Feminists across Canada gathered for workshops, film presentations and dances during the first week of March to celebrate what has become known as International Women’s Week. Since the UN proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1975, feminist organizations have gradually expanded the event, and many cities in Canada are now treated to a full week of feminist-related activities surrounding that day. Government funding is available to the organizers through the Secretary of State Women’s Programme.
The most controversial series of events were those planned by the International Women’s Week Committee in Ottawa. A printed 38-page calendar of events, delivered to Ottawa-area homes as a supplement to the Saturday Citizen newspaper, contained several events coded “for lesbians only.” These included a discussion of lesbian food allergies, a workshop for lesbian mothers entitled “Loving Our Sons,” a discussion group for lesbian daughters and alcoholics, and a political strategy session for lesbians sponsored by a group known as Lesbian Amazons. A panel discussion on lesbian diversity was open to “women only.” The issues of “how to get pregnant if you’re lesbian” and “getting pregnant without male partners” were addressed in workshops on reproductive control and sexuality.
Bisexual women were also included in the week’s activities. The “Bisexual Women’s Support Workshop…to discuss and discover our needs as bisexual women” was open to “bisexual and bisexual positive women.”
The International Women’s Week Committee received a $15,000 grant from the Secretary of State Women’s Programme to help cover costs of the weeklong event.
One session, sponsored by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), was aimed at discrediting REAL Women, who have been excluded from participation in the week for the last three years. Entitled “Lament for Patriarchy Lost: Anti-Feminism, anti-abortion, and REAL Women in Canada” the workshop was a presentation of a published paper by the same name written for CRIAW by Karen Dubinsky.
Norma Scarborough, president of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL), was scheduled to lead a strategy session on “Choice and the Charter.” However, ill health prevented Ms. Scarborough from attending the session. Abortion was also discussed in “an all day workshop on choice (in abortion) parental rights, daycare, gay and lesbian rights, and sexual harassment’ presented by Organized Working Women.
The International Women’s Week Committee sponsored an evening workshop entitled “Moon Circle,” described in the calendar of events as “Sharing our first menstruation experience in an effort to change negative experiences into positive; positive experiences into shared celebration.” It is not known how many women attended.
Goddesses and nuns
Other events scheduled in Ottawa included two “women and children only” dances, a “Goddess and Religion Display” and a presentation of the controversial film Behind the Veil.
The overtly pro-abortion, pro-lesbian and anti-REAL Women focus of the government-funded week was not lost on federal politicians. John Oostrom (Willowdale), delivered a strongly worded statement in the House of Commons denouncing the exclusion of pro-life and pro-family groups from the Ottawa event.
Similar activities were held across the country. The Vancouver Status of Women group printed 10,000 postcards to David Crombie commending his decision to turn down funding to REAL Women. Participants in the March 8 gathering in Vancouver were asked to sign the cards.
In Toronto, Carolyn Eagan, a spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics addressed a feminist rally at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall. She said the women’s movement can congratulate itself on the fact that Henry Morgentaler’s Harbord Street abortion clinic has remained open for two years. She criticized the Powell Report on access to abortion in Ontario because it does not suggest change to the “racist, sexist” abortion law.
Women in Ottawa marched on International Women’s Day carrying placards which read “Women Loving Women,” “Equality for Lesbians,” “FAKEness is everyone’s Reality,” and “FAKE Women.” The latter is the latest feminist comment on REAL Women, the acronym FAKE evidently meaning Feminists for All Kinds of Equality.