Canada: Battles agst inequity & violence remain to be won, not for lack of feminist effort or vision Print E-mail

THE GAZETTE ~ Montreal ~ Thursday September 9 2010

Second wave of feminism revisited at Rideau Hall

By Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News

 The culmination of her five years in office as Governor General, Michaelle Jean, pictured, welcomed nearly 150 leading feminist leaders to Rideau Hall Thursday to discuss issues related to the physical, financial and emotional security of women (John Kenney, Montreal Gazette)

OTTAWA ­ Unlike Canada's Famous 5 suffragists ­ Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung ­ little has been written about those "unsung heroines" from the so-called "second-wave" of the feminist movement.

But as feminism enters its third wave, a small group of women have taken it upon themselves to try to chronicle the struggles and successes of the women's movement from 1960 to 2010.

The newly founded Feminist History Society is set to release the first in a series of books this week documenting the lives of modern women who helped usher in things such as legal abortions, rape crisis centres and paid parental leave.

Dubbed Feminist Journeys, the book chronicles the tales of 94 women and is available to society members through their membership fees. Subsequent issues already lined up include a biography of feminist Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar, the story of Newfoundland and Labrador's women's movement and the history of the Disabled Women's Network.

Speaking Thursday at a women's conference hosted by outgoing Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, Constance Backhouse, a University of Ottawa law professor and founding member of the Feminist History Society, suggested understanding the past is critical to moving forward.

"The battles have not all been won but this is not for a lack of feminist effort or vision," she said in an impassioned speech at Rideau Hall where nearly 150 activists, educators, politicians, youth and social workers gathered to discuss issues related to the physical, financial, psychological, emotional and moral security of women.

"A 50th birthday is a time to take stock."

Before 1960, Backhouse noted, there were no female hockey players, job ads were segregated by sex, battered women's shelters were non-existent and the public service fired female employees who got married.

Second wave feminists, she added, have fought to combat child sexual abuse, integrate women into the trades, promote female artists and transform women's health care, yet gender discrimination still exists.

"Women politicians in our Parliament register a paltry 22 per cent . . . violence against women shows almost no change on the ground, access to abortion depends on where you live, (and) more than 40 per cent of the Financial Post's 500 companies are directed by all-male boardrooms recruited by the old boys clubs," she said. "Women still earn just 71 cents to every dollar paid to men."

According to Jean, the two-day conference marks the culmination of what she has "passionately worked toward" over the course of her five years as Governor General, a term that draws to a close at the end of the month.

Many of the participants, she said, were people she has already worked with on women's issues in the past during her travels across Canada and abroad.

"I have taken the time to listen to your concerns and to learn about the realities that have immediate repercussions on the lives of women," she said in her opening remarks.

"I believe . . . that preventing over half of humanity from accessing fundamental rights and from living in security is one of the greatest scandals of our time."

From the workplace harassment faced by women in the modelling industry, to the tremendous advances made by the Canadian Forces, participants were given the opportunity to share their own personal tales of injustice and triumph.

Magna International executive and former politician Belinda Stronach later spoke of the importance of financial security, while Iqaluit Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik spoke of her community's struggle with domestic violence.

Canada's only female prime minister Kim Campbell spoke by video link about the basic human rights struggles women in other parts of the world face, while Jean Augustine, Canada's first black female parliamentarian and Ontario's current fairness commissioner, talked of the challenges of getting women into positions of leadership, power and influence and of the importance of diversity, even among women.
© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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THE GAZETTE ~ Montreal ~ Thursday September 9 2010

Jean recalls her family's struggle for gender equality

By Jeremy Warren, Saskatoon StarPhoenix August 24, 2010

Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean gets a blanket presented to her from Joan Greyeyes and elders Walter and Maria Linklater August 24, 2010 before addressing a discussion in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Bill of Rights with panelists from varied backgrounds on the topic, "Women's Rights are Human Rights" at Convocation Hall at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S). Her Excellency delivered an address to students, faculty and the community as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Bill of Rights, a federal statute led by U of S alumnus and former prime minister, the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker. The Canadian Bill of Rights was enacted by the Parliament of Canada on August 10, 1960, under the leadership of Prime Minister Diefenbaker, who had been campaigning for the protection of human rights since he became a member of Parliament in 1945 (Greg Pender, The StarPhoenix)

SASKATOON ­ Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean ended her tour of Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan with a personal talk about her family's three-generation struggle for gender equality.

Jean spent Tuesday morning at the university, where she attended a panel discussion about women's rights in Canada and elsewhere.

"Women's rights are human rights ­ they're one and the same," Jean said in her introductory remarks at the panel. "Human rights are inconceivable if they exclude over half the human population."

About 300 people squeezed into Convocation Hall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Canada's Bill of Rights, and Jean started the discussion with her family's struggle for women's rights.

Jean first thanked her grandmother, a widow who raised five children in Haiti, for helping make her the woman she is now.

"She made gaining self-sufficiency, obtaining financial independence and finding greater educational opportunities for her children key priorities," Jean said.

"And she did that while working tirelessly, day in and day out, behind a sewing machine."

Jean said her mother fought for equality and justice in a beleaguered Haiti before fleeing the country with her two kids.

"Education is the key to freedom," Jean said before launching into her own story about joining other Quebec women in the feminist fight.

Four women were on the panel: college of law acting dean Beth Bilson; history professor Pamela Jordan; archeology professor Pamela Downe; and University of Saskatchewan Graduate Students' Association president Omeasoo Butt.

Each took five minutes to respond to Jean's opening remarks and add their own thoughts about the current state of women's rights. They answered audience questions before Jean closed the event with a short speech.

Later Tuesday, Jean travelled 400 kilometres north to La Ronge, Sask., to attend a discussion with the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and a community cultural event.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

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THE CALGARY HERALD ~ Wednesday September 8 2010

Girl power sweeps Rideau Hall

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean and her daughter, Marie-Öden, joined by her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, at the opening night reception for Opera Lyra Ottawa's The Magic Flute at the National Arts Centre on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (File Caroline Phillips, The Ottawa Citizen)

OTTAWA ­ With less than a month to go in her mandate, Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean is squeezing in one last women's conference at Rideau Hall.

The two-day event dubbed Together For Women's Security is expected to draw participants from across the country as well as a number of prominent speakers including Iqaluit Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik, former politician and Magna International executive Belinda Stronach and Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose.

Topics of discussion will include the evolution of women's security and human rights since the 1960s, challenges and accomplishments related to gender equality as well as issues of violence, exclusion and stigmatization.

"The struggle for equality is not just a women's struggle, it is the struggle of every person who demands respect, justice and dignity," Jean said in a news release.

"I strongly believe that we have everything to gain when we give women the means to change their lives for the better.

"Empower women and you will see a decrease in poverty, illiteracy, illness and violence," she added.

Championing women's rights across Canada and abroad has been among Jean's chief goals since she took office.
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