Megan Walker retiring as London Abused Women's Centre leader

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Fiery and fierce — critics would sometimes add frustrating — Megan Walker doesn’t sound like someone who is actually going to retire as head of the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC).

“Working at LAWC is an extension of who I am. This is who I am and what I do,” she said Thursday after the centre’s board announced her retirement. LAWC’s Jennifer Dunn will take over.

Walker insists she will leave the post after 24 years come Aug. 31. But she may not be leaving the public eye.

“I am not planning on disappearing. That’s not who I am,” Walker said. “I don’t just park that now that I am going to be leaving LAWC. I know for a fact that two days of lying in my pyjamas on the couch watching TV will be two days too many, and what I will need to do is get up and get going and start working.”

Word of Walker’s retirement drew praise on social media from politicians and women’s advocates for the woman who has become the face of and force behind LAWC.

Some of those advocates have been political opponents over the years, as Walker has maintained a strong stand against any legalization or decriminalization of sex work. She headed a strong campaign to ensure Canada’s prostitution laws more or less fit her and her allies’ views.

“That was a very intense time in our lives with lots of trips to Ottawa and calling politicians for meetings,” Walker said. “It was very acrimonious with very personal threats, but at the end of the day, we were successful.”

She counts that as one of her greatest successes at LAWC, but adds the battle over the legislation — with a possible federal review in the works — isn’t over.

Nor is the struggle to end violence against women, Walker said.

“Still women are being abused, horrifically tortured and violated, and we don’t have the services across this country to deal with it. I feel the government has failed women by not providing services, or funding for services.”

Among those congratulating Walker Thursday was London police Chief Steve Williams, noting on Twitter her “persistent passion.”

Walker has maintained a close, but sometimes stormy relationship with London police administration.

She counts as successes London police’s decision to name those charged with buying sex, or johns. But she also criticized police for failing to release information about a killer’s assaults on other women before the murder of Josie Glenn in 2017, and has been a go-to advocate for local media on stories about policing and politics.

Walker’s relationship with media has also been mixed. She dislikes the term “sex worker,” preferring “prostituted and trafficked women,” and hasn’t been afraid to use social media to both criticize and praise news stories.

Her advocacy has landed her in both political and legal trouble. But as her career with LAWC winds down, Walker focused on the positives.

“There have been many many positives for sure, we’ve worked collaboratively on many issues in this community and on others we’ve disagreed. We’re still friends. It’s nothing personal.”

One of her accomplishments at LAWC unites people of all political and advocacy stripes and garners widespread media attention: the annual public awareness campaign called Shine the Light on Woman Abuse.

Wearing purple and shining a purple light in businesses and homes in November has spread across parts of Canada and the world, Walker said.

“I’m hugely proud of that,” said Walker, who credits a former board member and partner with the idea. “We just sort of winged it that first year. And, of course, people just grabbed onto it right away.”

Each year, the campaign shows how much more work must be done, Walker said. Every November, calls for service to LAWC rise, and they don’t go back down, she said.

That’s another reason she can leave LAWC, but not the struggle.

“My life is about ending male violence against women, that is who I am,” she said. “I come with lived experience, as most women do. I know the importance of ensuring that we work to end this atrocity against women.”