Debbie Chapman, Councillor Kitchener Candidate for Ward 9, shares, "I grew up in Kitchener, completing my primary and secondary school education here, and my first university degree at WLU. I proudly live in Ward 9 with my husband, Peter, where we raised our family together. Most of our lives have been spent in Kitchener working and studying."
Why did you decide to run?
I am running for office because I want to see greater community engagement in political decision-making, more affordable housing and responsible, sustainable development. Greater community engagement includes the enhanced participation of women, the LGBTQ2+ community, people of colour and other marginalized sectors in the political process. It also means having a strong representative voice at the Council table. I am running to be that voice. The knowledge and experience I have acquired as a community leader, academic and business manager is reflected in my campaign motto of "putting community first”. I want community engagement to be more meaningful - beyond bulletin boards and post-it notes. My goal is a safe, dignified and healthy life for all.
What is your favourite thing to do in your community?
My favourite things to do in the community are interacting with people, developing meaningful relationships and working with people to reach their goals. I consider my community to be multi-faceted. It includes the women I have worked with on
different committees, my university colleagues and the Cherry Park neighbourhood community. More specifically, I like participating in the organizing of events such as the Cherry Festival, taking in talks at the university related to precarious employment and the political economy, celebrating international women’s day and marking mothers’ day with my Hispanic friends.
Tell us about the greatest challenges your community faces?
I helped to create and served on, the ‘Inclusion’ subcommittee of the Safe and Healthy Community Advisory Committee at the City of Kitchener. We held focus groups with a range of targeted groups (LGBTQ2+, indigenous community, women’s groups and different ethnic communities). Perhaps the most important thing I learned from the people we interviewed is that there is a pressing need for affordable or free community space, whether it’s indoor space where people can hold meetings and events or outdoor fields for sports tournaments or picnic areas. I was struck by the number of organized activities that people engage in that are removed from organized city or neighbourhood association activities. We should embrace these initiatives. Lack of affordable or free community space is the greatest challenge.
What would you do to improve women's health in your community?
As has been demonstrated over and over again, women have multiple responsibilities. Unpaid work at home should be recognized as contributing to the wellbeing of the family and society and should be compensated accordingly. As a City Councillor in Ward 9, I would encourage more women to get involved in the political decision-making process. Enhanced social capital leads to a healthier
society. Being involved in one’s community at any level increase one’s self-worth, which in turn makes us healthier.
As a member of various committees and organizations, I have participated in many workshops and conversations designed to boost women’s knowledge and grow their networks. I organized an event with the Women’s Hispanic Association with a well-known gynaecologist/obstetrician who spoke to us about women’s development. I also organized a public event through the Cherry Park Neighbourhood Association at which a local community psychology professor spoke about community building. I am a member of the board of directors of iHelp International, a non-governmental organization that has held workshops for women in the Afghan community to help them feel more confident and engaged with their new home in Canada.
I would like to participate in more of these events. Social engagement (like attending the community BBQ or potluck dinner), proper employment, nutritional knowledge and a livable wage all improve people’s health. I will continue to work towards these ends
What would you do to improve women's economic security in your community?
Improving women’s economic security needs to be a societal effort involving all levels of government. While workshops, public talks and job banks are all useful tools, the marked increase we are experiencing in precarious employment without job security or benefits requires more concerted measures. I would aim to work with local businesses and service providers to ensure that everyone understands the importance of properly paid and secure employment where all will benefit.
Secure, well-paid jobs mean more consumption, which puts more money in the pockets of the very employers that provide the jobs. Co-operatives are an economic practice worth exploring. It is important to ensure that the City contracts only those companies that have well-paid, secure employees with collective agreements that protect women who choose to have children or that need to take sick leave to care for their children or aging parents. Women who choose to work should be guaranteed equal pay for equal work and should have the very same opportunities to climb the ladder as their male counterparts. Discrimination against people of varying ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations or gender in the workplace or larger community is unacceptable.
What would you do to improve women's safety in your community?
Women’s safety can be improved by taking back the streets. At the beginning of my term as President of the Cherry Park Neighbourhood Association, some community members were afraid to walk the streets, especially in the evening. We started a
walking group. It was transformational. People no longer talk about how dangerous it is or how insecure they feel. Engaging in such activities is always more comforting if done in groups. It serves to develop community and allows us to meet new people
in our communities. Nobody should feel fearful out in the community. More people need to speak up and interject when women, the LGBTQ2+ community or people from different ethnic backgrounds are being threatened. Be that ambassador.
As the Ward 9 city councillor, I would also push for more lighting on trails and public spaces, look into panic buttons that could be strategically placed in pedestrian travelled areas (as found at university campuses) and work with organizations like the Working Centre to explore the feasibility of a “walk me home” service.