Vera has been improving the status of women and children long before her successful bid for a seat on Surrey’s City Council. She started before her days as an employee at South Surrey/White Rock Women’s Place, and even before working in a transition home with women and children fleeing violence. The first evidence that Vera would be an advocate for women and children is a photograph of her as a 14 years old girl. “I have a picture of me at a human rights conference and I had a t-shirt on that said ‘women against violence against women,” she says proudly.
What Vera didn’t know at 14 was that she would eventually have her own story to tell about violence. “I’m a victim of domestic assault myself, and when a young police officer came to the door, he went through the Violence Against Women in Relationships (VAWIR) policy like it was a manual. As someone who has worked with women survivors of abuse I knew all about the policy, and I could see him going through it and doing every single thing that he should be doing.” For Vera, this highlighted how policies and directives to address violence against women really work if well thought out and enforced.
As well, Vera sees an opportunity to draft policy that can lift women and children out of poverty. Poverty and isolation can keep women and children in situations where they continue to be victimized. “For example, we know that people who are homeless are about six times more likely to be victims of crime than to be perpetrators of crime. This goes up dramatically for women.” Vera hopes we’ll learn more about women’s experiences of poverty, homelessness and violence through the research project lead by Surrey’s Vulnerable Women’s Taskforce. “We know that the majority of the hidden homeless are women. Women are stuck in relationships that are not necessarily healthy because they would otherwise be on the street.”
Surrey is one of the largest and fastest growing cities in BC yet lacks the supports and services of other major cities. For example, Vera explains, while we have almost the same number of Aboriginal people as Vancouver, “we have around 200 units of Aboriginal housing compared to about 1800 units in Vancouver. We will soon have the highest number of urban Aboriginal people in the entire province, and we have the fewest culturally safe services and programs.” For Vera, comprehensive policy is the part of the solution.
“Surrey, like many other cities, has a high rate of domestic violence, and we know that a significant percentage of our murders are domestic in nature. This is not acceptable. Preventing domestic violence is very much in our purview as a city.” Surrey’s award-winning Crime Reduction Strategy may be the only one of it’s kind to identify domestic violence as a priority crime.
Vera recognizes the City’s role in caring for it’s most vulnerable citizens.” Vera hopes that we can improve the lives of marginalized women and girls through policy, education and pilot projects like the Vulnerable Women and Girls project “It’s about leading by example,” Vera explains, “about treating vulnerable people like they deserve to be part of the community”.