Creating Change: Lessons, Skills and Advice


Lessons learned

  • Activism does not work if you're aggressive. Just be clear and firm about your rights, stating "This is our right, this is what we want, and this is what we'd like to get". Never step on anybody's toes, and practice being assertive without being aggressive.
  • Be present to people as they talk about their problems and goals. Listen with great attention and really hear what others are saying, without passing judgment. Accept people as they are – you haven't walked in their shoes, and try to understand how the person has reached that condition.
  • Listen carefully and be prepared to challenge thinking where this is appropriate.
  • Do not be scared to make a decision because you may well be able to change it and move on. If it's not the right one, make another.
  • Do not be fearful of confronting people – you can tell them what you feel without getting aggressive because usually there's nothing to be gained with that approach except making the other person become aggressive too.
  • Respectfully recognize the rights of others. Don't say, "You shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that".
  • Being a feminist leader is to look carefully at the issues, gather all the facts, and then go ahead and do what has to be done. If this means defending a woman's right, then do it. Always ask, "What can we do to make this right?" This is being a leader, not a controller.
  • Remember that one individual cannot change the world.
  • Be realistic. Self-change and development take time. For example, trying to help women who are used to being submissive to change their opinion of themselves and their social status is not an overnight task. Marie remembers giving a course to a group of women who said to her, "It's okay for you not to be submissive because you're alone and single, you can do whatever you want, but we've got husbands and we have to be submissive". She thought to myself, "I didn't do such a good job here!"
  • Always be prepared by doing your background research thoroughly.
  • Plan and calculate realistically for future scenarios.
  • When lobbying Members of Parliament in Ottawa, make appointments and research the MP you're meeting with ahead of time. Tell them straightforwardly what you want (they may already have some idea) so they know exactly why you want to meet with them. Be prepared for them to try and change your mind. Sometimes you might be able to negotiate, but stand firm: "This is what we want because it is our right".
  • Research statistics to try and project what you're going to need in ten years' time.

Skills needed for activism

They told me I was a little bit stubborn. I'm not stubborn, I'm persistent… you have to persevere.
  • Be able to function independently, knowing there will be times when you have to act alone.
  • Develop good self-esteem, which is essential to becoming an activist and surviving with dignity.
  • Cultivate your passion for the causes you want to defend and remember your message: you want to see justice, see things done well not just half-done, and you wouldn't want to see one person being treated in one way and another being treated another way.
  • Be genuine, real, and honest.
  • Be respectful of people and where they are in their thinking about an issue.
  • Have patience. This does not mean, however, diluting your efforts or giving up after the first setback. Maria said that being a resilient activist means not taking negative words and actions directed at you personally, and refusing to put yourself down.
  • See yourself as a leader and grow the skills for it.
  • An activist needs courage in soul and intellect. Maria affirms that "It takes courage to be different, oh yes, it takes some courage".

Advice for younger activists

  • Don't be fearful. Use small steps and don't be afraid to make little changes.
  • As for "failure" – you may fail, but you'll learn from failure to go on and do things better.
  • Don't try to change the world because it can't be changed all at once and overnight.
  • Make sure you get your facts right.
  • Believe in yourself. Young women say to Maria, "What are they going to think?" and she replies, "I don't care what they think, as long as I respect the other person, I go ahead and do what I want".

Last words

Maria wants to be remembered as someone "proud of her Acadian roots, and who demanded her rights; who was always there, and wouldn't back off from anything".

I find women today, in general, are more educated and more likely to stand up for themselves – more independent. But there is still work to be done there!