The lead organizer of Ottawa’s Women’s Day March, which saw upwards of 8,000 people march through downtown Ottawa the day after U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, wasn’t always a feminist.
Though Catherine Butler today considers herself a "social justice feminist warrior," the Orléans resident and health-care public servant did not always embrace feminism, preferring instead to label herself a humanist.
“I had such a twisted impression of what the word feminist meant,” Butler said during her keynote speech at Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans’ annual International Women’s Day breakfast on March 8 in the Hunt Club area.
“I was representative of that wave of entitled younger women and feminists who totally disregarded the work that had been done by the women before me: the right to vote, the right to walk in the same circles as men, the right to run for office, all of those things that I, amongst many of my peers, took for granted.”
With wisdom and maturity, that changed.
Butler's Nova Scotia roots and formative years living in Canada’s North would help shape her views, as has her work as a nurse. Today, she is vice-president of clinical care for the Champlain Community Care Access Centre, a role she says allows her to effect change and advocate for patients.
The pivotal point for her was the U.S. presidential election. Once the shock of Trump’s victory wore off, the anger set in, culminating in the organization of the Women’s March in Ottawa on Jan. 21.
It was then that she realized this isn’t her mother’s women’s rights movement.
“It is different because of the diversity of women and human beings that are involved in this movement towards gender equality,” Butler told the crowd, which included female city managers, police officers and two of Ottawa’s four city councillors: Deans and Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney.
Inclusive of all races, religions, the LGBTQ community and the entire gender spectrum, “there is room in this movement for everyone,” Butler said. “We need every single woman and man who support women’s rights as human rights to be a part of this movement.”
Likewise, Deans also was inspired by Tump's election to take action. She and McKenney joined others in travelling to Washington, D.C., to take part in the march there.
“I knew I couldn’t be a bystander,” said Deans. “Turning back the clock 50 years on attitudes towards women is not something that I’m prepared to accept.”
Attitudes south of the border have a direct impact on Canadian women, and the march sent a clear message and prompted a collective wake-up call to be ever vigilant.
“If there’s a silver lining in all of what has been happening, it might be that we were perhaps becoming slightly complacent,” Deans said.
“It’s clear to me that we as a city need a stronger and more sustained focus on women’s issues locally,” she said of the need to “be bold for change,” the theme of her Women’s Day gathering and International Women's Day. “That’s on my to-do list.”