Natasha Raey never considered herself to be a feminist – at least, not the stereotype propagated over the years.
But the longtime community developer – formerly with Sources on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – is beginning to embrace the word in her new role as creator of SheTalks.
Set for March 7, the TED Talks-inspired forum will feature 15 female speakers from all walks of life who will share their stories at Chandos Pattison Auditorium one day before International Women’s Day.
“I’ve always been amazed by all the things women do. I never considered myself a feminist, but I guess lately, I’ve realized I am. So I wanted to create an opportunity for women to share their stories, especially some women who have never shared their stories before,” Raey told Peace Arch News Friday. “So that’s why we created SheTalks, so women could talk about the things that they’ve done, but not in a way that says ‘look at me, look what I’ve done’, but in a way that says ‘these have been my struggles and this is the road that has taken me to where I am now.'”
The idea first came to Raey, 32, last spring, and, after approaching female leaders in Metro Vancouver that fall, she established an advisory committee, members of which have backgrounds that range from life coach to city councillor.
Currently, there are 37 women in Vancouver who make up the advisory committee, while Raey notes that an expansion to Toronto is already in the works, with 12 women on board there.
“They all worked with me and guided me on how to make this relevant for all women,” Raey explained. “Our advisory committee we have women who are students who are 18 and we have women who are at the end of their careers who are 50 and older, we have university professors, politicians and business owners, so it’s a really amazing group of women working with me.”
A familiar face for Surrey residents will be Raey’s best friend, former city councillor and recent mayoral candidate Barinder Rasode, who acts as chair of the committee.
Following the election, Rasode was able to take on a bigger leadership role, helping to garner media attention for the project.
Now, with Toronto already on the horizon after the Vancouver forum wraps up, the committee is already looking to industry-specific SheTalks events, starting with one focusing on women in the resource-extraction centre.
The goal, Raey said, is for men and women to change the way they feel about strong women and to encourage gender equality across Canada.
“The conventional way we’ve looked at feminists is bra-burning (women) who hate men, the type of the women who need to always lead and be in charge,” Raey said. “Feminism just means that we believe in equality and that everyone deserves an equal chance. You can be at different stages in your life and be a different kind of woman. I am traditional in a lot of ways, but I still believe in that equality for women.”
Among the 15 speakers scheduled to speak Saturday are insurance brokers and entrepreneurs Kelly Strongitharm and Desiree Dupuis, founders of the charity Ruben’s Shoes, named for a boy in the Dominican Republic.
Ruben’s Shoes is a charitable drive that was started in 2013 by Strongitharm who was sponsoring Ruben through World Vision Canada.
To date, the campaign has shipped 24,000 pairs of shoes to the Dominican Republic, and this summer a shipment of 10,000 pairs is scheduled for Ebola-ravaged Sierra Leone.
The Port Moody residents will be sharing their female-driven success story at the inaugural conference.
Dupuis, who acknowledges males are still more prevalent in the entrepreneurial world than females, says the one fact she hopes listeners will take away from her Ruben’s Shoes presentation is confidence.
“I really hope women feel inspired and empowered to follow what’s in their hearts,” she says.
Other speakers include Raey, author Megan Williams, You Glow Girl founder Diane Taylor, Sole Girls head coach Ashley Wiles, Monika Hibbs, Amplify Governance co-founder Bethany Borody, political activist Jodie Emery, blogger Jamie Dunlop Khau, Ladies Who Lunch founder Maria Kritikos, former Surrey city councillor Barinder Rasode, Broadbent Institute director Mira Oreck, coach Tetyana Golota, Dominion Lending Centres CEO Diana Zitko, Lunapads co-founder Madeleine Shaw, fitness model/nurse Harpreet Pandher and lawyer Gurpreet Gill.
Their eight-minute talks will cover a variety of life and career experiences, educational backgrounds and world views.
Conference tickets are $40 (or $25 for students). All proceeds will go toward the SheTalks scholarship created in conjunction with Simon Fraser University.
To learn more or to register, visit www.shetalksyvr.ca
– with files from Steph Troughton