The Fort St. John Women’s Institute branch has been instrumental in many aspects of the region’s development and formation and is pushing for new members this week, said B.C.’s institute president.
“We cross-promote for the betterment and improvement of living conditions for women. It’s an educational group, really. But we do have advocacy in it,” said Jill Copes, institute president for B.C.
The Women’s Institutes of Canada, a non-profit society, began in Ontario 101 years ago with a woman who lost her son to spoiled milk. She wanted to inform and educate women, and a movement quickly spread across Canada, with B.C.’s provincial incarnation founded in 1909.
While there may be many people who do not know what the Womens’ Institute is in the first place, the Peace Region branches has influenced several important factors, according to Copes.
“We’re an organization for communities ... and we’re represented in 70 countries in the world,” Copes said.
The local Women’s Institute established the first public washroom in Fort St. John, was instrumental in getting highway lines painted yellow, and are outspoken opponents of the BC Hydro Site C dam proposal, she said.
It can take a long time for the group to see their impact on government policy, she added, such as their campaign regarding the use of aspartame as a sugar substitute in food products launched some 30 years ago that is just gaining traction.
“I’m coming to the realization that money rules but we do need to take a stand,” Copes said. “We’ve also made a stand on genetically modified products and I think we’ll see a change in that in another 20 years. This area at the moment is probably benefitting from genetically modified food, but there’s a lot of issues that come up. Why are our bees and pollinators disappearing?”
In addition to providing a place for community-conscious discourse and political lobbying, members routinely learn about cooking, handicraft, canning and other useful skills, she said.
“And we’re compassionate about issues, but non-secretarial too, so anybody can join,” Copes said.
To coincide with City Council’s designation of Women’s Institute Week, local members are hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 23 on behalf of the Peace Valley Environmental Association so that group can afford to hire consultants to assess BC Hydro’s Site C Environmental Impact Report. For more information, visit www.bcwi.ca.