Buckets of Data

January 17, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — bucketsdata @ 4:20 am

Carolyn Egan enjoys irony — not only because she’s president of Local 8300 of the United Steelworkers of America.

Raised in an Irish Catholic home in Boston, the eldest of six children, she’s Canada’s pre-eminent pro-choice voice, a passionate advocate for women’s sexual health and reproductive freedom.

“My mother would never have considered an abortion, but still, I was brought up with an empathy for the hardship and the realities of childbirth that many women had to face,” says this year’s YWCA Woman of Distinction for health and women’s rights. “I always sensed that women wanted to have more control of their lives, and that was very real to me.”


Egan, 54, moved to Toronto in 1969 with her draft-resisting husband and in 1972 began counselling young women at the Birth Control and Venereal Disease Information Centre, at Lawrence and Bathurst, where she still works.

Abortion was the seminal women’s issue in the mid-1960s, during the first burst of the women’s liberation movement, when she attended Manhattanville College, a small, Catholic university in New York.

She had counselled students there and was naturally drawn to counselling here, where she initiated outreach programs sending counsellors into schools to discuss birth control and sexual issues with adolescents.

She met Dr. Henry Morgentaler in the 1970s and asked him to come to Toronto to begin campaigning for abortion legislation here. During the 1980s, not only did she co-found the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, she travelled with Morgentaler across Canada.

“He’d just walk through airports and women would stop him to say, ‘Thank you, Doctor.’ He’s a true Canadian hero.”

At that time, the United Steelworkers of America unionized her clinic. Though predominantly male, this union was and remains increasingly “supportive of women,” she says.

Though she has no children and is separated from her husband, Egan is close to her family.

“My parents, at 81 and 83, are practising Catholics, but they’re very supportive of my work,” she says, with gentle humour in her voice. “Both my mother and my grandmother were always optimistic and I translated that into my life.


“I know that change is possible. People working together can make incredible changes.”

Strong words from a woman of steel.

In other YWCA Woman of Distinction categories, Jane Doe will be honoured for social justice; Bobbie Gaunt for corporate leadership; Winnie Ng for labour and women’s rights leadership; Eslin Payne for community leadership; Joan Grant-Cummings for social action and Rahima Nenshi is the young woman of distinction.


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