Zann speaking out on women’s issues

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MLA Report, By Lenore Zann

Mental health, sexual assault focus of her new position as Status of Women critic

Lenore Zann was one of the keynote speakers at the Women & Wellness 2014 event, sharing the stage with Starr Dobson to speak about women’s mental health issues and their own experiences.

As you may already know, 2014 is the year for which the Canadian Association of Mental Health and Illness has made me one of their five national spokespersons.

Like one of our sponsors — Bell Lets Talk — we want to get people talking about such things as depression, anxiety and addiction, and to simply tear down the wall of any remaining stigmas.

I’ve done a lot of TV and radio interviews recently about my own personal experience overcoming addiction and anxiety and, with 18 years of sobriety under my belt, I hope my message of hope has been heard and helped others who may be still suffering.

One recent local event at which I was asked to speak was Truro’s annual “Women & Wellness,” hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association (Susan Henderson) and Bliss Productions (Sam Madore). Former CTV Host and current president of the CMHA, Starr Dobbs, was the keynote speaker. More than 750 women attended this year — more than ever before — and by all accounts everyone had a great time.

My next speaking engagement is for another Women & Wellness event in Charlottetown on May 3. This time I’m the keynote speaker.

As the new NDP critic for the Status of Women, these activities match my portfolio and my concerns about women’s wellbeing in general.

Another of my concerns for women is the increased number of cyberbullying incidents targeting women and girls for abuse.

The NDP’s Cyber-Safety Act, passed into law a year ago, is the first legislation of its kind in Canada, created to protect people of all ages from online attacks and cyberbullying. I hope that as the public becomes more aware of this problem, it will also know whom to call to get help.

Sexual assault is still another huge problem for women and girls in Nova Scotia. I recently met with two student organizations, which told me this is one of their biggest problems on campus.

N.S. has among the highest numbers of incidents in the country and most cases still go unreported. Therefore I urge you to report any incidents to the police as soon as possible. We need to send a strong message that Nova Scotia is no place for female bullying, sexual assault, or murder for that matter.

To that end, I’m proud to say Nova Scotia’s first sexual violence strategy was introduced by our previous NDP government and Jean Flynn and Rene Ross from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women have now been chosen to co-chair the development of this essential and significant strategy.

I have also now met twice with each director of every women’s centre throughout the province and although they’re grateful to receive a raise in funding for the first time in 20 years under the NDP, they believe the next logical step for improvement would be for the current government to increase their centres’ annual budgets so they can expand their services — including hiring more staff — in order to educate youth, in particular, to try to prevent sexual violence in Nova Scotia and help any victims.

The three-year sexual violence strategy, which will get $2 million per year, will focus on prevention and services for victims.

It’s a passion of mine to work hard to improve the lives of women and girls in every aspect and one way is providing proper treatment for sexual assault victims.

To that end, I’m pleased to announce I recently managed to help Margaret Mauger, the director for our local Colchester Sexual Assault Centre, obtain an extra $10,000 for the important work she does here in our northern region.

If we’re living in a society where young women’s bodies are found in trunks of cars, hidden behind walls, or floating down the Mira River in gym bags, surely there’s something seriously wrong. Our society is sick and needs to be healed.

Women make up 52 per cent of the population, so let’s educate our children and youth to understand what the word “feminism” actually means: the belief that everyone is born equal no matter their sex or gender and that women deserve to be treated and paid equally to their male counterparts.

I believe young men and women need to learn not only respect for one another, but self-respect as well.

One of the best programs being offered by several women’s centres, for instance, is a “Healthy Relationships” program for students at the Junior High and High School level. It teaches our youth how to interact with each other in a healthy and mutually respective manner.

Obviously this is the type of education our young people need when it comes to dealing with a real live partner with needs and wants just like ourselves — instead of simply virtual characters often found in violent video games.

Let’s encourage our kids to look each other in the eyes and really communicate with another human being, instead of having one’s eyes glued to the screen of a mobile device, texting or tweeting each other in short soundbites.

I’m sure Cupid would approve of this advice to young lovers and even married couples: Leave your phones behind this Valentines Day. Instead of clutching mobiles this Feb. 14, try holding your loved one's hand instead. Go for a walk together in nature (weather permitting), share a nice meal together and actually TALK while looking into each others eyes and really “seeing” each other — heart and soul — and don’t be shy to say I love you. After all, life is short. You don't want to miss it!

As Zorba the Greek once said, “Dream like you'll live forever, but live like you may die today.”

May Cupid hit you with his golden arrow to bestow love upon you and yours this Valentines Day.

Lenore Zann is the NDP MLA for Truro-Bible Hill.

Organizations: NDP, Canadian Mental Health Association, Canadian Association of Mental Health and Illness Lets Talk Susan Henderson Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women Colchester Sexual Assault Centre

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Charlottetown, Canada Mira River

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