International Studies alumnus works to acquire funding for women’s support services during pandemic
When Tori Wong began their role as Strategic Advisor to the Director General of Gender-Based Violence Policy at Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) in late 2019, they felt prepared for the steep learning curve of a position in federal government. However, COVID-19 brought unprecedented complications for the graduate of SFU’s Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) program.
In their day-to-day work, Wong describes themself as the “gatekeeper” or “air traffic controller”, who provides strategic advice to the Director General, manages the Director General’s office, and fields requests using key skills in writing, strategizing and negotiation. As part of a small branch working on a high priority file, they also undertake policy analyst responsibilities from time to time, which they explain is to some degree expected in any job with the federal government that IS students may be interested in. Those looking to take on government roles must also be ready to balance shifting priorities and new research goals, Wong says.
In the past year, Wong’s work has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has not impacted people equally,” Wong says, “with people across Canada advised to isolate, there was an increased risk of gender-based violence (GBV) being amplified.”
In isolation, those experiencing intimate partner violence could be subject to more control and surveillance, and could have less access to their usual supports. In Vancouver, during the early months of COVID-19 shutdowns, Battered Women’s Support Services saw a 300 percent increase in calls. Across Canada, there was an increased demand at shelters that were already underfunded pre-pandemic.
Wong supported their team in securing emergency funding to help shelters, sexual assault centres, and other organizations providing GBV supports adapt to providing their services safely during the pandemic. This included adapting services to be delivered online and acquiring PPE. The team coordinated with Provincial governments to identify local shelters and organizations, and was able to roll out new funding quickly to address expected increases of GBV reports.
Wong's team continues developmental work on a national action plan to end gender-based violence extending beyond the context of the pandemic.
Wong credits the MAIS program with preparing them for their role with the government.
“If you’re looking at getting into any government file, it can all be tied back to international issues”, Wong says.
“For example, when studying international food security [during MAIS], it wasn’t necessarily just about the study of food, but about globalization, security, and political economy.” By approaching subject matter from the lenses of governments, people and economies, MAIS helped Wong to understand a breadth international issues in an intersectional way.
As a condensed program, with 8 months of coursework and a choice of thesis or extended essay, MAIS students hone their time management and organizational skills.
Wong also enjoyed being a part of a small, diverse MAIS cohort, which enriched their learning and helped develop interpersonal skills. Wong has kept in touch with many of their former peers.
“I look back at my MAIS time fondly,” Wong says, “it’s such a unique post-grad experience.”
During their master’s work, Wong also participated in the co-op program, and secured a position with Global Affairs Canada.
“[Living in Ottawa], everyone’s connected,” Wong says. “Meeting people is very natural and organic.”
After graduation, Wong bridged that co-op into a role with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, where they made the connections that eventually led them to their current role at WAGE.
“In my current position, I’ve learned how widespread the risk of gender-based violence is,” Wong says. “Being a part of something with such a large impact is so fulfilling,”.