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Woman of the Week: Ashlee Froese

I had a meeting with a woman who I would call a true trailblazer, founding  partner of Froese Law, Ashlee Froese.  She is confident, and tenacious, after having worked for the past 3 years  to have the fashion industry recognized as a cultural industry. Ashlee  is also a published author on branding and fashion laws and a frequent guest speaker at law schools, universities and cultural institutions. She speaks publicly on current leading brands and matters within fashion law, and recently had a chat with CBC about the push for fashion industry funding.

Ashlee told me that she wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age. She focused on it during high school and her undergraduate years.

The word ‘trailblazer’ first came to me when she told me about her focus on fashion law:

“There was no concept of ‘fashion law’ as a practice area in Canada. Given that I already had many years’ practical experience at the boutique law firm, coupled with years of official legal training, I felt that I was in a position to educate the fashion industry on legal issues that impact it.”

Ashlee admitted that, despite her determination and drive, she has met ongoing challenges while practicing law. The industry is very male-dominated with  countless “Legally Blond” jokes directed her way. She views these as less of a challenge, but rather  “irrelevant background noise.”

When Froese was first starting out, an older woman partner told her to cut her hair, dye it brown and avoid wearing heels – to make herself as male as possible. She told me this perplexed her, because, as she put it “being the most authentic form of yourself, is what frees you to succeed.”

Now that Ashlee owns her own firm, she is keen to “flip the script” and insists that “You can be feminine. You can wear what you want. You can be your own authentic self- not a role-playing version of yourself.” She now mentors young lawyers at her firm every Friday afternoon and frequently speaks at law school association panels.

I asked Ashlee if there was a woman leader she admired. and she named Margaret Thatcher saying, “I grew up knowing that an iron fist and a velvet glove is necessary to get the job done… and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female…it just matters that you are a leader.”

Ashlee Froese, like many other women around the globe, understands that change is happening in the workplace, and when it comes to gender discrimination. The #MeToo campaign is a movement and a revolution that has unified women worldwide.

Speaking openly on the matter, she said ”I would be shocked if a woman doesn’t have a #MeToo story to share.  The severity of the instances may not all be devastating or shocking…but I can’t imagine that a woman has led a life where they haven’t at least once been intimidated, discounted, underestimated or sexualized because they are a woman.”

I asked Ashlee to share her #Metoo moment, and here is what she said:

“I was working at a Bay Street firm,” Ashlee begins,  then explaining that it was a casual Friday in the office and she was wearing skinny jeans and a blazer. “The managing partner entered into my office and pushed all my papers off my desk onto the floor. He then proceeded to say that he bet I wouldn’t be able to pick the paper off the floor because my jeans were too tight.”

He was obviously trying to establish his dominance and diminish her while doing it. Ashlee felt bothered because she knew that he wouldn’t have done it to a male employee. While it demeaned her to pick the papers up off the floor, she also realized that it made her strong. Pride wouldn’t limit her.

Ashlee even mentioned that a super power she wants most is to be sure that everyone makes “reasonable well thought out decisions that weigh both sides of the argument,” showing that her values rest most on truth, fairness and equality.

Not afraid to tell it like it is, to be herself, work hard and stick to her vision, Ashlee both encourages and inspires others to do the same through mentoring and guest speaking at various events and continuing to work hard as a founder of her own firm.

The one line that stayed most with me after my conversation with Ashlee was ” …if you do fail, fail fast, learn from it and recover.” She is the type of woman who isn’t afraid to fail and learn from that failure. A True Trailblazer.

To connect with Ashlee Froese and her firm, visit www.froeselaw.com

‘Leaving No One Behind’: UN Commission On The Rights Of Women underway

By Jessica Ashley Merkley

The current climate regarding women’s rights and gender equality is unprecedented. Ongoing efforts by those in support of closing the gaps between the sexes have ignited acknowledgement that the tides are turning and actionable change is happening. Against this same backdrop, the UN Commission on the Status of Women, is set to begin this week at the United Nations in New York. This particular forum is the largest involving gender equality and women’s rights.

Although the world has been gripped by the happenings in the United States, involving the #MeToo media campaign, as well as the #TimesUp campaign, the message has not been met with the same power in rural locales. This has therefore kept progress regarding the rights of women from happening.

Women Executive Director for the UN, Phumzile Milambo-Ngcuka spoke on this issue that seems common across rural areas around the globe, where women’s rights seem at a standstill.

“At the heart of leaving no one behind, is leaving no one out. One of the single most impactful contributions to achieving the 2030 Agenda would be to level inequalities for women and girls in rural areas. Significant progress for them is progress for the whole Agenda, and for the world.”

Women residing and working in rural areas have the power to bring change, due to their roles in food production and distribution. They are imperative to the security of the global food market. Such women can also be leaders in the transitioning of sustainable energy in the household, which leads to leadership in the management and conservation of natural resources, in addition to the regeneration of land and forests.

Reports indicate, however, that rural women are worse off than rural men or than women residing in an urban setting due to the remaining gender inequalities and discrimination that exists. Such studies, also brought forth at the forum, indicate that “rural women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty and have unequal access to land and natural resources, infrastructure and services, and decent work and social protection. They are also more vulnerable to the adverse impact of environmental and climate change.”

The 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, will focus on issues relevant to gender equality and empowerment of all rural women and girls.  Key topics will be that of infrastructure and technology, education and health- which involves their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights- as well as bringing an end to all forms of violence and harm against women.

“Leaving no one behind” is the motto for this week’s forum. The time for change is now.

 

 

 

Tens of thousands of women share #MeToo stories of sexual harassment

I don’t really have a #MeToo, but I stand with those who do.

I’m extremely fortunate (so far) and I know that. I have my own experiences with sexism — I’ve been treated differently by employers, mocked during interviews, and called a bitch by random strangers on public transit — but my stories are tame compared to those being shared on Twitter right now. And for them, as well as my friends and colleagues who have experienced sexual harassment and assault, my heart breaks.

Following the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, women started to share their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault. The latest forum is Twitter, using the hashtag #MeToo.

This particular movement started with American actress Alyssa Milano, who asked her followers to reply with the words “me too” to show how widespread sexual harassment really is.

Tens of thousands of people replied to the battle cry, and that number is increasing with every minute. Some people simply used the hashtag, while others provide context describing their situations. The responses have been from people of all genders, sexual orientation, professions, and economic demographics.

On Oct. 13, women boycotted Twitter in support of actress Rose McGowan, who was blocked by the social media agency for her criticism of Weinstein and those who are supporting him. Now, it seems like women have reclaimed this platform, using it to voice their opinions and show exactly how prominent sexual harassment is in the twenty first century.

The number of people using this hashtag should shock us, but it doesn’t. One in four women in North America will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, and of every 100 assaults, only six are reported to the police. These statistics are even more grave when you consider that most people don’t share their #MeToo stories.

The are many reasons for not doing, and no one should be chastised for choosing to remain silent. It could be the victim was told to be ashamed of their experiences. It could also be that they were made to believe the attack was their own fault, or that alcohol or their wardrobe was to blame. It could also be that they are not yet ready to talk about their traumatic experience, which is okay. As many people on Twitter pointed out, just because you don’t talk publicly about your experience or use the hashtag, doesn’t make your story any less real.

I am a bit worried that this campaign will fall on deaf ears. These are real women who were brave enough to share their stories with the world in hopes of inspiring change. But, who will listen? In the United States, the White House is in the midst of making abortion illegal and removing birth control from insurance packages. While Canadian government officials pride themselves on providing free abortion pills, the debate surrounding safe spaces has become much too political. Every day a new challenge presents itself. Women who do accuse their attacker are often shamed in courtrooms or treated as liars. What happens when the Weinstein story dies down? Will these women be ignored once again?

Every few minutes someone experiences a #MeToo. It could be a family member, a friend, or a coworker. It could even be you. It’s incredibly important to stand with the courageous women and men speaking up today and realize the struggle to end sexual violence is an uphill battle. It will take decades.

What will you do tomorrow to help?