Vancouver International Women's Day 2008 - A Big Success!
IWD Committee Organizes Successful Day of Action
By Nita Palmer
The Global Struggle for Women’s Rights in 2008
For women around the world, coming together to mark this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) was more important than ever, as women’s rights are coming under more and more attack both locally and internationally. In BC for example, women’s services have been slashed by the BC Liberal government, which cut 100% of the funding to women’s centres in 2004. This same government has cut funding to social housing programs which many women, especially single mothers, rely on. According to a 2003 Statistics Canada survey, 42% of single mothers have trouble finding affordable housing for their families.
Women across Canada are reminded every day that the struggle for our rights is not over, with 51% of our sisters experiencing at least one act of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime (Statistics Canada). We still earn, on average, only 72.5 cents for every dollar a man earns (BC Federation of Labour). Despite these factors, in 2007 the Government of Canada removed the goal of “women’s equality” from the mandate of the government agency “Status of Women Canada”, claiming that women in Canada had already achieved equality. Our long-fought-for right to access abortion if we so choose, is also being threatened by the “Unborn Victims of Crime Act” (C-484), which, if passed in parliament, will give fetuses a type of legal ‘personhood’, paving the way for anti-abortion legislation. The situation for Indigenous women in Canada is even worse. At least five hundred Indigenous women have gone missing or have been murdered across Canada, and the number of Indigenous women who die as a result of violence is three times higher than the Canadian average (Health Canada).
Internationally, the situation of women’s rights is no better. In Latin America, 70% of women suffer from domestic violence. In Asia, millions of women are forced into prostitution out of economic necessity. Across Africa, an estimated 130 million girls and women are affected by female genital mutilation. One out of every five women in Europe has been a victim of violence inflicted by her partner. Women are also the first to suffer from the brutal wars and occupations being carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. 15% of Iraqi women whose husbands have been killed by war are forced into prostitution to survive; and increasing numbers of Iraqi girls are victims of sex trafficking. Despite claims they are being “liberated” by Canada and the US, Afghan women face increasing levels of domestic violence, and a soaring maternal mortality rate of 1,600 deaths per 100,000 births (UNICEF).
With these increasing attacks on women, IWD 2008 was an important day for women to raise our voices with our sisters around the world to say “we will not stop fighting for our rights”. Historically and today, this is an important day to celebrate our rights, our dignity and our sisterhood; but also to come together to fight for the many, many rights we are still denied. Although the fight for women’s rights continues every day, International Women’s Day is one day a year for us to come together and reflect on the past year of struggle and reaffirm our commitment for the struggle for women’s liberation for the years to come.
Not an Easy Road
All around the world, women held marches, rallies, cultural events and celebrations to mark International Women’s Day. In Vancouver, a series of successful and informative events were hosted on March 8 by the Vancouver International Women’s Day Committee, which has been organizing in Vancouver for nearly 20 years.
However, despite the big success of IWD 2008, organizing for this year’s IWD was not as smooth as it seems from the below report on the day’s events. One challenge that we face in the women’s movement is the struggle against bourgeois feminist, ultra-leftist and Islamophobic tendencies. It is politically important to mention some of these challenges which the IWD committee in Vancouver faced this year, as a learning experience for other IWD committees around the world which may face the same problems. The IWD committee began meeting in early October and by the beginning of February had a series of events planned. But just one month before the IWD events, a small group of women began attending meetings with the goal of taking over IWD in Vancouver to focus solely on condemning the government of Iran for their treatment of women. This minority group, with their anti-Iran and anti-Islam agenda, was defeated by the majority of women who felt that focusing on women’s rights in Iran only, ignores the women’s rights abuses and the struggle for women’s rights taking place in 193 other countries around the world. Furthermore, organizers also felt that condemning Islam (and other religions as well) for oppressing women would only serve to isolate religious women, who have as much right to participate in IWD as non-religious women. International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women, our ongoing struggles, our victories, our dignity and our rights. To build the struggle for women’s rights, we must unite internationally, regardless of our background, our age, our religion, our sexual orientation, or any of the other things that too often divide us.
A Successful March + Rally
Regardless of the challenges faced by the IWD committee, on March 8th 2008, hundreds of women in Vancouver proudly celebrated International Women's Day alongside their sisters around the world.
In the morning more than 250 women, men and children joined the march and rally from the Women’s Monument at Thornton Park to Victory Square. The chanting was loud and the flags, banners and signs were held high as the energetic crowd took to the streets under the theme of "Women of the World Unite Against War & Poverty". Stories about the IWD march and rally were carried on Working TV, CTV, and in the Langara Voice newspaper.
When the march reached Victory Square, Payvand Pejvack and Rosa Arteaga, IWD Committee organizers and MCs of the rally, welcomed everyone and explained the importance of IWD and necessity of building unity in action between women across Canada and around the world. They explained how this fight for unity and rights is becoming more important in this time of world-wide attack on women’s rights.
The rally was opened with a song by Coast Salish elder, Kelly White. The woman invited to represent women's struggle locally was Kat Norris, coordinator of the Indigenous Action Movement. Kat spoke powerfully about the struggle for women’s rights in BC, including the struggle for housing, the struggle against poverty, and particularly the struggle for Indigenous women’s rights. “We shouldn’t have to stand here yelling for our rights. We shouldn’t still be struggling, but that’s what we have to do. And as long as we do, change is going to happen!” Kat said to a cheering crowd. Rosa Quiero of the Solidarity Coalition for a United Latin America spoke about women abroad, focusing specifically on the situation of women in Latin America. IWD Coordinating Committee member Kerri Goodwin read the 2008 IWD address (also featured on this page). At the end of the rally all women and men promised to come back next year, even stronger and more dynamic, to celebrate International Women's Day and continue the struggle for women's rights and for a better world for men and women alike.
After the rally, participants visited the IWD info fair at the BCIT downtown campus. The room was full with the participation of 21 women's groups, labour unions, NGOs, and grassroots organizations. These groups represented many of the women’s rights struggles today, such as struggles for pay equity, for abortion rights, for universal childcare and against violence against women. Participants had the chance to get involved in further organizing and activities for women’s rights and social justice throughout the year.
Just a few hours after the closing of the information fair, a program of politics, music and dance entertained and inspired around 100 people, the majority of whom were women, at the IWD 2008 Celebration held at Trout Lake Community Centre. The evening featured performances by amazing women artists, featuring acoustic guitar, drumming, hip hop, Latin American folk dancing and finally a 5-piece Cuba-inspired salsa band. The evening ended off with dancing to world music and inspiration to continue the next year of fight for women's rights, justice and equality!
The IWD 2008 Organizing Committee would like to thank all the women and organizations who helped make IWD 2008 a success. For more information or to get involved in planning for IWD 2009, contact the IWD committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-780-7604.
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