The Rosemary Brown Annual Memorial Conference: A Review
By Tania Arora, volunteer blogger
“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.’”– Clare Boothe Luce
On September 23rd, the United Nations Association of Canada – Vancouver Branch, SFU Department of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies and Rosemary Brown Award for Women Committee hosted the fourth annual Rosemary Brown Memorial Conference at the SFU Centre for Dialogue. Each year the Rosemary Brown Award for Women recognizes and honours a BC based woman or organization that promotes the values and ideals which Rosemary Brown championed during her lifetime. Established in 2004, the award is given to those who exemplify the spirit of Rosemary Brown, who was a politician, mother, grandmother and activist committed to the fight against sexism and racism.
The award ceremony featured panellists who discussed the theme of Gender, Sexuality and Disability Justice. This year’s award recipient and the keynote speaker was Dr Dana Brynelsen, a life-long disability rights activist and former Provincial Advisor for the Infant Development Program (IDP) (1975-2009). In her role as Provincial Advisor, she supported the development of 53 IDPs in communities across BC and encouraged the development of a parallel network of Aboriginal IDPs. Dr Brynelsen accepted the award on behalf of the families and staff she has worked with over many years, those who have created and improved services for children with developmental disabilities. Dana attributed the success of the work to their ability to cross boundaries that had, in the past, rarely been crossed. Key to this was the driving advocacy of parents whose sons and daughters were, for the most part, completely excluded from normal community life and activity. Dr Brynelsen expressed her gratitude by saying, “This award has special meaning for me. I knew Rosemary, initially as most others in BC knew her, as a brilliant orator, politician, and passionate champion of human rights.” She concluded with a few words about the pressing concerns facing us today, “It is true that we have made great gains over the past decades, in terms of services and support in the area of disability… but how quickly gains are eroded and lost when our values and attitudes about what is important shift.”
The Rosemary Brown Undergraduate Awards in Social Justice were presented by Willeen Keough and Lara Campbell of Simon Fraser University to recipients Maisaloon Al- Ashkar and Shilpa Narayan. Shilpa is an undergraduate student majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies who has been involved with Youth for a Change (Surrey), Lookout Emergency Aid Society, and the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at the BC Children’s Hospital. Shilpa has also worked on programming for refugee youth, mental health, queer youth, and elder abuse and has given keynote speeches on mental wellness. She also runs a drop-in centre for people diagnosed with HIV. Shilpa’s dedication to her studies at Simon Fraser University and her social justice work exemplify the highest standards of community engagement and academic achievement.
Maisaloon is completing a double major in First Nations Studies and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. She works as a women’s centre coordinator in Vancouver and has been involved with The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) throughout her studies. Wise and sassy, she is a 20-year-old Muslim woman and displaced Palestinian who unapologetically speaks her truth.
Congratulations to all the recipients!
Chaired by Dr Coleman Nye of Simon Fraser University, the panel explored the theme of Gender, Sexuality and Disability Justice. The first panellist, Rena Cohen of Realwheels Theatre, spoke about artistic mandate and the “Sexy Voices” creation/ performance project and how people with disabilities speak up to the world through art. The second panellist was Elisabeth Walker- Young of the Canucks Autism Network and a four-time Paralympian swimmer. In 2015 Elisabeth was chosen for the role of chef de mission (official leader and spokesperson) for Team Canada at the Para-Pan-American Games – an incredible honour that speaks volumes about her passion and reputation for advocacy. During the panel, Elisabeth spoke about the power of language and the diversity of Canada, and mobility/participation of people with disabilities. Sharing her background as an athlete, Elisabeth recounted, “By mistake, I got involved in inclusive sport and have gained so much out of it. I wholeheartedly believe that everyone — regardless of their circumstances or lived experiences — deserves the right to participate and reap the benefits of being active within their community.” Dr Delphine Labbe of University of British Columbia Occupational Science and Therapy was the third panellist. A PhD in community psychology, Labbe is interested in understanding the environmental factors that have an impact on the social participation of people with disabilities. She discussed her upcoming project on unemployment and physical ability. Our final panellist was Laura Johnston, a lawyer from the Community Legal Assistance Society and advocate for people with mental disabilities in detention. Laura conducts systemic litigation and engages in research, law reform, and lobbying efforts to improve access to justice, fairness, and the rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for marginalized populations. In her presentation, she spoke about the lack of rights afforded to those put in psychiatric institutions, such as forcible detention and a lack of legal representation once in the system. She also pointed out that our province’s outdated Mental Health Act does not meet Charter standards.
The legacy of Rosemary Brown is to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself, that progress is maintained and rights are upheld for the most vulnerable. Thank you to all of the conference participants and attendees. We look forward to continuing to honour Rosemary Brown by promoting dialogue that shines a light on overlooked and important issues.