Choose to Challenge — IWD2021 Keynote for the Women’s Centre Grey Bruce

In the end, I’ve decided to show up this morning exactly as I am: frustrated, hopeful, overwhelmed, excited, tired, resilient — and entirely committed to the cause of elevating women’s leadership in rural communities, in Canada, and around the world.

What we are experiencing now is a warning shot: if we do not identify, address, and actively fight the various layers of social, economic, and environmental injustice operating in our organizations and communities, the future does not get brighter. We are very much in the eye of the storm.

So, if women have shown, time and again, how competent and professional they are, especially under circumstances and conditions that no leader has faced in at least three generations, where are they on our boards, in our executive suites, and in our elected offices?

The challenges being addressed by these women, and the decisions we must make to reshape our future, have geographically and socially uneven consequences — rural and small towns across Canada have not been spared and are not exempt from tackling the work presented by these seismic shifts.

As the UN has made plain, across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their gender. This is compounded by chronic underinvestment in rural communities and a lack of progressive, place-based policies to support rural Canada. If geography is destiny, we must work hard to make sure that rural women and rural communities are recognized as critical components to Canada’s future.

I take all of this very personally, and you should, too. If we are going to move forward with championing the full spectrum of human experience in order to build a just future for everyone, we’re going to have to get serious and strategic about where we invest time, money, and votes. There is no room for neutrality and we cannot allow space for debate when it comes to recognizing each other’s humanity.

We must learn to treat being held accountable for making change as an act of love, the greatest manifestation of an ethos of care that we can share.

It’s not enough to ‘empower’ women and girls. We must enable them. We must elect them, hire them, pay them, promote them, and champion imperfect women leaders — and we must plug the holes of harassment, misogyny, and racism that force women to reduce or abandon their ambitions before they even get started.




Rural Futurist. Community Builder. Skeptical. Curious. Learning. Adventurer. Feminist. She/Her. PhD Candidate @ University of Guelph.

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Ashleigh Weeden

Ashleigh Weeden

Rural Futurist. Community Builder. Skeptical. Curious. Learning. Adventurer. Feminist. She/Her. PhD Candidate @ University of Guelph.

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