Please listen to more of this interview with Peggy Bradshaw at the bottom of this page.
Have you ever wondered who came up with the idea of having the white lines painted on the sides of highways to determine where the concrete ends and the shoulder begins? Or who started the concept of a public library that’s in most every small town? These are just two of the many items the Manitoba Women’s Institute (MWI) lobbied for quite a number of years ago.
In 1910 the Institute movement was adopted and developed in Manitoba to help women adapt to the rugged life in the settlement of rural communities. Back in 1910, 111 years ago, new ground was being broken and families travelled from other parts of Canada and from overseas to settle in Manitoba’s budding communities.
‘In the early days, fostering of the Women’s Institute movement in Manitoba was assigned by the Department of Agriculture and Immigration to the Manitoba Agricultural College. With the encouragement of agricultural extension staff, branches sprang up throughout the province,’ states the MWI website.
‘The purpose of the first Institute was to raise the standard of homemaking. In the early minutes the following words were recorded: “A nation cannot rise above the level of its homes; therefore, we women must work and study together to raise our homes to the highest possible level.”’
The MWI was a local support for women, where they could learn from each other and provide emotional support to growing families and home makers. The movement grew to where they could advocate for community needs and new ways to improve living conditions in rural communities.
Today’s lobbying efforts include food security, mental health services, even improvements in cell phone service.
Over the years the MWI has supported many initiatives around the world, each year championing a specific fundraising initiative.
It was 3 years ago when Binscarth resident and Manitoba’s MWI Western Region representative, Peggy Bradshaw, posed the question for the MWI to support a provincial incentive, a local project. Bradshaw is a member of the MWI-Silverton Chapter, and her fellow members welcomed the idea.
The incentive was embraced by the provincial committee and the first ‘Made in Manitoba’ Project began, with awareness and fundraising directed at their first project, A Port in a Storm, a housing project where folks from rural and northern communities could go to stay while getting medical treatment in Winnipeg.
The second year’s project was to support The Brandon Bear Clan. Bradshaw says the support was astounding with bags and boxes of items donated and then delivered to the Brandon organization.
She’s hoping this year’s incentive will be as successful as last year’s project with the focus on the local ‘safe houses’, provincial shelters that are under the umbrella of the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters.
Bradshaw shares the MWI’s vision statement, ‘MWI strengthens women, families, and communities’ and this was a very fitting project, “especially since what we’ve seen with the pandemic and the isolation that women have been in and it seemed that there is more domestic abuse, more difficulties rising,” she says.
“The shelters across Manitoba are also finding it hard to administer their programs, money is less to work with and yet there was a larger need.”
“It doesn’t have to be one shelter,” she adds. “It could be the one in their area. That’s why we broadened it and that’s also why we decided to reach out to the communities and ask communities to help us help others.”
Safe houses are often unknown in many communities due to safety precautions for their clients. But the needs can be many. Women and their children may have to leave their homes at a moment’s notice with very few essentials with them. Local shelters welcome hygiene kits, clothing items, or cash donations to purchase necessary items or put towards the counselling programs. Bradshaw encourages folks to contact their local shelter and ask if there are any specific items that they need.
When looking at the many needs in any community, Bradshaw shares how the Manitoba Women Institute has been a strong support over so many years and in so many different ways.
In looking ahead, she says the ‘Made in Manitoba’ project is definitely growing.
“I don’t know where the next year will go but it is a growing thing.”
“Really, a little-known organization that’s been around for a long time is stepping up and the communities are stepping up with them, and that’s what makes it great, because we have been through an awful time in these last 2 years.”
“It’s been a terrible time and just to have some good news that’s giving hope,” she shares. “But we’re not giving up. We’re not going to say, ‘Oh we can’t do this because we’re in a pandemic.’
“No, that’s the time when you find what people are really made of and that’s the proof in the pudding for sure!”
The Manitoba Women’s Institute will be continuing the fund-raising and awareness campaign for women’s safe houses and shelters throughout the months of November and December.
Manitoba Women’s Institute is a member of the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) with a membership of 9 Million women in 72 countries; ACWW has consultative status at the United Nations, with members serving on such UN bodies as the World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organizations, UNESCO and UNICEF. Manitoba Women’s Institute is also a proud member of the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada (FWIC/WI Canada).