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Women’s Forum/Forum Des Femmes Morning

MP Niki Ashton at the podium for Women's Forum 2013

MP Niki Ashton kicks off Women’s Forum 2013

by Jarrah Hodge

Women’s Forum des Femmes kicks off in the Government Conference Centre just across from Parliament Hill, with Official Opposition Critic for Status of Women Niki Ashton welcoming us “fellow feminists”.

I can tell it’s going to be an awesome day. The room is full of over a hundred women from diverse backgrounds, but a large portion are young women. Ashton announces most of the people speaking today (like me, later in the afternoon) will be Canadian feminists under 40.

Ashton characterizes the situation facing young women in Canada, saying young women are working hard but losing ground. Especially young indigenous women, says Ashton.

But she also says young women are responding: “Young women are using the arts, scholarship, the blogosphere and their voices to fight back.”

“Idle No More is a clear example of how indigenous young people, and particularly young women are changing Canadian history,” she adds.

She finishes her introduction with an outline of the day’s goal: “to build solidarity and strengthen our connections, and in doing so we will send a message that women across generations, regions, and communities are strong in their demands for justice and equality for all of us.”

Erin Marie Konsmo

Erin Marie Konsmo

The first speaker up to the stage was the amazing Erin Marie Konsmo of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Her talk is called Beyond a Triple Bottom Line Approach: Reclaiming for our future generations: Resisting Environmental Violence Through Reproductive Justice.

Konsmo began to elaborate on a theme that will be touched on throughout the day: the interconnectedness of struggles for control of land and control of bodies, particularly women’s bodies. She said the Canadian government and extractive industries have often seen women’s bodies and land as empty things available for laws to be put on.

“Our bodies are not terra nullis [empty land],” Konsmo stated

“I propose a new equation. We must have self-determination of our bodies and also self-determination of our lands,” Konsmo proclaimed.

The interconnectedness of colonial exploitation of land and women’s bodies has a long history, including forced-sterilization of First Nations people and sexual abuse in residential schools. Because indigenous women live with the legacy of colonial violence and appropriation of land, Konsmo says violence prevention and sexual health strategies must include discussions of the land.

To conclude her talk she highlighted some of the unique ways indigenous women and youth are connecting the discussions about liberating the environment and their bodies. NYSHN’s Environmental justice for Metis Women and Youth program, for example, uses sexual health education and the arts to talk about how reproductive violence is connected to the environment.

She also talked about work to support indigenous youth who are two-spirited, queer, trans or gender non-conforming, who face immense amounts of violence, to develop leadership positions in their communities.

“As a young indigenous woman I know that many body contains story of the land…I also know and experience a sexual and gender identity that comes from specific histories of the land and where I come from. These identities are older than the LGBT movement and…were made illegal…your feminisms do affect the land,” she reminds, and adds, “The work you do as a feminist…impacts indigenous people.”

The next panel looked at “Canada’s Inequality Action Plan”, and included moderator Karen Galldin, Shannon Phillips of the Alberta Federation of Labour;  Janice Makokis, a lawyer and Idle No More activist; Denise Hammond of the union AMAPCEO; and Sarah Kennell of Action Canada for Population and Development. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

IWD Talk on Intergenerational Feminism

photoby Jarrah Hodge

Last Friday I had the honour of speaking at the Vancouver and District Labour Council’s International Women’s Day celebration, at a packed house at the Fraserview Hall, on the topic of intergenerational feminism. I was the second speaker following retired CUPW activist Marion Pollack, who shared her experiences fighting sexism in the labour movement in the 1970s and working with the labour movement to fight for equality and women’s rights in the broader community.

I followed up with a talk about building intergenerational bridges in the feminist movement and looking at the issues we are still battling, like pay equity, violence against women, and a range of insidious messages that tell girls and women how they need to look and behave in order to be considered valuable and legitimate.

If you’re interested in seeing part of my talk I’ve put a video online – note my camera had a glitch at the beginning so the actual video starts at about 0:50 and the intro section of my speech is partly cut off. I think it’ll still make sense though.

I’m also including the transcript here, after the jump because it’s quite long. You can’t see my Powerpoint in the video so if you want any clarification on what slides I was using to illustrate my points, just comment below. It was really exciting for me to get to speak at this event that I usually attend every year, and I was really pleased with the positive feedback I got from several people in the audience. Overall, it was a pretty great International Women’s Day.

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 2 Comments

BC Federation of Labour Women’s Rights Forum

Linda McQuaig, Veronica Strong-Boag and Me

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.”

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

Union Sisters Talk Reproductive Rights

Joyce Arthur, Jackie Larkin and Judy Darcy

Joyce Arthur, Jackie Larkin and Judy Darcy

by Jarrah Hodge

In the late 70′s and 80′s feminists involved in BC’s labour movement launched “Union Sisters”, regular gatherings of union women who would share a meal, listen to a speaker, and organize on important issues.

This fall a handful of union women decided to re-launch these gatherings. Using only emails, Facebook, and social media they put the word out and attracted about fifty women to the first meeting in September, which featured Dr. Marjorie Griffin-Cohen speaking on the negative impacts of BC Liberal policy on women in BC.

I’m pleased I was able to attend the second “Union Sisters” evening in New Westminster earlier this week. The theme of the night was: “The Current Challenges to our Reproductive Rights” and included an oral history on the 1970s Abortion Caravan, as well as a presentation by Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

Addressing the current situation, Arthur put the lie to Harper’s claim that he doesn’t want to “re-open the abortion debate”, noting right off the bat by limiting funding to organizations that provide abortion and contraception in developing countries for the first time in decades, that’s exactly what the Harper government did.

Arthur also touched on the defeat of the anti-choice M-312 in Parliament this fall:

“It was quite a strong defeat but nobody was really happy about it… it was disturbing because 1/3 of the cabinet voted in favour of it, including Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose.”

Arthur identified fighting anti-choice advertisements through complaints to Advertising Standards Canada as one area in which the ARCC and its feminist allies have had particular success.

“They’re usually demeaning to women in some way,” Arthur said of the ads. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism 1 Comment