawa. Dr. Rayner’s doctoral work focused on the role of hormones, heat shock proteins and macrophage foam cells in the development of atherosclerosis. After her PhD, she pursued a postdoctoral fellowship first at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital then at New York University School of Medicine where Dr. Rayner helped to discover a role for microRNAs, specifically microRNA-33, in the regulation of HDL and its atheroprotective effects.

Since establishing her lab at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Rayner’s research program focuses on novel mechanisms that underlie the inflammatory processes of plaque progression and vulnerability, with a specific focus the intersection between macrophage inflammation and microRNAs as drivers of disease. Her group has uncovered a novel role for microRNA control of mitochondrial respiration in macrophage cholesterol efflux, which is aberrantly expressed in human atherosclerotic plaques. Dr. Rayner’s research also examines how extracellular microRNAs are mediating the progression of atherosclerosis in both human and animal models. More recently, her group uncovered a role for programmed necrosis in the development of unstable plaques in mice and how this can get targeted as a therapeutic and diagnostic biomarker in humans.

Dr. Rayner serves on the editorial boards of Circulation Research and Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB) where she also serves as the Social Media Editor. She serves on peer review panels for granting agencies CIHR, NIH and Heart & Stroke Foundation and is the Chair of the Early Career Committee of the Council of ATVB at the American Heart Association. Dr. Rayner has been recognized with awards such as the American Heart Association’s Irvine H Page Young Investigator Award, the Early Researcher Award from the Ministry of Innovation Ontario, and New Investigator Awards from both Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Heart & Stroke Foundation. Dr. Rayner’s research is currently funded by a Foundation Grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the National Institutes of Health.


Dr. Winnie Ye is a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Nano-scale IC Design for Reliable Opto-Electronics and Sensors. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Electronics at Carleton University. Her expertise is in silicon photonics and its applications in biophotonics, telecommunications, and renewable energy.

Dr. Ye received her B.Eng. degree in Electrical Engineering from Carleton University. She then studied Photonics and received her M.A.Sc. and Ph.D degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Toronto and Carleton University, respectively. After working with the Silicon Photonics/Optoelectronics team at the National Research Council (NRC) during her Ph.D. program, she joined Prof. Lionel Kimerling’s laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Prof. Kenneth Crozier’s laboratory at the Harvard University as a NSERC postdoctoral fellow to work on opto-electronic integration and silicon nanofabrication. Dr. Ye returned to Canada in 2009.

She is the recipient of the Early Researcher Award (ERA) from the Ministry of Innovation Ontario in 2012, and the Research Achievement Award from Carleton University in 2013. She has also been the Chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering (WiE) Ottawa Chapter since 2012.


Dr. Twine received a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from University of Southampton, UK and completed post-doctoral studies in Biophysics and Proteomics/Microbiology. She is currently completing an MBA with Heriot-Watt University. During her career, Dr. Twine has held positions in both academia and government research and technology organizations, focusing on vaccine and drug development. She is currently Section Head for the Analytics group at the National Research Council, with research spanning bioanalysis, advanced mass spectrometry characterization, and NMR. Dr Twine has authored more than 40 research publications and is editor of two books.


Vicki Iverson received a Bachelor of Mathematics in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, and a Masters of Science specializing in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Toronto. Vicki worked at several companies in the software field, including Sybase and Apple, before co-founding Iversoft in 2009 with her husband.

Iversoft specializes in mobile app development, having published over 100 apps for their clients, as well as building 15 successful mobile game titles. Vicki was the primary developer behind Iversoft’s early work, and has continued to build and train a highly proficient technical team. Today, as CTO, Vicki continues to drive the technology side of Iversoft’s 25-member team.


Pressing international business priorities require Suzanne Grant’s presence and she will not be available in Ottawa at this time, we thank Dr. Winnie Ye for stepping in at such short notice.

Ask Women Anything with Colleen Cardinal

Colleen Cardinal joined Media Action and an enthusiastic audience at Bar Robo on March 30, 2017, to speak about her experience as an Indigenous adoptee, a mother and grandmother, and her work as co-founder of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network.

Colleen is a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. She spoke with fervour of the injustices inflicted upon Indigenous communities globally by violent, assimilationist systems like child welfare services. In her own life, Colleen and her sister were taken from their home in Saddle Lake First Nation, Alberta, and placed with a non-Indigenous family in Ontario. She didn’t learn that she was Indigenous until the age of 11, by which time she had internalized so much racism that this knowledge caused her great pain. She eventually fled the home with her sisters to escape physical and sexual violence.

By sharing her story and working with other Indigenous adoptees, Colleen has witnessed the damage caused by the Sixties Scoop. Her work aims to help others heal by practicing inclusive traditions and acknowledging the pain and strength of fellow adoptees and child welfare survivors.

Her journey has been one of learning to care for herself, how to find community, and how to work together to resist colonial impacts.



In college Colleen learned the Ojibwe language and customs. A member of the audience was curious how allies might go about learning Indigenous teachings, both to be more sensitive to the Indigenous experience, and also to understand their views about nature. Colleen said that people take for granted that Indigenous people know their culture, but it is something she and many others have had to consciously work toward. The consequences of assimilation and uprooting of Indigenous peoples has necessitated the unlearning of colonial customs, and the sharing and regrowth of Indigenous cultures. She said that she and other Indigenous people have the right to learn their customs first, and allies can engage by showing support, and openness to learn without imposing their own beliefs.

Although she is from Treat 6 territory, she was raised in Robinson Huron Treaty in Ontario. When asked about the complexity of her identity, Colleen answered, “I am Plains Cree, my children are Plains Cree and my grandchildren are Plains Cree. We know who we are.”

Although for some time she was discouraged by not easily learning some Indigenous customs, she knows now that “I don’t have to be a dancing, beading, singing woman to be nēhiyaw — I resist and I teach, that is my identity.”

A core message of Colleen’s work is that everyone must be critical of the messages in the media. When her sister was murdered in Edmonton, the media coverage dehumanized her body, and perpetuated racist stereotypes about Indigenous people. Colleen works to change the narrative. She speaks truth even if it is hard to hear. She says, “ I’m not Willy Wonka, I don’t sugar coat s—t.”

Thanks to Colleen for so openly sharing her story.

Ask Women Anything with Amira Elghawaby

If you missed Amira Elghawaby on February 23, 2017 at Bar Robo, you really missed out. The soft spoken, proud Canadian journalist kept the audience completely engaged and when she had responded to all questions, left behind an incredibly positive view of her life as a Muslim woman journalist in Canada.

Amira’s introduction began by remembering her parents. She was encouraged by the strength she saw in both of her parents as they learned and adapted to life in Canada after moving from Egypt in the 1970s. Amira remembered the ’70s, under P.E. Trudeau, as a time when the doors to immigration in Canada were wide open

As she grew up, Amira began to take greater notice of small differences between her parents’ Egyptian-based cultural beliefs, and those of Canadian culture. For example, her father discouraged her from pursuing a career in journalism, noting that the profession was not well-respected in Egypt. Nonetheless, Amira attended Carleton University’s journalism program and was awarded the opportunity to work in Cairo for a weekly newspaper, The Middle East Times.

In Cairo, she bore witness to the strength of faith among impoverished and marginalized communities and became inspired by the resilience of the people she met. As a result of this experience, Amira wished to live a spiritual life and decided to practice her Islamic faith. Amira said she views the debate over hijabi and niqabi women as a simple right of choice; wearing the hijab, she believes that “we have to stand up for the freedom to choose.” Amira exemplifies this belief in motherhood, educating her children about Islam and allowing her daughter to choose for herself whether or not to wear the hijab.

Upon returning to Canada, Amira was hired by the Toronto Star. It was in this context that she first began to feel “othered” by the highly “male and pale” composition of the workforce. She felt singled out as a woman of colour and of faith, and said that today a lack of representation persists in news media. Amira subsequently worked for CBC Radio, an organization she holds great respect for and “a national treasure.”

Amira currently works as Communications Director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the only national civil liberties organization for Muslims at this time. Her work includes outreach to young people and educators across the country. On the topic of outreach, an audience member asked if Amira felt an undue burden when consistently asked to comment on violent incidents involving Islam. To the contrary, Amira said she welcomes the opportunity to reiterate that her faith is entirely incongruent with violence. However, she did comment that some conversations are tough, and she doesn’t worry about the “stubborn few” because there are some people who simply cannot be reached through dialogue. Amira said that it is the responsibility of each and every person to speak out against hatred, and Canadians must prioritize the issues facing our “First Nations brothers and sisters.”

Amira wrapped up with some advice: “Haters gonna hate, but love will conquer all.”

Media Action extends special thanks to Amira Elghawaby, Wingd Media and Bar Robo for collaborating on another successful AWA event!

Ask Women Anything with Catherine McKenney

On January 26, 2017, in the warm light of Bar Robo, a standing-room-only group of Ottawa folks gathered to chat with Catherine McKenney, city councilwoman of Somerset Ward, and Ottawa’s first LGBTQ woman elected to city council. McKenney shared her experiences and knowledge with eloquence and a lot of humour!

She began by discussing her move to Ottawa, and her experience with subsidized housing and childcare. When she arrived, she was able to acquire these services within a month. She knows that now wait times for these services are 8 to 12 years. It was powerful to hear her note this change in Ottawa’s service provisions.

Her engagement with local politics comes from a personal interest in improving the quality of life of everyone in her community. Her political career began behind the scenes, working as a councilor’s assistant to Alex Munter and Diane Holmes. This experience she says gave her the opportunity to support politicians with whom she shared common goals, to work at a grassroots level of community engagement, and to meet great people.

The goal of Media Action’s Ask Women Anything speaker series is to allow the audience to ask questions directly to the speaker without a media filter, so after her short introduction McKenney let the audience direct the conversation. U.S. politics being on a lot of people’s minds, McKenney was asked how she would guide young people to make a difference. Two major themes arose from her answer: public space, and representation.

McKenney attended the Women’s March on Washington, she felt that while action like this was invaluable, when it ends people are left thinking “what now?” We as communities have public space to our advantage, we need to gather! To come together and ensure that we aren’t isolated by the turmoil stirring down south, and in our own communities. McKenney met a young Muslim woman at the Women’s March who said that this was the first time she had felt safe in a crowd since the election. Fear and isolation are debilitating, we must gather and discuss to stay strong.

McKenney further encouraged the audience to elect more women to political office. When asked about her role models McKenney said that the strength of conviction that Diane Holmes demonstrated made her think “I’d like to fight that fight”. Her move to the front lines of politics happened when Holmes left the office of city council. Faced with the lack of progressive women in politics, she decided to step up to the plate. Women tend to question themselves, to believe that we don’t deserve a seat at the table.

McKenney said from her experience once you get to the table, you realize how untrue that is. She said, “Don’t question yourself, go for it! And if you don’t succeed, don’t internalize failure, take it in as an experience part of a larger story.” As a mother, McKenney wonders what her daughters might imagine they can be in this world.

McKenney is known to be a year-round cyclist, and the audience wondered, what’s next in the city plans for improving cycling in Ottawa? McKenney will be on the front lines of a fight to make Elgin St. more cyclist friendly. She’d like to see no parking, wide sidewalks, and a reduction in the speed limit to make it safe for cyclists.

McKenney is also launching a website soon to gather information on what links need to be made between major bike paths in the city to make the cycling commute more accessible. She hopes to have input from interested citizens on where paths need to be developed. In her view “We have an ethical obligation to design roadways that eliminate danger to anyone.” She believes accessible bike paths and active living can be a way to make friends, to engage with our public spaces, and to give us new perspective on our city.

Thanks to Catherine, to Bar Robo, to Wingd and to all of the Media action volunteers for an incredible event!