Celebrating women in the community

This International Women’s Day, The Discourse is sharing stories from the past year that feature local women.

Every year, March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women and their social, economic, cultural and political achievements. It also serves as a call to action to work towards women’s equality.

International Women’s Day has been taking place for more than a century and does not belong to one country, group or organization. At The Discourse, we recognize it as a day to celebrate all women – not just cisgender women – as well as non-binary people and allies. We also recognize that more needs to be done to be more inclusive of intersectionality and diversity as we work towards equity and gender parity in our communities. We strive to reflect this in our work and are always learning and growing to become a more inclusive organization.

Here’s a roundup of some stories from the past year that feature women in the Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo:

Nanaimo business braids connection for Black community

A Black woman standing combs hair away from another Black woman who is sitting.
“I’ve met a few people that actually became my friends through braiding. That is basically how I connect with and build my community,” says Ophélie Kacoutié, founder of Braids Nanaimo. Photo by Rae-Anne Guenther

Ophélie Kacoutié became familiar with the language of braids from a very young age.

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“Back in Africa, they will do different hairstyles to each other depending on the tribe, so someone will look at your hairstyle and they will know where you’re from,” says Ophélie, who was born on the Ivory Coast in Africa. 

She learned to braid by spending hours at the salon with her mother, watching the stylists work.

When Ophélie moved to Nanaimo in 2021, she couldn’t find any Black hair stylists. “I noticed that the Island doesn’t have much diversity. So I was wondering, how do people get their hair done here? I went to the [Facebook] Marketplace and Instagram to look and I couldn’t find anything.”

“And so I posted on Facebook Marketplace that I know how to braid and I was surprised by the response of the community,” she says. “A lot of people messaged me about getting their hair done as they could not find a braid technician in Nanaimo.”

Read the rest of the story.

Working towards reconciliation, this Cowichan Valley woman wears orange every day

Hina Charania and her son at a memorial for Indigenous children who died at residential "schools." She wears an orange flower in the spirit of reconciliation
Hina Charania and her son visit a memorial on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery for Indigenous children who died at residential “schools.” Hina is wearing an orange flower in her hair, part of her goal to wear orange in some form every day. Photo courtesy of Hina Charania

If you visited the Duncan Farmers Market this past year, you may have noticed Hina Charania at the Depot Dawgs food cart serving food and donning orange — usually in the form of a flower in her hair.

Last month, Charania hit a milestone — 215 days of wearing orange as a symbolic gesture. She says it is a form of quiet activism to support Indigenous people grappling with the loss and trauma associated with Canada’s residential “schools.” This act of love is one Charania continues to this day.

Read the rest of the story.

‘I thought I was a goner’: Local painter continues award-winning work despite MS diagnosis

Coco Jones stands in front of a colourful painting with a tree and tall white figure standing in the middle of the tree with its arms stretch up. Jones wears a green long-sleeve top, long beaded earrings and a pouch around her neck.
Local painter Coco Jones in her home studio with a work in progress called “The Tree of Earthly Delights.” She continues to paint five hours a day despite living with multiple sclerosis the past decade. Photo by David Minkow/The Discourse

Last month, local artist Coco Jones received the City of Duncan’s 2022 Perpetual Arts trophy, awarded for excellence in the performing, literary or visual arts. It’s a well-deserved honor for one of the most-recognized artists in the Cowichan Valley, lauded for how she cherishes and gives back to the community. 

At age 52, Jones continues to produce stunning works of art, despite spending the past decade battling and transcending a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Read the rest of the story.

Local filmmaker brings Canada’s betrayal of Haiti to light

A black and white photo of a Haitian woman walks past a UN truck parked on the sidewalk and half blocking the street.
A Haitian woman walks past a UN tank parked on the sidewalk and half blocking the street.Photo courtesy of Elaine Brière

How does a former Ladysmith resident become an international photojournalist and documentary filmmaker? Elaine Brière, director and producer of Haiti Betrayed: How Canada Destroyed a Democracy has an idea.

“I started off as a human rights advocate. I wanted to help tell stories that were being hidden and the camera was the best way I could go about that,” she says. Brière’s photojournalism and photo activism have appeared in the Globe & Mail, the New York Review, Canadian Geographic, Amnesty International and Switzerland’s Neue Zurcher Zeitung. 

Her use of black and white photography and silver film videography has been a key tool in showcasing human rights movements.

Read the rest of the story.

From ‘third-tier venue’ to cultural hub: A decade at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Kristen Schraeder stands in front of a purple backdrop holding a microphone to her mouth.
Kirsten Schrader, shown here at a Cowichan Valley Regional District Arts and Culture dialogue session in November 2013, managed the CVRD Arts and Culture Division and the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre for 12 years. Photo Courtesy of Cowichan Performing Arts Centre.

Kirsten Schrader stepped down [in October] after serving as manager of the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre and the Cowichan Valley Regional District Arts and Culture Division for over a decade. During her 12-year tenure, Schrader helped put the performing arts centre on the map. She booked popular touring artists and curated an eclectic mix of highly acclaimed performances, developed an innovative funding model that supports local arts groups and navigated the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s a difficult gig to give up, she says, with some elements of her vision still incomplete, but Schrader had known that eventually she would need to relocate to Calgary, at least for some time. Her husband Bryce Watson, who had been commuting between Cowichan Bay and Calgary for 12 years, runs a business there. After the performing arts centre reopened to full capacity post-pandemic and she secured funding for major theatre renovations, Schrader determined that it was as good a time as any to move on.

Read the rest of the story.

Local artist rises up after debilitating brain injury

Artist Marian van der Zon, a white woman with blonde hair wearing a blue shirt and black riding pants, leads two bay coloured horses through a richly green forest. They are headed towards the camera.
Marian van der Zon walks two horses on her homestead named The Valley of Miracles. Photo by Denisa Reyes

Before an accident in October 2013 transformed her life, local educator, sound artist, documentarian and media activist Marian van der Zon was, by her own admission, a bit of an overachiever. 

A respected professor in both the media studies and women’s studies departments of Vancouver Island University (VIU), she also helmed a weekly local radio show called Be the Media on CHLY 101.7 FM. 

Involved in radio for over a decade, van der Zon was a contributing editor to the 2010 book Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada, as well as a member of the VIU-founded multimedia project, Meridian. 

Also a musician, van der Zon was a banjoist-vocalist in Puzzleroot, a folk act with her former partner, and they had released two albums.

Then, in an instant, it was all gone.

Read the rest of the story.

Against the odds, Cowichan Valley women’s shelter finds a permanent home

A group of people stand with a banner and balloons with jubilant poses and expressions.
Cowichan Women Against Violence Society staff and supporters celebrate in front of the new home of the Charlotte’s Place women’s shelter. Photo by David Minkow/The Discourse

The long, bumpy journey to find a permanent home for the Charlotte’s Place women’s shelter is finally over. After having to make do with a converted concession stand, a tenting site in the middle of a parking lot and precarious limited-term rental leases, the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society (CWAV) recently finalized the purchase of a building in Duncan to shelter women experiencing homelessness. 

“We’ve worked hard despite the tiny, old concession stand, COVID and the tenting sites, reduced capacity, funding and building challenges, cooking for 15 women with nothing but a hot plate and electric fry pan and using a garden hose as a shower,” says shelter manager Adria Borghesan. “We have overcome so much and to finally [be able to] move to a permanent space makes me so happy.”

Read the rest of the story.

Nanaimo women organize on Facebook to deliver low-barrier support for women in need

A woman stands holding a suitcase.
Grassroots Facebook groups like Nanaimo Women Helping Women have the flexibility to take immediate action to support someone in need, organizers and members say. Photo by Rae-Anne Guenther/The Discourse

An 18-year-old student was desperately trying to flee abuse from her mother’s partner. Being a minor, seeking refuge in a transition house wasn’t an option without parental consent, and other organizations in the community couldn’t assist her due to their requirements. That’s where members of the Facebook group Nanaimo Women Helping Women stepped in. 

Read the rest of the story.

New Duncan store takes aim at packaging waste

Stephanie Farrow stands in plentiFILL
Stephanie Farrow stands in plentiFILL, a newly-launched Cowichan business located in downtown Duncan, which specializes in refilling recycled containers with everyday goods. Photo by Philip McLachlan/The Discourse

Waste less, live more is the model upon which a new Cowichan Valley business has formed. PlentiFILL, a refillery and sustainable living store, recently opened in downtown Duncan with the hope of encouraging waste reduction and a greener way of life.

Launched by sisters-in-law Krystal Aikman and Stephanie Farrow, the store gives Cowichan residents the opportunity to refill old containers with new products like shampoo, dish soap, toothpaste, tea and even garlic salt. There are also many vegan and organic options spread out throughout the store. Customers without their own refillable containers have the option to use one of the many donated ones available instore or purchase some of their own, too.

Read the rest of the story.

Local resources available to navigate legal issues of marriage and relationships

The Discourse reporters Shalu Mehta and Jacqueline Ronson spoke with local changemakers about issues affecting women in a March 8, 2022 event. Screenshot from Zoom/Facebook

The Discourse held an International Women’s Day event on March 8 last year, inviting Vancouver Island changemakers to speak about issues affecting women locally. The 2022 event focused on women’s legal rights and domestic abuse in relationships and marriages in B.C. 

Watch the event and read a summary of it.

Letter: Farmers are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and our frontlines are breaking

cammy lockwood
Cammy Lockwood is a farmer in the Cowichan Valley region. Photo courtesy of Cammy Lockwood

Cammy Lockwood owns and runs Lockwood Farms with her husband James. They produce eggs and vegetables in Cobble Hill, B.C. Last year, The Discourse featured a letter from her that spoke about how the climate crisis is impacting farmers.

Read the letter.

Comment: Want to end the drug poisoning crisis? Start by listening to people who use drugs

From left to right: Sarah Lovegrove, Jessy Knight, Lenae Silva, Griffin Russell and Stephanie McCune, the team offering Trauma and Violence Informed Practice Education for Emergency Departments across Island Health in October 2019. Photo provided by Sarah Lovegrove

In this comment piece for The Discourse, nurse and community advocate Sarah Lovegrove writes on the drug poisoning crisis and what we can do about it.

“To learn about the nature of substance use allows us to grow our own compassion and put aside any previous beliefs about “addiction,” understanding that what lies below the surface of substance use is a complex adaptation to experiences rooted in trauma, colonization and systemic oppression,” Lovegrove writes.

Read the rest of the story.

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