Since 2017, YWCA Canada has created a virtual space for staff, volunteers, and partner organizations to obtain in-depth knowledge and resources to inform the crucial work they are doing through the Violence Against Women Staff Network.
Today there are 700 members across the country who have tuned in for over 20 webinars on topics ranging from trauma-informed practices to cultural competence. The sessions have surpassed 1,000 registrations overall to-date, with over 300 playbacks.
As part of our goal to provide a space for professional development – in bite size pieces – participants have been exposed to experts that are not only knowledgeable but are also from the communities they speak on – whether BIPOC and/or 2SLGBTQ+ – enriching the lives and work of those serving women.
Trang Nguyen is the Program Manager for YWCA Aspire, a program for Newcomer Refugee Women at YWCA Metro Vancouver. She is a part of our proverbial frequent flyer club, attending more than 10 webinar sessions. In addition to assisting refugee women, Nguyen’s work includes the Elevate Skills program, which provides self-identifying immigrant women with an opportunity to develop their skills to find gainful employment.
Nguyen said that the value she finds in the sessions are in the knowledge enrichment and the learned experiences of others. “I find webinars to be a powerful tool for us to stay current in the field and learn the best practices from other colleagues across the country,” Nguyen said.
The diversity in topics ensures that members of the staff network are presented with learning opportunities that are relevant to their work, while providing an opportunity to build their capacity.
For Stacy Harris, she chanced upon the VAW Staff Network when looking for additional resources and support online. Harris is the Executive Director with Communities Against Violence in Newfoundland and Labrador. She said attending the Women Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence & Traumatic Brain Injury webinar helped her to better understand the impacts of brain injury.
“Having access to like-minded organizations, information and educational opportunities online from experts in their fields and knowing that right across Canada there are individuals doing the same work to end violence against women is amazing,” Harris said.
The network goes beyond providing resources and frameworks to assess one’s work. It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic altered personal and professional communities. While some may argue that building virtual bonds is simply not the same, participants have expressed feeling a sense of comfort and communal support provided by the network. In fact, a number of Member Associations watch the webinars together as a team building exercise.
“When we’re dealing with violence, abuse, gender inequity and those large systemic issues, it feels tiring and it can feel exhausting,” said Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren, Trafficking and Exploitation Service System (TESS) and Resiliency Coordinator at YWCA Halifax. “Even though we are spread across the country, [the network] gives me a sense of encouragement and a sense of hope as we do this work.”
Having access to the necessary information is key, which is why the webinars are recorded. Attendees tend to share the sessions amongst their networks. Some sessions have been re-watched close to 50 times. According to Harris, she shares the recordings for continued educational purpose, staff development and to evaluate how her organization can better serve the community.
The takeaways from the webinars cannot be understated. Nguyen said she learned to “err on the side of kindness” and exercise patience with clients. “We are in our field for a reason and the reason is to help others move forward in their career and life in general.”
Advocating for and assisting the women in our communities is at the core of the YWCA federation. In Narooz van Egteren’s previous work supporting trans- and cis-women, she said the Trauma Informed Care webinar affirmed her practices. It also encouraged her to think of ways to extend more compassion and empathy while incorporating themes of choice and consent.
In championing women safety and agency, the VAW Staff Network has been of immense value to all who have participated. More are on the way and we wouldn’t want you to miss out.
Learn more about the VAW Staff Network here and sign up to get information about free upcoming webinars, as well as tools and resources to support your work.