OPINION: Local women are the solution

This week, the world marked International Women's Day

Ritu Khanna is executive director of the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce. (Contributed photo)

Every year on March 8, we are reminded of the obstacles and challenges that women have overcome to generate equality in the workplace, community, and with their human rights. On this day, we are also reminded of the distance that still exists in the gender gap. While we have come a long way, there are still many ways that women experience gender disparity, especially when it comes to having safe and secure housing.

Living in one of BC’s fastest-growing cities, residents of the South Fraser region are noticing a growth in the homeless population, specifically amongst women who are in need. Unfortunately, women are often underrepresented in the count of homeless due to the fact that they present differently and are often hard to determine amongst the homeless population. This is troubling since women who experience housing insecurity are far more likely to also be victims of violence or abuse. As the population of the South Fraser area grows, we are seeing a greater need for affordable and safe housing for residents of diverse backgrounds.

Women’s health and security are some of the greatest challenges in our community but can be met with our greatest accomplishments to find solutions to the growing discrepancies. Local women, myself included, are stepping up to solve this disparity by improving our economy, creating businesses, and contributing to the community around us. Each year, the number of women entrepreneurs grows, and with it, more female CEOs, business owners, and leaders.

Every year, Canada increases the number of female entrepreneurs that account for 16 per cent of small to medium-size businesses. I am proud to be a part of a growing community, doing my part in supporting not only other female business owners, but all those who live around me. For these reasons, I have chosen to join Options Community Services in their campaign to raise funds for an affordable housing build. Fifty local women, including myself, are all working to raise $25,000 each in support of this project and to help demonstrate the power of women in the South Fraser area.

I am also supporting this campaign because I strongly believe in the quality programming offered by Options Community Services. I have seen firsthand how this organization has positively impacted the lives of many, particularly women. It is through Options that I became connected with a family with three young children from Syria a few years ago. Maysoun, the mother, is a woman full of positivity, hope, and inspiration. Our family continues to support and be connected with them. I have also had the opportunity to help teach female high school students, originally from Somalia. They were an incredible group of young women and it was a highlight of my week each time to see and engage with them.

Working together on this new campaign, we can not only raise enough money to build safe, quality affordable housing for those who need a little extra support, but we can demonstrate the power of women and the challenges that we can overcome together. I am proud to be part of the all-female team creating change within our community. Being able to provide our professional expertise, social influence, and financial aid has allowed us all to come together and address a growing problem.

As women, we are no strangers to overcoming obstacles and turning challenges into great accomplishments. As part of the 50 Women of Options, I take pride in seeing this come to life by raising both awareness and funding to support those who are precariously housed. Our strength comes from our shared experiences and our drive to give back to those who need it most.

Ritu Khanna is Executive Director at the South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce.

Options Community Services is a registered charity with over 500 staff providing a multitude of essential social services in Surrey, Delta, White Rock/South Surrey, and Langley. To learn how you can become involved in their mission to raise money for affordable housing, please visit: womenofoptions.ca

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