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by Shari Graydon

The confession made by the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies doubled as both a great tip and the best laugh of the day.

Last week during one of three Informed Opinions workshops I delivered in Winnipeg (thank you, Jane Ursel, director of RESOLVE and a professor at the University of Manitoba), a discussion broke out among the assembled researchers about the kind of misogynistic comments and hate mail often triggered by women speaking up — especially if their topics are remotely contentious (sexism, racism, homophobia — really, human rights of any kind).

Lori Wilkinson, who frequently comments on immigration issues, acknowledged that she often receives vicious feedback to her public advocacy efforts, and regularly copies the unsolicited advice and threatening emails into a document on her computer labelled “WTF”.

It took a few seconds for the significance of this acronym to sink in (some of us had to channel our inner teenager, and imagine ourselves texting in response to an offensive or confusing event).

But everybody responded to both the irreverence and resilience that the acronym and Lori’s practice implied.

And there’s something about being reminded of the fact that many women are targeted by hate mail, and of considering the censorious consequences when such intimidation strategies are effective. Getting to speak about it in a room full of others helped to counter the degree to which it feels personal in the moment when it lands in your in-box, or appears online in reaction to your byline and considered commentary.

I was equally inspired by the participants in the other two Winnipeg workshops, one of which included 16 women working in the NGO sector, advocating for marginalized populations — from immigrants and former inmates to abused women and Aboriginal people. Appreciating how much they do, with so little in the way of resources or support, reminded me of the fury I felt recently reading a newspaper story about the Conservative government’s new funding policies for CIDA.

In justifying the precedence now given to partnering with the business (as opposed to non-profit) sector, Foreign Affairs Minister, Julian Fantino made a throw-away comment about the superior efficiency of private companies. Having worked in both, I know he couldn’t be more mistaken.

In my experience, charitable organizations forced to survive on very little become incredibly creative at doing more with less — or they go under. They partner wherever possible, are relentlessly focused on outcomes, and trimmed whatever “fat” they might have had decades ago when governments first began to cut funding for the sector.

And for the record, when they absolutely must travel, they fly economy, stay in modest accommodations, and eat on the cheap (because to do otherwise cuts into the resources they have to deliver their programs and services). If only the same could be said for government ministers and the business executives whose companies are now benefiting from CIDA funding.

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