2004 - PAR-L's Ninth Year: In Review / 2004 : Notre neuviève revue annuelle

Monday, July 26 2010

Women's history is rarely linear and more often cyclical. We have a sense, as we write our ninth year in review on PAR-L, that the past year has seen at least as many set-backs for the women's movement as advances. (PAR-L years run between International Women's Days.) For example, in different postings and threads, yet another national women's organization, LEAF, was described as "listing"; the UN review of CEDAW pointed out Canada's failure to deal with Aboriginal women's poverty; Rosemary Brown, pioneer Black woman politician and activist, died; and Michele Landsberg, fearless feminist journalist, retired--both without obvious successors. Moreover, we are not at all sure that PAR-L, at least under the current dispensation, can survive much beyond another year; our grants--stretched out as long as possible so as to cover one more year--came from SSHRC's Women and Change program, which no longer exists.

Some of you will remember March 8, 1995, when PAR-L came into being, the first bilingual feminist online forum in Canada, launched from the former Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women three weeks before Paul Martin, then Minister of Finance, eliminated the CACSW's $3.5 million budget in the name of deficit reduction. As Liberal party leader, now looking back, he has admitted that the reduction of the economic deficit in certain respects led to a social deficit. Yet no one seems to connect the dots. By eliminating funding to organizations like the arms-length government agency CACSW and grassroots women's groups such as NAC, the federal government took out some central planks in the scaffolding of Canadian social justice. Judy Rebick, a former NAC president who has channelled her energy into online organizing, sent us a message with the urgent subject header: "Please keep Rabble going." As many postings from our west coast sisters have made clear, Campbells cuts in BC are eroding women's equality--as are changes to daycare fees in Quebec, so that at the provincial level, too, things are getting not better, but stagnating or even getting worse. Not on PAR-L, of course, which recently surpassed the 1,400 mark for subscribers, and posted nearly 1,500 messages in the past twelve months. We thank and salute you, each and every group or individual subscriber.

Canada is no longer ranked first in the world on the UN's Human Development Index--as we so often were in the 1990s, but rather eighth. We have a report of Canada's leading the way, in terms of working for women's equality abroad (e.g. Minister Susan Whelan's announcement of $10.4 million to seven South-east Asian countries), but of failing to make progress or indeed of losing ground at home. One issue that concerned a number of PAR-L members, including the two co-moderators, is the unacceptably small number of women appointed to the prestigious

billion-dollar Canada Research Chairs program--in the course of the past year, the percentage has shifted from 16% to 17%--and there continues to be no data available on any other equity group, all of them protected from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. A human rights complaint is underway against Industry Canada, the chief provider of this service to Canadians.

There are some notable exceptions to this rather unimpressive early 21st-century record. One of the top social issues of 2003-04 was the recognition of same-sex marriages in Canada, a result of courts striking down of bans in several provincial jurisdictions, starting in BC last May, so that the common law definition of marriage is now understood to mean "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others." And several calls to action on PAR-L were for support of Bill C250, a private members bill to add sexual orientation to the list of included grounds under the hate propaganda legislation in Canada.

Of major international importance and a source of deep pride at home, to antiwar feminists, Femmes pour la Paix, and others, was outgoing Prime Minister Jean Chretien's decision to keep Canada out of the Bush/Blair war in Iraq. With Paul Martin's assumption of the Liberal leadership came the appointment of 11 women to Cabinet, the biggest number yet, but still a disappointing percentage: 11 out of 39. We also noted, citing Statistics Canada data, that university enrollments by women in engineering (23%) and in math and physical sciences (30%) were on the rise, and we noted as well the innovative Université féministe d'été at the Université Laval.

International achievements for women noted on PAR-L included the achievement of gender parity--a record--in the Welsh assembly; the setting free on appeal of Amina Lawal, condemned initially to death by stoning under Sharia law in Nigeria; and, the selection of Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer, and not the Pope, as widely predicted, for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2003.

Good ideas that were brainstormed on PAR-L this year were the possibility of creating a women's museum for Canada, as well as a "Canada for Feminists" tourist guide book. There were thoughtful exchanges on the pros and cons of women only research, of same-sex marriage and/or civil unions. And there were bulletins on dangerous medical issues such as the outbreak of SARS in Toronto, and an update on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) one year after the treatment was shown to be linked to negative results, including breast cancer of a particularly pernicious variety.

The new technology itself was discussed, including such themes as e-government and a virtual department for seniors; the ongoing success of such women-friendly spaces as the Hot Peach Pages, coolwomen, AVIVA, In Cahoots, Brigit's Notes from CWHN, and thirdspace, an e-zine from Vancouver. However, on the downside, for a time it seemed that email petitions to save Amina Lawal might be backfiring, and some people noted the potential safety hazard of electronic posting of addresses of women's shelters. On a personal note, PAR-L was used to share information about ne of the co-moderators being hit by a car, which led to an extraordinary outpouring of good wishes. "There are thousands of women in Canada wishing you well, and I am one of them," said one unforgettable message sent privately.

As our own survey demonstrated, and as we all experience it from time to time, the Internet does not magically erase social, cultural, and economic differences. Rather, it provides a forum where these differences and their implications for social life can be expressed, debated, and acted upon. The PAR-L Partners have grown in number, and PAR-L NIOUZES 5, which will appear on PAR-L shortly, will demonstrate the commendable activity and vibrancy of their research.

So, in sum, perhaps we can take comfort and pride in the year past, and not feel too unsettled about the future. As Pat Schroeder, the US Congresswoman once noted, "You can't wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time. Pick one."

Wendy Robbins, Michele Ollivier, co-moderators, with Jenn Brayton, Diane Beauregard, Julie Guéette, Zefe Osime, and Robin Sutherland.

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