What is it about a simple pro-family position which poses such a threat to International Women’s Week?
The question hit the headlines in Ottawa recently after R.E.A.L. Women of Canada was excluded from participation in International Women’s Week in 1985 on the grounds that its “philosophy” was “diametrically opposed to the goals and objectives” of International Women’s Week (IWW). Dare we conclude, then that the “goals and objectives” of IWW are so radical as to be threatened by a traditional tinge?
The even has its origins in a day of protest against the poor working conditions of women in the 1900s. In New York, on March 8 1908, women garment workers rallied together after the death of 128 women in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. A couple of years later, March 8 was proclaimed International Women’s Day at the Second International Socialist Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
It was only in 1980, however that a group of women organized Ottawa’s first International Women’s Week around the theme “Women and Work”. Held every year since then, the event has developed from addressing purely economic issues, to becoming a much broader political movement. Appropriately enough, International Women’s Week 1985 centered around the theme of “Taking Control: Our Lives, Our Choices.”
International women’s Week 1985 began with a march to Parliament Hill on Saturday March 2. Its purpose was to present the Canadian government with a demand list for the future. Claiming to represent all women, International Women’s Week demanded free-standing abortion clinics across Canada, full lesbian rights enshrined in the constitution, support for a United Nations nuclear freeze and more social programs. Also included in the list was the recommendation that all charges be dropped against Morgentaler and his associates.
On the following day, the week’s workshops got into full swing at community centres across the city. The topics included everything from “How to Become a Socialist-feminist” to “Exploring our differences are we straight or narrow?” a workshop designed specifically to educate heterosexual women on lesbianism. A session entitled “Return to the Matriarcy” expanded on the idea of a lesbian society. Communes for women only and a technique called “protogenesis” (in which women can supposedly become pregnant without male sperm) were discussed at length. It’s perhaps interesting to note that the latter workshop was sponsored by Gays of Ottawa.
On the subject of abortion, CARAL and Planned Parenthood were given full access to present their point of view. CARAL sponsored the presentation of two films from the National Film Board :Abortion Stories from North and South and Democracy on Trial: The Morgentaler Affair. Needless to say, REAL Women of Canada’s offer to contribute their own workshop was rejected.
The political workshops concentrated on “Women’s Struggle for Political Power,” “Women and Resistance” and such topics as the exploitation of nannies. The language of these workshops was overwhelmingly slanted towards presenting women as a deprived oppressed minority in league with other minorities such as the black, francophones and aboriginal women. The picture presented assisted greatly in convincing some that the “oppression of women” truly necessitates the overthrowing of “patriarchial structures.”
It is worth mentioning that International Women’s week 1985 was funded by a variety of organizations including the Canadian Government and the Canadian Churches. The Secretary of State awarded $15 000 to the event and PLURA(Presbyterian, Lutheran,Roman Catholic and Anglican), an interdenominational social action committee, gave a total of 1800 to the cause.
Is this the kind of movement our government and churches should be supporting?
Some of the participants in International Women’s Day March 9, 1985: Working Women’s Community Centre, Fireweed, CWC Local 50, WISCA, ONDP, Women’s Committee, Bob Rae, Leader of the NDP, Our Times, O.I.S.E. Lesbian Caucus, C.U.P.E. 1582, Action Daycare, Brain Co-op, Socialist Workers’ Collective, Food and Services Workers of Canada, (FASWC), Confederation of Canadian Unions, (CCU), Women’s Perspective, Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, Coalition for a Women’s Centre at U of T, CUEW Local 7 (OISE), Rites, The Web, Broadside, Ontario Federation of Labour, Ontario Federation of Labour Women’s Committee, Gallery 940, BC and VD Information Centre, Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, Women Working with Immigrant Women, C.A.R.A.L., International Women’s Day Committee (IWDC), CWC Ontario Region, Cross Cultural Communications Centre, The Ad Hoc Committee on Wei Fu, Ryerson Women’s Centre, NDP Gay and Lesbian Caucus, Latin American Women’s Collective, Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG-Toronto), African/Ethiopian Anti-Hunger Fund(a, women’s collective), D.E.C., North York Teacher’s Federation, Labour Council Metro Toronto, Women’s Solidarity Strike Support, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Uruguay, Union of Eritrean Women in North America, Union of the Unemployed, NDP Women’s Committee, Cruise Missile Conversion Project (CMCP), Revolutionary Worker’s League, Young Socialist Organizing Committee, OtherWise (feminist newspaper), Notso Amazon Softball League, Against Cruise Testing (ACT), Women’s Referral and Educational Counselling Centre,Congress of Canadian Women, Communist Party of Canada, Aids Committee of Toronto.