History of Women Speak Out

Working for Change, the organization which runs Women Speak Out, is a charitable organization which has been involved in poverty reduction work since 1994. In 1996, we opened the Raging Spoon Café and Catering Company, a social enterprise which employs people with mental health and addictions issues. We now operate 5 social enterprises (the Raging Spoon Catering Company, Parkdale Green Thumb Enterprises, Out of This World Café, College Street Café, and Grassroots Research) which employ approximately 60 people.

In 2005, we developed Voices from the Street, a leadership training and empowerment program for individuals marginalized by poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, mental health and addiction issues.

The program was initially developed by staff from Working for Change and the Gerstein Centre. Pat Capponi, a mental health/anti-poverty activist and author (Upstairs in the Crazy House, Dispatches from the Poverty Line) is the lead facilitator of our 12 week program. She is joined by a range of facilitators who provide expertise in a number of areas (eg. diversity, women and the law, public policy, working with the media, etc.). Dawnmarie Harriott is the Coordinator.

In 2011, we developed a new program specifically for women and expanded our membership to include women from refugee and newcomer communities. Women Speak Out provides specific workshops on issues related to gender such as: violence against women, women’s legal rights, women’s housing and women’s health issues. We presented our leadership training model at the Women’s Worlds 2011 Conference in Otttawa and subsequently developed a project with women’s groups in Saint John and Winnipeg to share, analyze and compare our leadership training models and practices.

The women of Women Speak Out come from very diverse backgrounds. Some have experienced years of poverty and homelessness, domestic violence, mental health issues and or addiction. Others are refugees or newcomers to Canada who have fled violent regimes in their home countries and/or violent partners once settled in their new home. Participants in the program have ranged in age from 23 to 69. This rich diversity allows the women to learn from each other and each other’s experiences and to form bonds across generational, ethnic, class, and racial divides. This sharing of experience has been among the most valuable aspects of the program–understanding the struggles of other women encourages the participants to speak out on their common issues.

In 2013, Women Speak Out won the Women Transforming Cities Best Practices Award for “Best Practice in Empowerment and Mentorship”.

Women Speak Out

I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.

– Malala Yousafzai