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Feminist groups back in business

Miriam Monsef. Photo: Laurel L. Russwurm

My ears went up in March when the 2018 federal budget promised to expand Status of Women Canada from an agency, to a full department headed by a minister (Maryam Monsef), and to provide $100 million in funding for women’s organizations.  Sounds good, I thought, let’s see what happens. 

Two months later, I searched online for Status of Women Canada, half-convinced that nothing would have been done. Instead, I found a pleasant surprise. 

Seems the new Liberal government must have re-booted SWC right after the 2015 election.  Although SWC  provided grants under Stephen Harper’s government, in general the agency SWC was “severely underfunded... underestimated, and in some cases, undermined," as Maryam Monsef told the CBC.

As reported online, grants were stingy during the Harper years, and grant categories focussed on employment. After 2015, the categories changed and the numbers of grants multiplied. 

Look at the federal government's pro-active disclosures online.  For  2016,  SWC report to the public shows dozens of grants to promote equity for women and for Indigenous grooups, including  21 grants in the 2016 Advancing Gender Equality category alone.  

Similarly, eight Indigenous women’s groups won grants under the Empowering Indigenous Women for Stronger Communities category. 

Familiar organization names pop up in reports from 2016, 2017 and 2018, in every category. Many women's groups disappeared under Harper. Others have have been dormant or limping along.

Among those who have won sizeable three-year grants are the National Association of Women and Law (NAWL), the Childcare Resource and Research Unit (CRRU), the DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN), John Humphrey Centre for Human Rights, Equal Voice, and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW). 

Most of SWC’s grants are for 36 months -- that is, three years.  For example, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity won $20,000 to develop a strategic plan and implement solutions to the pay gap. In other words, they’ll carry on with valuable work they’ve been doing for decades. 

Similarly, DAWN won $720,000 to develop the leadership capacity of women with disabilities and Deaf women in advocating for their rights to employment. They’ll offer workshops for employers and employment agencies about recruiting persons with disabilities. Again, DAWN has been accomplishing so much on shoestrings for so long, I’m interested to see it can accomplish  with secure funding. 

The National Association of Women and Law won $984,000 over three years to help women’s groups analyze legal issues and develop strategies to ensure more equity in lawmaking. Founded in 1974, NAWL has been operating with a steering committee for a while. 

In the past, NAWL reminds visitors, “NAWL has played a major role in the following milestones towards women's equality in Canada:
    •    inclusion of Sections 15 and 28 in the Charter of Rights & Freedoms,
    •    amendments to sexual assault laws,
    •    positive changes to family law and to the Divorce Act,
    •    rape shield legislation, and
    •    criminal harassment legislation.”        

I’m not entirely enthralled with everything the Liberal government has done. On the other hand,  I do like having a prime minister who declares himself to be a feminist. I remember thinking after the 2015 election, “Canada’s back!”  

As I searched for the SWC website and pored over the list of women’s organizations getting three years’ funding to build capacity in the feminist and Indigenous communities, my spine tingled. I heard the ghosts of the strong 1980's women’s groups saying,  “Aaaannd –we’re back too!.”   

Photo: Laurel L. Russwurm

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