Why I walk (and it's not for the free shoes)

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When you think of father-son time, the activities don't normally involve going for a stroll in pink high-heeled shoes. But I'm not always one for convention. For three years running now, that's how my son Jordan and I spend one morning in September, as part of an organized event, Hope in High Heels.

It's a fundraising walk for the Halton Women's Place, an emergency shelter and resource centre for women survivors of domestic abuse and their children. Over the past two walks, Jordan and I have raised $100,000 and it's our goal to exceed that for this year's walk on September 28.

At any given time, the Halton Women's Place has 52 women and children living there, a small fraction of the more than 3,000 women and 2,500 children living in emergency shelters across Canada on any day of the year. And each and every day, the HWP is over 100 per cent capacity, often not having enough space for the pressing need for help.

Hope in High Heels is not just about raising critically important funds for the shelter -- although this is urgently necessary. The walk is an opportunity to have a massive conversation about why we have women's shelters and the enduring force of gendered violence and social, political and economic inequality. As a man, I'm disgusted by the violence that I hear on the news, from friends and family and members of our union Unifor.

On top of being a long-time union activist, I'm a partner to my wife Leslie and a father to four children -- Jordan and three daughters -- Carley, Casey and Rebecca. I'm also a proud grandpa -- to a charming and energetic granddaughter, Hayden. And I know that despite all of the major improvements to women’s equality, my daughters and granddaughter do not and will not enjoy the same freedom that my son currently does.

Until women of all ages can exist without the terror of violence, can move around at any time of the day without fear of consequence and can enjoy equal access to opportunities in all areas of life, none of us are truly free. I’m taking responsibility to end violence, by not only participating in this walk, but by talking to other men about their responsibility to end violence and promote gender equality.

Finding out about the Hope in High Heels walk was serendipitous -- we were reading our local newspaper together one weekend and saw an ad for the event -- the first of what would become an annual walk. Jordan and I quickly agreed that we'd make this our event to do together.

I've joked that the shoes make me taller, but actually what they do is make me more empathetic, more compassionate and more willing to speak out. And I've seen the same thing in my son. Jordan uses the walk as chance to speak to his classmates at university. He regularly tables in the corridors of the school, handing out information, chatting with passersby and sometimes collecting donations. At 21 years old, he is an advocate for ending gendered violence.

Last year, I brought other friends and family members, including men (and women supporters) from many of the surrounding Unifor (then CAW) local unions. The walk took place right in the middle of auto negotiations, so many members of the Ford, GM and Chrysler bargaining committees took part in the event. It may not have been a pretty sight, but it was one of the most inspiring days of the year for me.

I've been involved in the union movement since 1978, shortly after I got hired at deHavilland Aircraft in Downsview, on the north west side of Toronto. I've learned a lot about gender equality and domestic violence from my sisters in the union, but with this walk and the interactions with staff at the shelters, the issues have touched me in a new way.

This year, we'll be many more -- walking in ill-fitting shoes, trying not to fall, and talking about what we can do -- together -- to make a difference in our communities and in our country. I'm looking forward to it.


Jerry Dias is the national president of Unifor, Canada's largest union in the private sector. Created on August 31, with the coming together of the former Canadian Auto Workers union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Unifor represents more than 300,000 members working in at least 20 sectors of the economy (including all stages of the economic value chain, from resources to manufacturing to transportation to private and public services).

Photo: http://haltonwomensplace.com/

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