Standing bare chested and alone on the steps of Penticton City Hall 65-year-old grandmother Gail Owen of Oliver bravely outlined her stand on women’s equality to go topless to just a handful of people Aug. 23.
While she was eventually joined by another woman, Jo Scofield, partway through the local rally, Owen admitted afterwards she was unhappy with the lack of promised support for the cause, which is part of a national and international campaign encouraging women to go topless anywhere men are allowed to do the same.
“There were over 200 people who said they were going to be here today, but I always take that with a grain of salt because it is Penticton and Penticton is very hard to get anybody to do anything,” said Scofield.
No one from the organizing committee showed up to the event. Scofield had read about the rally prior to the event and decided to take part based on her beliefs about the need for equality between sexes.
“We change things by doing exactly what we are doing, by doing it in an environment where it’s not a big deal cause it shouldn’t be,” she said. “It’s only a big deal if people make it a big deal. Once you normalize it, it’s no more a big deal than guys walking around without a shirt on.”
While only a few people actually came close enough to hear Owen speak, a number of others watched from a distance up and down Main Street. Several vehicles also did a couple of laps around the 100-block to take in the proceedings.
Penticton RCMP also had a presence in the area as cruisers and an unmarked car drove by, but did not stop. A planned march to Lakeshore Drive from city hall was cancelled.
“We’re here as part of a celebration, a celebration of women’s rights in B.C. since the year 2000 to go topless wherever they want and what that means is what the judges have said is where men can go topless, women have that same right,” said Owen, who regularly rides her bicycle without a top in the community where she lives.
She accused Penticton city council and RCMP of being “small minded” when it comes to women going topless.
One person watching the small gathering was Jane Turnell, who was working across the street and decided to come over to see what was going on.
“I support them for what they’re doing, if I was young and perky I might do it,” said Turnell. “I want the right for women to breastfeed their babies without people irritating them and telling them to cover up and go in the bathroom. Would you eat in the bathroom? No. I admire them (Owen and Scofield) for the courage. I’m sorry I don’t have enough courage.”
This was the eighth consecutive year the international GoTopless organization has arranged similar rallies. Including Penticton, six Canadian cities held rallies.
The group states in addition to Ontario this right is has been legally recognized in Saskatchewan since 1997 and in British Columbia since 2000. The other provinces have yet follow suit.
Meanwhile, Owen is promising to continue to do whatever she can to promote the cause, even if it means having to stand alone.
“It is something I believe in very strongly and I’m not going to stop,” she said.