by Jarrah Hodge
On Monday night I was honoured to be part of a panel at the BC Federation of Labour’s women’s rights forum during their biennial convention. The panel included Kelly Megyesi, Women’s Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada; UBC Historian Veronica Strong-Boag; and journalist/author Linda McQuaig. The topic was how women have fared economically under our current federal and provincial governments, as well as what the decline in union density means for women.
In addition to being on stage with these amazing women in front of a packed room, earlier in the day during the Women’s Rights Committee report (part of regular convention business), I’d seen so many women come forward to the microphone to share heartfelt and often heartbreaking personal stories on how they, their families, and friends have been affected by BC Liberal policies in particular. I was so moved by their honesty and courage so I went into the panel feeling excited and of course a bit nervous.
I took some notes on the panel, and I’ve also posted the text of the speech I delivered if you wanted to read that entire part.
So we started off with Veronica Strong-Boag, who gave some historical perspective to the situation we’re in today, using some of her own information and others’ research from a site called Women Suffrage and Beyond.
Strong-Boag said that she wanted to address the despair she often sees among feminist activist by telling stories of past women who have reached across boundaries and across difference to form coalitions:
“There are histories of resistance and partnerships and coalitions which I think are needed, in very dark days, to inspire us.”
She highlighted several remarkable Canadian women who have forged those histories, including Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a black woman born free in the United States who came to Canada to support the underground railroad. She also highlighted Agnes Maule Machar, a Christian socialist who wrote novels like “Roland Graeme: Knight” that tackled pressing social and political issues of the 1890s. Pauline Johnson, Flora Macdonald denison, and labour leader Grace Hartman also made Strong-Boag’s list of women reaching across boundaries. Finally, Strong-Boag cited Judy Rebick as an example of a contemporary feminist working “in this strong tradition of collaboration.”
Next, Kelly Megyesi talked about how federal government cuts are hurting women, drawing on her own experience working at an unemployment office. Megyesi pointed out that more than half of the federal government workers are women, mostly working in admin. With huge layoffs already starting, Megyesi said: “Women are losing good jobs, women are losing pensions and benefits.”
“They have decided to relocate thousands of other jobs – jobs they promised wouldn’t be affected.”
Sadly, Megyesi is one of the workers who’s been hit by that move, told that she could relocate or lose her job, even though most of her work is virtual. She said she doesn’t buy for a minute that the relocations will really save money. Megyesi made the difficult choice to refuse:
“It would have meant breaking up my family and leaving my elderly mother without any support.”