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Our Blog Has Moved!

28 Feb

Starting March 1st, we will be posting all our new blog posts directly on our brand new website at

Thank you for reading our blog and we hope you will continue to follow along on our new site!


World Day of Social Justice: In Conversation with a Grassroots Social Justice Activist

20 Feb

In 2007, the United Nations’ General Assembly declared February 20th as the World Day of Social Justice. On this day, each member state celebrates activities promoting gender equality, promoting the rights of indigenous people and migrants and removing barriers and challenging discrimination people face.

On a day committed to encouraging and celebrating social justice action, I was able to speak to a womyn who has devoted much of her life committed to grassroots social justice and making noise. Daniela Mergarten is part of the speaker’s bureau Voices from the Street, which involves people with direct experience as leaders in public education, advocating for social change and breaking down stigma.

On what Social Justice Work Means:

I came from an abusive background and there was limited support and information available at the time. I lost my whole family to violence and had to leave home at the age of 16. I always felt appreciative of the simple kindnesses people gave me along the way. As soon as I got healthier, I knew I wanted to give back.  Due to my experience, I have always felt connected and committed to speaking out on violence against womyn, poverty, homelessness and mental health.

On when she first became involved with Social Justice Work:

I didn’t know about feminism back then, and I started to notice and get involved in the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. That was back when they were sending buses of womyn up to Ottawa. It was the first time I saw womyn in unity and the power of womyn. It was womyn working together for a common cause.

women's rights mural

On a highlight from doing Social Justice Work:

One of my biggest moments was when I got to go to the “World’s Urban Forum” in Vancouver. During the forum I presented a report that I had worked on about poverty and homelessness. It was really important to present womyn’s voices as they were. I was also able to see womyn from countries all over the world, and I noticed our problems here aren’t just our problems. They are world-wide. I was inspired by seeing the difference womyn were making in their own communities all over.

On what inspires her Social Justice Work:

Being a part of Voices from the Street has given me hope. Hope we can change and hope we can connect. The more I go out, the more I see youth out doing social justice work. We are not leaving youth with much, and I think it is important to validate the work that youth are doing.  Youth will kick some but and I will be right there behind them.

On World Social Justice Day, Nellie’s celebrates the grassroots work womyn, such as Daniela, do in the community to promote social justice and challenge barriers. Nellie’s is committed to social justice work that is informed by the experiences of womyn and children.  The Social Justice Committee is committed to developing policies in areas of violence, poverty and oppression, speak on and participate in broader social justice issues and work through community partnerships and coalitions to achieve social justice for all womyn and children. The Social Justice Committee is one way people can get involved in social justice work, which recruits in July of every year.

One Billion Rising: February 14th 2013

14 Feb

This February 14th, on Valentine’s Day, women around the world are rising up against violence and oppression. One Billion Rising  is a global movement launched  by Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues and founder of VDay.

“ One In Three Women On The Planet Will Be Raped Or Beaten In Her Lifetime. One Billion Women Violated Is An Atrocity. One Billion Women Dancing Is A Revolution.”

*this video is very powerful and may be triggering to some

If one billion women and allies “Strike, Dance and Rise,” we can help end violence against women everywhere.  Thousands of events are planned for today:  a flashmob in Somalia, several gatherings in Mexico City, a massive protest by 25 million in Bangladesh.  New events are added daily to the official VDay Facebook Page.   Nellie’s will be attending the One Billion Rising Toronto event today at noon at Nathan Phillips Square. If you can’t make it, feel free to follow along on twitter @nelliesshelter as we’ll be live-tweeting from the event.

You can join this movement by sharing updates from the One Billion Rising Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube or Blog. You can also join the movement in person by coming out to Nathan Phillips Square today at 12 noon.  To search for an event near you, click here.

The women who live in our shelter are rising, in activism and in healing and will be participating in the events today.  Here’s an excerpt from a poem by Victoria Connor about how she is rising:

“Upon your arrival, the damage is fierce, your mind is muddled and your eyes, with tears, you settle in and some clarity appears, your one-on-one begins and so do your fears, but then, without warning, you see a light, a shimmer of something that seems to feel right.  Baffled, but healing, the support is around:  it’s Nellie in spirit and you begin to love that sound.  You begin to awaken with a sense of peace.  Your journey’s not over, not by the least; your struggles become less and there are new ones to take their place, happy and sad.  Welcome it all, get up again and look at the pain as growth!

one billion rising

Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week

12 Feb

The two little girls in my life are more precious than anything else I have accomplished so far. My daughters are precious to me and to my family, however, I was privileged enough to have a supportive and stable partner, to have the financial means of raising a child and to have a strong support system surrounding me. More importantly, the choice of having a child was MY choice, not anyone else’s. Every woman should have the right to choose what is best for her body, for her well-being and for her life.

Being pro-choice is about caring for other women enough that we provide them with options and resources so they don’t have to be put into precarious situations. There are a few reasons why being pro-choice is safer. First, laws against abortion do not stop abortion; they simply make it less safe. Death due to complications of abortion account for about 13% of all deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and almost all of those happen in countries where the procedure is illegal. Making abortion illegal doesn’t save any babies, it just kills women (source.)


Second, reproductive choice can be the only thing that stands between a woman and poverty. There is a reason that the 1 billion poorest people on the planet are female. In sub-Saharan Africa and west Asia, women typically have five to six children, which leaves them powerless to provide for not only their own families, but themselves (source.)

 Third, without publicly funded contraceptive services, there would be 40% more abortions each year in the US. The rate among teens would increase by 58%. The teen birth rate and births to unmarried women would both increase by about 25%. Also, low-income and minority women who do not want to become pregnant are twice as likely as other women to be non-users of contraceptives (source.) *Note: American statistics were used because no comparable Canadian stats could be found.


At Nellie’s, we recognize that the control of women’s sexuality is another facet of the oppression they face. Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week is an opportunity to educate and empower women to take charge of their own sexuality and their own lives. Please join us in empowering our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and all of the other women in our lives.

*written by Nellie’s Social Justice Committee member.

Engaging Black History Month: Making All Our Stories Matter

1 Feb

When I was a child nothing excited me more than hearing what my mother used to refer to as her ‘long time stories’. She only shared these stories when her relatives gathered together (this was on rare occasions), but when she did share them it was magical for me. They were a way for me to know my grandmother and grandfather, who had both died when my mother was a child.  Hearing of my grandmother’s strength and even about how her fingers were long and crooked like mine somehow helped me feel connected to her. I learned about my mother’s home, a place I’d never been to but that I developed an intimate bond with as it came to life for me in her detailed and animated accounts.  I also learned of the struggles my mother, her sister and brother faced, and the compromises they made to survive the challenges of being poor, orphaned and black in a British West Indian colony in the 1940s.

ImageIt was only as I grew older that the fact that these stories were so utterly precious was revealed to me. They were a testament to the creativity, resilience and survival of these communities.  They also offered an important oral narrative of some of the ways that gender, race, poverty and violence were critical to who my mother and family became, and also to the conditions of the larger communities that we were a part of. As a child, I did not encounter these stories in my history books, in the news, or on television. These stories were quiet ‘private’ memories that did not really seem to matter in public spaces.


As we celebrate Black History month this February, we are given the opportunity to reflect on why these stories do matter, while commemorating the losses, sacrifices, and victories of diverse Black communities across the globe. Black History Month, which began as a week-long tribute in 1926, has evolved into the month long event we mark today, and as we take the time acknowledge the significant contributions and ongoing struggles of Black folk across the world, it is also critical that we never stop asking the questions: Whose stories are still not acknowledged? Whose stories do we attend to more often? How do we ensure that we are open to the diverse stories within our communities- our transtories, herstories and madstories, among others? How do we value these diverse contributions? Here at Nellies, we are committed to challenging violence and oppression, and to building equitable communities where all of our stories matter. So let us commune, celebrate, question and continue to share—Happy Black Stories Month!

*written by Nellie’s Shelter staff member.

16 Days: Human Rights Day

10 Dec

Today, December 10th is Human Rights Day.  On December 10th 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which promotes the protection of human rights worldwide. Every year, a specific issue is highlighted. This year, the focus is on the right of all human beings to make their voices heard and to be included into the political decision-making process. This year’s theme is: “My Voice Counts”.

my voice counts 2012

Articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirm that all humans have the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly and association, and to take part in the government.

People around the world have been making their voices heard in recent years, from the Arab protest to the Occupy Movement. Canada’s reputation as a country where human rights are respected took a backseat during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association identified human rights violations related to arbitrary arrests, degrading conditions of detention and abusive behaviour by police.

Recently, the Constance E. Hamilton Award on the Status of Women was awarded to Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a formidable activist who advocates for the achievement of women’s equality in education, social housing, literacy, employment, reproductive choice and the elimination of violence against women. Her work, both at grassroots and international levels, is a prime example of the importance and potential influence of speaking up against social injustices.


Nellie’s is committed to provide resources for all women and children to have their voices heard. You can help Nellie’s accomplish this goal by:

  • Using the power of the social media with the hashtag #VoiceCount on Twitter to help spread the word on this important day and the message it carries.
  • Being involved in the political process and voting for the politician that you feel will best serve the interests the people, including the most marginalized.
  • Speaking up when you see instances of injustice around you.
  • Creating awareness by participating in social justice events in your community.

Freedom of speech is a right, exercise that right!

16 Days: National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

6 Dec

It’s cold. I can feel the chill seeping into my feet. There’s also a pervasive, collective warmth that shares a familiar combination of sadness, anger and the motivation to fight back and create change.

Every year, we stand here, at the December 6th Vigil at Philosopher’s Walk, commemorating women who have lost their lives to violence. Almost everyone in attendance holds a candle. There are often a variety of speakers – poets, musicians, activists, advocates, survivors telling their stories and sometimes even a politician or two. It’s the same year after year. The feeling has evolved, but there’s something about it that remains constant.

The December 6th Vigil falls on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women; the anniversary of the Montréal Massacre where 14 women at Lecole Polytechnique were murdered at gunpoint – because they were women. Every year, there is a reading of these names as well as the names of other women and children who have lost their lives to violence in Ontario over the last year.


Every year, we say ‘never again’. For a moment, there is a collective hope and belief that there will never be another name added to the list again. Yet, every year, we add new markers and tell the stories of our sisters, mothers, aunts, friends, partners, neighbours, classmates and coworkers who have lost their lives, often brutally.

Then, of course, there are the women whose names never made it to the list. They were anonymous, unknown. Their deaths were attributed to other causes; their abusers unsuspected. Or, their deaths still haven’t been discovered. On this day, we mourn and remember, and as often quoted, then work for change.

Every year, the women at Nellie’s attend this vigil. One year, a woman who had just arrived at the shelter days earlier commented that she didn’t realize that it happened to so many other women. I could see tears in her eyes through the candlelight, as she whispered that she was glad that she left when she did, because… and she couldn’t finish that sentence.

The vigil leaves a lump in your throat and sadness in your heart. It reminds us of the women we’ve known who’ve lost their lives. It is a reminder that the difference between life and death for a woman in an abusive relationship is often just one more fight, one disagreement, or often, an attempt to leave.

dec 6 posts

At some point during the vigil most women remember their own stories of violence and remind themselves what a gift it is to still be alive, to have survived, somehow, and to still have that opportunity to fight for change; to end violence against women.

And, that’s what we need to do. We need to join forces and work together to create change and work towards ending violence against women. Join your local feminist organization if you haven’t already and take action. Lobby, protest, talk, discuss, create safety plans, support women, advocate, create dialogue, challenge notions and comments that perpetuate violence against women. Recognize systemic causes of violence and oppression such as sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and oppression based on record of offences, immigration status and life experiences. Talk; perpetuate an awareness and understanding of violence against women. Most of all; do something. At the end of the vigil, we scream. We scream for ourselves, and for those who can’t.

Let us unite in solidarity to end violence against women. Mourn and remember those who have passed and fight for those who still have a chance.