Audra Petrulis: A champion for feminism

This article was originally published in Illuminessence, September 16, 2013.

Audra Petrulis is not afraid to call herself a feminist, an activist and ally. These qualities are the core of her professional and personal life.

A self-described rule breaker, she states,

“I resist and rebel, pushing boundaries – both my own and those around me.”

Born in Kingston and raised in Burlington, Petrulis credits her dad for insipring her passion for social justice.

“I get my defiant nature from him and we engage in lively dinner conversations/debates where we challenge and learn from each other,” she said.

Her sense of social justice was nurtured during high school, beginning in a grade 11 law class.She oversees the Transitional Living Program at the YWCA Hamilton, a program which offers temporary housing to women affected by poverty, homelessness, mental health issues or violence.

“I could see instances of injustice around me and I wanted to be part of the solution to rectify them,” she said.

Petrulis pursued a BA in Women’s Studies, a diploma in an Assaulted Women and Children’s Counselor/Advocate program and a BA in Social Work.

Working at shelters and community agencies dedicated to supporting women at risk, Petrulis admits that she encounters an uphill battle in trying to get others to see the importance of these issues.

“Things don’t have to be like this and we can shape the society in which we live to be concerned about issues facing women and committed to taking action to address them.”

MENTORSHIP AND LEADERSHIP: NECESSARY COMPONENTS TO ADVANCE THE VOICES OF WOMEN

Strong female leadership is a step towards getting women’s voices heard, she said, adding that it is also necessary for women to mentor future female leaders. With this belief, Petrulis spearheaded the Be The One project through the YWCA Hamilton. Aimed at youth ages 16-24 years old, the project focuses on engaging youth in the topic of violence against women and girls, by creating various awareness campaigns. The two-year project was in partnership with the White Ribbon Campaign, the world’s largest movement involving men and boys to put an end to gender-based violence.

For Petrulis, youth are the solution and the key players in changing the course of discussion, while challenging preexisting gender stereotypes.

“Youth are the answer to many questions, including ‘how do we end violence against women and girls?’”

Through Be The One, Petrulis witnessed how youth use creative ways to advocate for women. One of the most successful youth-led projects was a t-shirt campaign, said Petrulis. A female participant of the project designed t-shirts printed with a powerful statement, “This is what a feminist looks like,” to raise awareness of the many facets of feminism. Three hundred t-shirts were sold.

CREATING SAFE SPACE FOR ALL

Petrulis also sits on the Hamilton Positive Space Collaborative, a volunteer committee aimed to create and push for LGBTQ positive spaces in Hamilton.

“The agencies that sit around the table of this collaborative have a commitment and vested interest in advocating for and with LGBTQ communities and their allies,” said Petrulis, who represents the YWCA Hamilton on the committee. She is currently working on creating a Positive Space Checklist, as a way for local agencies to assess how safe and equitable their services are to the needs of LGBTQ users.

“The idea around this tool is to encourage and support organizations to look at their policies, procedures and agency climate from an LGBTQ-positive lens,” she added.

When she is not working, Petrulis enjoys photographing sights in the city and running, either in marathons or just for leisure. She hopes to continue her work at the Y, working alongside other female leaders in advocating and strengthening women’s rights and voices.