Creating ‘solid ground for women to stand on’

Alex Torcolacci and Ellie Schwartz were studying for their final exams last semester when the topic of what they would do for their joint birthdays this year came up. Instead of the typical birthday plans, they decided to support a cause that is very near to their hearts.

In just three months, they have planned Strength in Heels, a movement working to raise awareness of violence against women. The movement’s first event will take place on Saturday, Mar. 8 at the Winnipeg Winter Club, with proceeds going to the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre.

The event falls on International Women’s Day, and attendees are asked to wear purple – the colour for both International Women’s Day and the campaign against domestic abuse. The colour will dominate the evening in the form of balloons, centrepieces, and flowers.

Schwartz, a political studies student at the University of Manitoba, says she and Torcolacci want to address the issue of domestic abuse because the teen demographic is unintentionally being ignored. After this first event, the co-founders plan to go into high schools to talk to young women and men. “The dating age is getting lower and lower; these conversations need to follow that.”

“In high school when you learn about domestic abuse, if you even learn about domestic abuse [ . . . ] [the perception is that] if there’s an issue, here’s the crisis line. But when you hear ‘crisis line’ you think, well, that gut feeling that I’m having, that, you know, I’m a little uncomfortable when my boyfriend gets really mad over nothing, that’s not a crisis, and that idea needs to change,” says Schwartz.

Torcolacci, a recent University of Winnipeg political studies graduate, stresses that domestic abuse isn’t just physical: “It’s a lot more mental, and that’s a side that most people don’t discuss.”

The purpose of Strength in Heels is to get these problems out of the “bedrooms” and actually talk about them. “It is something that isn’t talked about and it is so common,” says Torcolacci. “I think it’s also the fact that someone’s like re-victimizing the individual; from my personal experience, it’s very embarrassing, I don’t know why it is, but it’s embarrassing to talk about.” So awareness needs to be raised in order to help “prevent further cases.”

Schwartz says that these types of conversations are sometimes approached in an intimidating or heavy way, and we need to promote the notion of “listen[ing] to your gut” in a way that’s not “scaring people away from having those conversations.”

Torcolacci adds, “[domestic violence] isn’t just a one-sided thing; it is more common for it to happen to females, but it does happen to men, too.”

At the event, there will be posters and pamphlets from the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre, a non-profit, feminist organization that promotes the safety and empowerment of women.

Schwartz notes that most centres and shelters like this one receive little funding, and a goal of Strength in Heels is to promote “the avenues that are available in Winnipeg; there are many shelters and resource centres that people know nothing about and that have very little support.”

“The whole idea behind strength in heels is to create solid ground for women to stand on and so you know strength in heels, strength in numbers. Let’s create a community that can do that, that can support each other.”

Strength in Heels will take place at the Winnipeg Winter Club starting with a cocktail hour at 9 p.m. The semi-formal, 18+ event will be emceed by Jordan Knight and Kristin Mirand of Energy 106.1. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and proceeds go to the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre. For more information visit the website strengthinheels.com and find Strength in Heels on Facebook and Twitter.