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St. John’s Status of Women Centre executive director Laura Winters answers 20 Questions

Laura Winters: “People with lived experience are the experts, and we should be shaping how we do our research, and the concepts we use, around their experiences - not around our own ideas.” -KEITH GOSSE/THE TELEGRAM
Laura Winters: “People with lived experience are the experts, and we should be shaping how we do our research, and the concepts we use, around their experiences - not around our own ideas.” — KEITH GOSSE/THE TELEGRAM

She recently finished a marathon in education, completing the doctorate she began a decade ago

Laura Winters is an outspoken advocate on women’s issues.

As executive director for the St. John’s Status of Women Council and Women’s Centre since June of 2019, her work has centred around feminism, harm reduction and anti-oppression.

But don’t call her an expert…even though she clearly is.

Commenting on the completion of her PhD in sociology in August, she summarized her research as “sex workers talking back to society,” stressing the importance of academics and people in authoritative positions realizing they’re not the experts.

“People with lived experience are the experts, and we should be shaping how we do our research, and the concepts we use, around their experiences — not around our own ideas.”

And while Winters is frequently sought out to provide insight on women’s issues, she says the work done at the SJSOWC is a team effort.

“Our staff is absolutely phenomenal… I get to be the face of the organization, but the team is its heart,” she says.



Prior to becoming executive director, Winters was the coordinator with the Safe Harbour Outreach Program (SHOP).

And while she’s best-known today for her advocacy work, she has many other skills, including a knack for pottery.

Learn more about the feminist leader as she answers 20 Questions for The Telegram.

1. What is your full name?

Laura Ashley Winters.

2. Where and when were you born?

St. John’s, in 1986.

3. Where do you live today?

Kilbride.

4. What’s your favourite place in the world?

Snug Harbour in Gros Morne. It’s looking right into the mouth of the fjord at Western Brook Pond, and it’s really beautiful. It’s also the start of the Northern Traverse which links into the Long Range Traverse, so it’s a really nice protected harbour that’s also the beginning of an adventure.

5. Who do you follow on social media?

I actually don’t have any of my own social media accounts. The last time I had social media it was ICQ in junior high. But I do help manage the social media accounts for the Women’s Centre. On Twitter and on Facebook, we follow lots of feminist activists — women all over Canada doing work in the area that we work in — and we also follow lots of women who are engaged in sex work, and who are doing advocacy in that area.

6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?

People who know me professionally might be surprised to know that before I got into community work, I was a potter with my own pottery studio and small business called Flower Hill Pottery because I lived on Flower Hill at the time. I sold a lot of pottery. I sold at craft fairs, and I did dishes and dishware for a couple of restaurants around town. When I moved a couple of years ago, I dismantled my studio and I just didn’t have time for it at that time, but I’m really excited to get going again now that school is off my plate and I’ve got some free time. I used to teach classes as well through the Craft Council Devon House Studio, and I’d love to get back to teaching. That was really fun.

7. What’s been your favourite year and why?

2010 to 2011. That was the year I finished up my masters, and my partner and I took six weeks off and drove across Canada. We camped the whole time — I think we only stayed one night in a hotel over the whole six weeks. It was just a big adventure on the road — I loved it. And that's also the year I started community work. I began my PhD, and moved away for nine months to Fredericton. When I moved back to St John's, I got involved with Street Reach at Thrive, and that really changed my life. It started my experience in the community sector, and I haven't looked back. I’ve been working in the community sector ever since.

8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Finishing my PhD. I was at it for 10 years. At the beginning, I was doing it full-time, and then I started working with SHOP, so I switched to part-time. It was just quite the marathon to get it done. I was working full-time, and sometimes more than full-time. It was a lot to juggle working frontline community work, and then trying to go home and write, and be in the headspace to do academic work. The other hardest thing I've done on a more personal level was saying goodbye to my Pop, who was my very favourite person in the world. When he died, that was a really difficult time, and took me a long time to grieve.


“People with lived experience are the experts, and we should be shaping how we do our research, and the concepts we use, around their experiences — not around our own ideas.” — Laura Winters


9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?

Working for SHOP. Working with women who were engaged in the sex industry was such a gift of a learning experience, and it was such a privilege to be let into the lives of women who do sex work. They taught me so many things, I'm just so grateful. I remember at the beginning of doing that work, women called me on my shit all the time, which was really a gift. It was a very humbling experience. I think I am who I am today because I was gifted the opportunity to do that work.

10. What is your greatest indulgence?

Camping gear, and good champagne, wine and beer.

11. What is your favourite movie or book?

Over the past 10 years, I've been so engaged in academic work I haven't been able to really spend as much time as I would like reading, but one of my favourites that I did take the time to read was “Come, Thou Tortoise” by Jessica Grant. I also recently read Megan Gail Coles’ “Small Game Hunting,” and I thought that was a really exceptional and important book. I don't watch a lot of movies, so when I do I really like comedies and dark humour. One of my favourites is “What We Do in the Shadows,” a New Zealand mockumentary about vampire roommates.

12. How do you like to relax?

Being outside off the grid just going with a pack on for a couple nights, especially somewhere where there's no cell phone reception. In my more day-to-day life, I really like spending time in my yard with my partner, my dogs and my cat. I like to cook and bake. And I enjoy time with friends, backyard bonfires, and just hanging out.

13. What are you reading or watching right now?

“The Boat People” by Sharon Bala.

14. What is your greatest fear?

Earwigs.

15. If you had to perform karaoke, which song would you choose and why?

I’ve only performed karaoke once in my life. It was with a coworker, and we sang Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Maybe I'd sing that again. I'd like to say we really rocked it, but I'm a horrible singer. I think people got up and left, and I don't know if I'm allowed back into Karaoke Kops, it was really horrible.

16. What is your most treasured possession?

A hooked rug that came from my grandparents’ house. After my Pop passed, my aunt was clearing out their house and gifted it to me because she knew I loved it so much. My grandmother is from Wesleyville in New-Wes-Valley, and a woman from that community hooked this rug, I think, back in the 1960s, and gifted it to my grandparents. The woman was in her 90s when she did it, and it is just an amazing piece of art.

17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?

My Dad is a very patient person, and I think I've inherited some of that patience.

18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?

I think this answer is really context dependent right now, but my sister currently lives in Denmark, and so I haven't been able to see her, obviously, like so many people and families who can't be together right now. And we're very close. I miss her a lot. So, probably right now, my dream dinner party would be my sister, my Mom and my Dad.

19. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?

I would say my best quality is being non-judgmental. I think maybe the flip side of that is that I can’t always apply it to myself. It’s so easy to self-judge, and to feel like we're not doing enough as women. So, I think that's something I really try to work on practicing what I preach.

20. What’s your biggest regret?

Not having a good understanding of work-life balance when I first started work in the community sector. It's so easy to burn out at this work, and it's also so easy to not realize when you're burning out, and it impacts your life and those around you so much. I wish I had a bit more perspective when I was first starting out to maybe have a bit more balance, and be able to enjoy what's in front of me and take it a bit easier.

Note: Responses have been edited for length.

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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