Hearing anti-trans rhetoric at a UN conference about gender equality was a surprise for a recent Hugh McRoberts grad.
Vedanshi Vala, founder of BOLT Safety Society, recently took part in the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67) as a delegate to discuss this year’s theme of achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls in the digital age.
She was “appalled” to hear “very right-wing conservative views” arguing against the rights of trans people expressed at the conference.
“They flat out said that children are being indoctrinated with a homosexual agenda, that… transgender folks should not have access to gender-affirming healthcare,” Vala told the Richmond News.
“And especially being an Indian woman, coming from a country where there has been a history of colonialism, and, to this day, people experience racial violence, I was appalled that speakers at the UN would say something like that.”
Despite disagreeing with the speakers’ views, Vala wanted to keep the discussion respectful.
“Change does not happen by being disrespectful. What needs to happen is (to) have safe spaces, to have respectful conversations with differing perspectives,” she explained.
Despite this anti-trans rhetoric from some delegates, there were a lot of positive takeaways from the international conference.
In fact, going to the UN, especially as someone who works in the “social impact space,” is something Vala has dreamed of for a long time, she told the Richmond News.
“So, to be there finally was really, it was like a dream come true,” she said.
BOLT Safety Society is a not-for-profit that is working to end violence, harassment and abuse through community-focused programming, accessible on a digital platform.
Vala, who was chosen as a 2022 L'Oréal Paris Woman of Worth, told the News she was grateful to have a platform to share her perspective and engage with leaders around the world.
“It’s one thing to do your work in isolation, but I think there’s so much more opportunity for impact when you’re able to connect with other people that… have similar (visions) and goals.”
What’s next for BOLT?
The main takeaway from attending CSW67, said Vala, was that it’s one thing to speak about issues but it’s another thing to put them into action.
“After coming back from (CSW67), I’m so grateful to have the team that I do because we’re all getting ready to work really hard on building on the partnerships that were formed at CSW67.”
BOLT has been using technology to help people feel safer in outdoor settings where there’s a lack of security. For example, BOLT created the Safe Buddies program whereby someone who doesn’t feel safe walking alone can call a volunteer who will stay on the phone with them.
One of the first steps she aims to take is to highlight resources around the world on the BOLT platform.
“So, anyone that goes on our website and on the platform, or even the mobile app, they will now be able to directly filter through the articles to find resources for people that are not in Canada that may need the support system,” Vala explained.
BOLT currently offers a set of resources for people in India, where their team had been running Project LyghtNyng workshops.
The workshops, which officially launched last October, aim to flip victim-blaming narratives and increase access to resources both in Canada and the rest of the world.
The goal for 2023, said Vala, is to scale up BOLT’s series of initiatives, including Project LyghtNyng and Safe Buddies, and make sure they reach their target audience.
And locally, this is especially important now given the recent string of stranger attacks in Metro Vancouver.
Regardless of how safe a neighbourhood may seem at first glance, women can be attacked anywhere, Vala said.
“I really think that Metro Vancouver in general, including Richmond, is in a place where we need community members to step up and take accountability for improving safety in our own communities.”
One way is for local businesses to partner with BOLT to act as a “safe hub” for domestic violence survivors.
“I really do hope to see some more businesses in Richmond step up, because we don’t actually have any safe hubs in Richmond yet. So, it would be great to do that in my home city, you know?”
Another way for community members to contribute is to learn about sexual violence prevention through BOLT’s resources.
“It’s about just, individually, (holding) yourself and the people in your lives accountable to (make) sure that everyone is safe (and) respected, and you’re leading an equitable life for everyone.”
It meant a lot to Vala to represent Richmond, a city where people “stand with each other,” at an international conference.
“It was personally meaningful to represent Richmond because Richmond’s been my home for many years, and it’s been a safe space for me to grow up,” she said.