Montreal International Womens Conference
August 13-16, 2010, the Committee of Women of Diverse Origins will host the first Montreal International Women’s Conference with the theme of Building a Global Militant Women’s Movement in the 21st century.
The following was posted in French and English (link appears below).
Montréal, December 3, 2010
STOP ALL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN HERE AND IN THE WORLD
To commemorate December 6, the day when 14 women were massacred in Montreal’s Polytechnical Institute in 1989, and in protest of the violence which women continue to suffer in Québec, Canada and around the world, we, the Collective of Women of Diverse Origins whole-heartedly supports the resolutions which came out of the Workshop on Violence Against Women, at the Montreal International Women’s Conference August 13-15, 2010.
The workshop was attended by women from around the world; the conference brought together over 400 participants from 32 countries. It culminated in the forming of an anti- imperialist International Women’s Alliance.
We denounce violence against women, whether perpetrated by individuals or more importantly by states, as well as sexist and racist responses of state and society to violence. Whether women are assaulted by members of the elite or state institutions, through imperialist forces or by local warlords and even by men who are purportedly their male comrades within a progressive movement, all violence is unacceptable, unjustifiable, and has to stop.
We call for a stop to violence against marriage migrants by granting residency to marriage migrants who are raped and beaten by their spouses.
We demand that refugee determination systems recognize violence against women and sexual violence as justification for granting refugee status.
We resolve to demonstrate support and solidarity with indigenous women who are resisting the racist response of states to violence against them. (We condemn states as direct perpetrators of violence, or as indirect perpetrators through impunity, inaction when violence is committed against women from aboriginal or indigenous communities).
We denounce patriarchy as the common denominator in sexual violence and that is nourished, reinforced and works in symbiosis with colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.
We condemn sexual violence in all its forms, against women in the world.
We support struggles of women fighting violence, and against impunity or the marginalization and silencing of women who experience violence.
We demand justice for all women who experience violence. We resolve to promote popular education as a means to engage citizens in the fight against violence.
Women of Diverse Origins
member, International Women’s Alliance
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DIANE MATTE is a Montreal feminist activist. I spoke with her on August 15, 2010.
M: Tell me your thoughts about the conference – the whole thing or your specific interests and questions.
DM: It’s always inspiring to meet women from different parts of the world and hear about women’s stories, women’s struggles and women’s resistance. So for me, it is a very important conference to attend. It was organized by here in Montreal by the March 8th Committee of Women from Diverse Origins. It shows clearly the connections of women who are here coming from the diasporas from different places around the world and the connections they still have with their countries and the movement-organized struggles in their country.
It’s clear also that the main analysis comes from a very traditional left perspective. So I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t hear much criticism of the left or about movements or struggles against patriarchy. I heard some speakers address the question of women’s struggles as being secondary to the working class struggle which for me is a very old, traditional way of thinking.
M: People talking about choosing socialism as an ideology or a system – a socialist structure to replace capitalism and imperialism. Is that what you’re talking about?
DM: Yes. I believe that socialism is our best chance to change the world but I do think that very often the socialist analysis forgets to talk about patriarchy and the essence of the sexual division of labor.
M: Socialism is really the product of the mind of a disgruntled Prussian Jew living in the mid-18th century and has generally been a flop. Why would socialism be an answer for our future as women?
DM: It’s fair to say that some of the values that underline socialism are in agreement with the feminist analysis. Of course a more egalitarian society is one where you have re-distributive justice, and where the economy is not the central development of society. I think that there are a lot of good ideas and important ideas that we have to keep. But there are many examples of socialist-oriented governments right now in the world that have failed women – have failed people, really, and specifically women.
I think it is dangerous for us to go back to a simplistic analysis where if we fight imperialism, we will have solved everything for women. I think we have to address patriarchy inside imperialism. It’s clear that imperialism is a problem in a lot of women’s lives – more in certain parts of the world than others, of course – but patriarchy is also central to women’s lives everywhere around the planet. So if we don’t associate the two of them, and if we don’t talk about the responsibility of men, including men from the working class, to end women’s oppression then we’re just repeating history – where a lot of women participated in national liberation movements or traditional leftist groups and thought they would be liberated. And the day after the revolution – well….
M: There’s that guy who’s still in your bed when you get up –
DM: There’s that guy who’s still in bed, who still thinks that he can go and buy another woman if he wants, thinks he can ask you to dress up as a whore to please him. There are a lot of things that you haven’t solved. I understand the importance of the conference this weekend – more on the possibility of making alliances between women who come from different perspectives in feminism, as well. But I would like to have had a space here to talk about radical feminism.
I am involved in the World March of Women Against Poverty and Sexual Violence. I was one of the women who started the World March and it was from an alliance between socialist feminists and radical feminism that we build that movement which is now in over 100 countries around the world. I think we do have to bring together the analysis of the working class, of racism and of patriarchy but we have to work with them as the trio that they are – not as one being superior to the other. Otherwise, we’re just screwing ourselves, screwing Black women and screwing people at the bottom in general.
M: The leaders of this conference have been talking about the creation of a militant women’s movement in the 21st century. I’m interested in the use of the word “militant.” What do they mean by a militant international women’s movement?
DM: I think they mean more action-oriented than an academic or ideological movement or alliance. They also want to establish concrete proposals, concrete alternatives, concrete actions. I’ve heard them talking also about grassroots organizing and I guess part of the militant idea comes from that. Although you can have very uninformed grassroots organizing, as well. So for me, it’s important to have a very clear basis of unity and to address the main issues that we were discussing earlier – the notion of the inseparability of ending patriarchy, imperialism and racism. As for concrete actions, I think that a lot of feminist organizations, community organizations, or left organizations, are looking for a more militant or confronting movement. There are too many groups – NGOs, community organizations – that have accepted compromise with the state; have accepted to be co-opted, one way or another.
M: And how do you confront these things? When the organizations have been co-opted it’s certainly not going to happen from where they stand – or don’t stand, which is probably the case. Would you agree with that?
DM: I think that a lot of the groups are based on rhetoric only. There’s a saying in English about “walking the talk.” You have can have great ideas. You can claim that U.S. imperialism is THE main enemy. But what do we do concretely? In your life, in your communities, to make these systems backtrack? How do you stop them? And stop them in your own relationships, especially if you think of patriarchy. How are men actually doing something to change their relationships with the women around them?
M: When you talk about imperialism, it’s all about rhetoric. Imperialism is an abstract idea, where patriarchy is something that you actually live with. You can see it around you all the time if you open up your mind to it. I think you have to have some feminist understanding to begin with, to understand how patriarchy and male dominance actually operates. But when they talk about getting rid of imperialism without addressing the reality of patriarchal dominance they are missing half the point. It is men who run the forces of imperialism. They have invented them and their structures and plans to keep them going. So if you do not look at the patriarchal aspect of this, then it eventually becomes hot air.
DM: But it’s also true that for some women around the world, they do feel the imperialist actions of the U.S. and Canadian governments and other governments every day. If you think of Palestinian women, women in Iraq, Cuba – imperialism is also a material reality in women’s lives in certain parts of the world. Here we don’t see it that much. But it’s a reality that we also have to address; to denounce what’s happening in women’s lives. We have to denounce patriarchy but you also have to denounce the impact of organized governments.
M: You have to find words for all of these things and be able to explain it and make sense out of it.
DM: Poverty is a very concrete reality around the world and it touches women more specifically around the planet. The problem is that no one wants to look at it closely. What is systemic, what are the realities that are making more and more women poorer around the world? If we only look at the question of economic systems – okay, let’s have socialism instead of capitalism…. If you don’t think of it as something that talks about relationships between groups and power-sharing or dominance between groups, then you cannot think that you can solve poverty. You can only reinforce the poverty in certain cases, which is what a lot of the states are doing right now. But even organizations like the UN or big NGOs which are doing their projects to end women’s poverty don’t look at the bigger picture and how to change the realities that create more and more poverty.
M: Thank you so much for talking to me. I really appreciate it.
PHOTO by Marilyn Casselman
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Rajashri Dasgupta at the Atwater Library, Montreal
This interview with RAJASHRI DASGUPTA was recorded on August 15, 2010.
M: Tell me how you have enjoyed this conference. What kind of an experience has this been and what has been the most important thing that has come out of it so far.
RD: First, I was very impressed by the diversity of women that have come from various parts of the world and the commitment for social change. And the militancy and the kind of clarity many of them carry with them. I think these things have been most inspiring for me in taking the struggle forward.
M: An interesting point, because I’m still trying to find out what the “militant” is all about. The word appears in all the texts, press releases, in the title of the conference. Why is this organization calling itself militant? What does this mean?
RD: I think my use of this word, “militant,” relates to the kind of energy that comes with commitment and that they mean business when they talk about social change. It’s not like a drawing room discussion or an NGO – which I don’t want to denigrate because many NGOs are doing very great work. But here, some of the groups and participants mean business when they talk about social change.
M: You mean they’re going to fight the fight.
RD: Yes. They’ll fight the fight and I think the entire thing is because they see the linkages in their own experiences, their countries. They have a sense of the larger picture – the issue of imperialism – they can link it up to capitalism. It’s not just a local pattern.
M: You realize that in the second wave women’s movement in the 60s and 70s, the word militant was like a real firecracker. Anything that you did as a matter of fact – other than be a polite woman who deferred to men first and then set out your agenda second – was considered militant, radical, etc. So I guess times have changed, huh?
RD: Yes it has changed and I think it’s becoming very dangerous for any movement. Things become very comfortable, very polite. So it depends from which location you’re speaking. Even in India there has been major co-option of the left, major co-option of the feminist movement… and we need to bring that independence and energy back.
M: What is it about this organization that contrasts to what has happened to the established women’s movement? Is it the newness of it, the different places it’s coming from? I know a lot of feminists, mainly Westerners, but feminists from other parts of the world as well. Why is this group going to influence them – the so-called old guard? What’s different? What’s going to influence these people who have been co-opted in India?
RD: What I find very refreshing here is that a lot of the participants have come with very rich experiences from their own country and yet they are able to link it up with other struggles. Their linkages to the larger issues of social change, capitalism, imperialism. It’s not just a slogan. They can see the very direct linkages. And the other thing is, I think to have a larger picture is what is very important.
M: It sounds like you’re saying that it’s a new kind of politics – a global politics at this point.
RD: It’s not new. The left did talk about the larger picture but they left out women’s… people.
M: They forgot about women.
RD: We are talking about feminism – but not talking only about women’s emancipation but the emancipation of the people of the world. You can see how they talk about our own emancipation but in the larger social economic political context. There are very political people involved in this.
M: Thank you so much for talking to me.
Biography: Rajashri Dasgupta is an independent journalist based in Calcutta, specializing in issues related to gender, health, human rights and social movements. For over 25 years, she wrote and edited for The Telegraph, The Hindu, The Times of India, Economic Times, Women’s Feature Service and Economic & Political Weekly. She has written extensively on social, political, economic, gender, health, violence and environmental issues. She is on the editorial board of the Kathmandu-based Himal Southasian. Actively involved in the peace and women’s rights movements, she is a member of several organizations working for social change, including Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, Network of Women in Media (NWIM), Maitree (a network of NGOs and women’s rights groups), Swayam (a women’s crisis centre), Sachetana (a women’s rights organization) and Aman (violence mitigation and conflict resolution). She is president of Ebong Alaap, which explores innovative ways of disseminating knowledge and information in the vernacular. Awarded the Panos Fellowship, she exposed the unethical drug trials with quinacrine to sterilize women in West Bengal.
PHOTO by Marilyn Casselman
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I spoke to Parvin Ashrafi on August 15th about her experience at the conference.
PA: I’m very glad to be here. I’ve learned a lot from women from different countries and the issues they are facing. I will take a lot of information away with me which I will be happy to share with other people later. This is a place where we should feel safe to talk about what is happening to women here in Canada and elsewhere and what forces are damaging women’s lives around the world.
M: What organization are you with in Vancouver?
PA: I am a coordinating member of Stopwar.ca in Vancouver. I am also an activist and founding member of the Iranian Center for Peace, Freedom and Social Justice. I am a writer and co-writer of a quarterly Sweden-based journal. I write about different social issues but specifically I focus on women’s rights.
M: What workshops have you attended so far?
PA: I was a presenter at the Women and Religion workshop and talked about the impact of religion on women’s rights. And I was also at the workshop on socialism and national liberation.
M: What came out of those workshops? What do you see a the accomplishments and challenges?
PA: They were attended by a lot of young women. They are the young generation and perhaps see the world differently than their elders. Basically I noticed that resistance to what I said was coming from people who are afraid of being labeled as racist. I am shocked sometime when I hear people trying to avoid the real discussion and basically ignoring the damage being done to women’s rights in other part of the world in the name of religion, specifically state religion. But after the workshop, I heard many good comments from people who supported my position. And of course there were people who see things differently, too.
One of the things that I discussed in that workshop was that I am not here to oppose or resist faith. I am resisting organized religious institutions that have the biggest impact on the social and political lives of women. What I’m resisting is state religion and I would like to see the separation of church and state. Because state religion is constitutionalizing all aspects of religion and imposing this on peoples lives. This is happening in Iran. They are facing a sexual apartheid theocracy regime where the constitution is based on Koran teaching and people – specifically women – have no rights whatsoever.
M: How are you connected to Iran right now? What is the flow of your political activism between Vancouver and Iran. And when did you leave Iran?
PA: I left Iran 25 years ago because I was a political activist and the right of organization is violated by the Iranian regime. You have no right to organize yourselves – specifically as women. That’s why we have a lot of women political prisoners. We have voter activists who are in prison – and student activists who are in prison. With any activity challenging the government or opposing different government activities, one is faced with torture and execution.
And my connection with Iran is to the women – and to women around the world. I don’t have to live in the Philippines to understand what suffering Philippino women are going through. As Brenda Stokely said, you don’t need to live somewhere to know what’s happening. I don’t need to be stoned to death to know what stoning to death means. I don’t need to be executed as a homosexual to know how homosexual rights are being violated and to know what danger they face. I don’t need to be a mother and see how a woman has no rights of divorce and custody. I support women’s rights no matter where you live. And Iran, of course, because I’ve lived in the Islamic regime, so I am very clear about what’s happening. I support the women’s movement in Iran for democracy, for peace and freedom, for social justice, for equality and this is something that a theocratic regime can never, ever give to you.
M: Do you ever go back? Can you go to Iran?
PA: I wish I could. But there is a lot of unrest in Iran. People are on the street protesting almost every day. But even though I’m not there, my heart is with them. I’m trying to be their voice around the world. I echo their voice for peace, freedom and social and justice. If I felt safe I would definitely go there. But while I’m in Canada whatever happens here, whatever bill passes, if services to women are being cut here due to cutbacks it affects my life, too. So I fight back.
M: One last question – and I’ll go back a little in time. What did you think about the plan to institute sharia law in Ontario a few years ago? Around that time I met an amazing woman – Homa Arjomand, who spoke in Montreal – and I was fortunate enough to be there. Are you connected with her?
PA: Homa was taking care of this issue in the East and I was taking care of this in the West. I worked very hard to push that back and we won the case. My position was that sharia law has no rights to interfere with women’s lives whether in Canada or other parts of the world.
I don’t believe in a two-tier system in Canada. Sharia law has the biggest bias towards women’s rights and lots of women are suffering from it. That is why I opposed it and why we oppose family disputes being arbitrated by sharia law. Furthermore, Islam has different sects – which way do you want to go with this?
Women living in Islamic communities – they suffer the most. I’m an atheist, nobody can push me to go to Islamic courts. But these women who are religious, Muslim, are forced to go into this kind of family dispute arbitration and they definitely lose all their rights. Basically I am fighting for their rights and I want to make sure they are not suffering from Islamic courts.
M: I think they are very lucky that they both have you and Homa fighting for their rights. I wish to thank you very much for talking to me. Enjoy the rest of the conference and keep up the good fight.
PA: Thanks for having me and for the interview. I appreciate any opportunity to speak for Iranian women who are suffering around the world.
Biography: Parvin Ashrafi is an Iranian-Canadian activist dedicated to women’s rights and social issues. In Vancouver, she is active within the Iranian Centre for Peace, Freedom and Social Justice and is a member of the International Women’s Day Organizing Committee. She also works in the anti-war movement as a coordinating member of Stopwar.ca. She is co-writer of the Sweden-based quarterly Journal of Negah Research Centre in the Farsi language. She has spoken and written widely on women’s rights and social issues on radio, TV, in articles and in local newspapers. She strongly believes that women’s rights are human rights and that human rights are universal and borderless.
PHOTO by Marilyn Casselman
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OLGA DJANAEVA is the Director of the Rural Women’s Association, “ALGA.” I spoke to her on 15 August 2010.
M: Tell me what you think about the conference. Have your problems been addressed in terms of what your needs are? What have you learned and what will you take away with you?
OD: I participated in the conference for three days and I think it is great luck that I am here. I have attended women’s conferences before but I think this conference has a new quality – it has new approaches, a new level of analysis of global situations and the historical context of the development of women’s movements in all the countries. I think what is important is the approach and attempt to analyze what systems and what contexts may be better for women’s human rights. Because here we consider different political systems – socialism, capitalism. There were many discussions around this. Many questions were raised so we need to do further analysis.
But in terms of my concerns and that of rural women’s situation in different countries – in my country, Kyrgyzstan, we are in a so-called transition period after obtaining independence in 1991. Before we were part of the Soviet Union and as woman we had some benefits from the Soviet system. But since we gained independence and we obtained sovereignty, now we have more freedom for expression and identity and for recognition of human rights. Before this, we never even discussed this term “human rights,” what it means, and particularly for rural women. Many hardships had to be overcome during this time economically, politically.
We also realized that such systems as patriarchal society also create reasons for conditions of poverty, for women’s subordination and preventing women taking leadership in different positions and policymaking levels. And for us it seems like one of the main targets where we need to concentrate our struggles and our efforts. No matter if it is socialism or capitalism, we agree that this patriarchy exists in both systems. So we need to join our efforts and what is very important about this international conference is that we can not only share our experiences from different countries, but we can come up with common interests and to reveal the common burdens and constraints and we can also develop our common strategies.
M: When you go back to Kyrgyzstan what will you do differently? Is there anything you can take away and implement as a consequence of the new information that has come out of the conference.
OD: During the conference and in the different workshops, one of the priorities was more education and raising more awareness among grassroots women, rural women, peasant women migrant women. So the first thing I shall do is share what I have learned here. We shall also discuss all the outcomes of the conference within my organization. Also, I think I will organize a kind of press conference where I will share with the larger women’s movement in our country and maybe in the Central Asian countries. At the present time, we need new knowledge and new understanding about how issues like poverty and lack of access to basic services can be lost among the threats we have in our country – threats of ethnic conflict, war; the threat of losing our country as a nation. And in these terms I am very much encouraged to hear the voices of international women’s solidarity and the willingness to express this solidarity with our country.
M: When you return and get back to your constituency of rural women, what will you educate people about? With the new knowledge and new ideas you come away with, what do you tell them?
OD: I will start with concrete life stories that I’ve learned here. I was very much impressed by the story of women farmers here in Quebec. I learned a lot from Sylvie Deschenes (Comite de coordination, Union Paysanne, Quebec) – her philosophy and her vision of life and her attitudes and understanding about what a sustainable life means. That life should be in harmony with nature. Maybe to start with doing smaller things in our own lives – to change our behavior, our attitudes towards nature, resources. We speak a lot about the lack of natural resources – and all kinds of resources. But maybe we lack concrete actions. Just to try to do something concrete – to change by your personal example; to change the attitudes of your community and your family to some very small things.
M: Day to day – finding a better way to live your own life. As a model to other people around you.
OC: I think maybe we talk too much about global issues. Now it’s time to understand that we need real changes – in our own lives – and to pursue other people to follow this way of life. We need to create more leadership among women, especially among rural women. I think there is great potential at the grassroots level. And we need to bring this potential to the top. Bring it up to the surface.
M: I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I’m glad you have enjoyed the conference and good luck with everything you do.
OD: Maybe it’s too difficult to express all that I feel and what has happened at this conference in just a few words….
M: You did perfectly – and people will listen to you, no doubt.
Biography: OLGA DJANAEVA is one of the initiators of the Rural Women’s Association, Alga, which was founded in January 1995 to provide moral, psychological, social, material and educational support to rural women in the Chui region of Kyrgyzstan. She has a Master’s degree in sociology and is participating in a doctoral program at the University of Kyrgyzstan. Based on her own rural experience and aware of the crisis situation which many rural women face as well as her research activities on domestic violence, Olga became interested in addressing village women’s needs and problems. Over time, her interest and commitment to the struggle of rural women increased and she organized a group of active women in her village, particularly those who suffered from the new land reform. Since those early days Alga has grown and expanded its activity both thematically and geographically and it is widely known, accepted and appreciated.
PHOTO by Marilyn Casselman
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DOLORES CHEW: HER “FRAUGHT TASK”
Plenary 2. “Women’s Resistance to Oppression and Exploitation”
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Dolores Chew’s fraught task was to address conferees living in 32 different countries and virtually as many economic, political and social situations. In possession of a vast knowledge of women’s history and feminist thought and issues, her talk was about everything – global in scope, impressive in its scholarship.
Basically, her goal was to impart lessons from past resistance movements which she limited to the past 100 years – from the Mexican revolution which began in 1910, to the Chinese one of 1949; Central America, Africa, Iran and Algeria. These movements promised change in the lives of the women involved. “It was assumed that the larger victories would usher in change and reform in the status of women.” And did this happen? No; apparently because “gender specific demands and programs were rarely present.” Lesson #1. Don’t assume.
Lesson #2 was a whack on the ideological Marxist wrist. “Patriarchy was seen as a product of private property and it was presumed that the elimination of private property would result in the demise of patriarchy.” Did that happen? Dream on.
Ms. Chew’s next point was that the end of colonialism did not restore autonomy to those colonized and as an example of this referred to Canada’s Indian Affairs co-opting the Algonquin leadership at Barriere Lake this August. Lesson: does independence from colonialism mean the restoration of indigenous culture and leadership? No to that one, as well.
As for the significance of womanhood in resistance movements and struggles for liberation, Ms. Chew claims that there is a “conflating of the protection of the honour of the nation with that of women.” This, she says, puts us on a pedestal and denies us agency on our own behalf. The flip side of revolutionary reality is that women are used – raped, maimed, tortured, terrorized, trafficked – by the oppressor, by the state and in war. Lesson: what are the results of liberation movements for women? The answer: liberation movements are not mobilized for the liberation of women from male oppression.
The lessons she points to from the 60s are that in spite of the fact that the movements brought women into direct confrontation with men, the culture of the patriarchy has remained intact. And in the Soviet Union, while eliminating class differences, the patriarchy remained the same. Lesson: Can we destroy the patriarchy? No. Patriarchy, as Chew describes it, “is like a stubborn and crafty virus that morphs, reappears and reinvents itself.”
Another Lesson. Ms. Chew points out that “choice” is not all it’s cracked up to be. “That choice is a pernicious perspective that become a decoy for what is really happening,” i.e., the tangle of difficulties that everyday reality presents us. We are caught in the gap between our own sudden freedom to determine our own lives and a world that negated us not only as citizens but as people. It was never going to be a cakewalk – and so it isn’t. Feminists have always known this – except for the deluded and naive.
I agree with her claim that there is no division or dichotomy among progressive feminist women. “And it is this unique perspective that makes the way we work on situations of oppression and exploitation different from many others.” And with her argument against “what can be called post-feminist times; …with token reforms it is claimed that things are progressing favorably and it is only a matter of time when equality will be reached.” The litany of appalling conditions and treatment that women must bear all over the world contradicts this. The late writer and feminist Marilyn French said it will take another 300 years for women to escape the bonds of enslavement to male domination. So no, there is no post-feminist. The idea is comforting propaganda for those who fear losing power to women. And wishful thinking for women who fear living life as a sovereign individual.
Agreement notwithstanding, Chew’s argument about “the futility of a purely ‘equal rights for women approach’; that without consideration and attention to other factors that contribute to inequality there can be little progress” is underdeveloped. The statement “equal rights for women” is not only a tool but also an enduring mission. It has and does focus attention on women’s unequal position in society at large and subordination by men. But one expects to progress and feminist knowledge is an evolutionary reality. A living, widening, ideally self-critical and self-correcting category to which we all contribute and for which we are all responsible in keeping not pure, but vital. Truthful. No matter how many intersections one inhabits, women’s rights are distinctly what they declare to be: women’s rights.
Ms. Chew concluded by asking: “Taking lessons from the past, what can we bring to build resistance to imperialism and to the building of an anti-imperialist women’s movement?” Considering the variety of resistance supporting her theme, the denouement was somewhat of a non-sequitur but nonetheless jolted us back to the conference mantra: anti-imperialism.
And considering that the objective of the conference is “to discuss building a Global Militant Women’s Movement in the 21st Century,” I would imagine the answer to Chew’s question would depend on the leadership’s definition of militant. Militant resistance of what order? Revolutionary, radical, evolutionary, anarchic, other?
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Biography: Dr. Dolores Chew is a longtime activist and community organizer with the South Asian Women’s Community Centre in Montreal of which she is also a founding member. She is an historian and teacher and Research Associate at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute as well as the Chair of the Liberal & Creative Arts Department at Marianopolis College in Montreal. Dr. Chew combines academic expertise with grassroots activism and is one of the founding members of Women of Diverse Origins. She has been an inspiration to young women both as her students and as activists involved in fighting for women’s rights. She has been actively involved in campaigns against racial profiling and patriarchal violence against women. She is a founding member of CERAS (the South Asia Centre) in Montreal. She has written and presented extensively on issues such as racial discrimination in Canada, violence against women in India, and the oppression and injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
PHOTO by Marilyn Casselman
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DRUM ROLL by Cheryl Braganza
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ELENA MARIA DIAZ
ELENA MARIA DIAZ and her colleagues from Cuba are here to press for an end to the blockade, social justice for all people and for peace in the world.
I asked her if her government advocated a policy of peace and she mentioned that Cuba’s grand old man, Fidel Castro, had recently spoken to Cuba’s National Assembly about the threat of nuclear war as the U.S. and Iran butt heads over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In his speech, Castro articulated his concerns about the present danger: “In this critical case, President Barack Obama is the one who will have to give the order of this much-announced and heralded attack [referring to the saber rattling earlier this summer], following the rules of the gigantic empire.
“But right at that moment when he gives the order which, moreover, is the only one he could give, on account of the power, speed and countless nuclear missiles accumulated in an absurd competition among powers, he would also be ordering the instant death not only of hundreds of millions of persons, among them an incalculable number of citizens of his own country, but also the crew members of all the vessels of the U.S. fleet deployed in the seas around Iran. Simultaneously a conflagration would break out in the Near and Middle East, and in all of Eurasia.”
But Castro says that one man – Obama – in his genes, wisdom and worldliness can avert this annihilation: “Fate would have it that, precisely at this moment, the president of the United States is an African American, of Muslim and Christian descent. HE WILL NOT GIVE IT!!!, if he is made aware of it. That is what we are doing here. The leaders of the most powerful countries in the world, allies or adversaries, with the exception of Israel, will exhort him not to do it.”
Is this just another macho pissing contest or will reason prevail? Stay tuned, if we’re all still alive.
ELENA MARIA DIAZ holds a Bachelor of Arts and a PhD in Economics. She is a professor at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) and the University of Havana and is a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. She specializes in gender and social development and has taught in different countries and participated in numerous conferences in America and Europe. Her articles have been published in Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Spain and France, among other countries. She has received different honors in her country and was the program director of FLACSO Cuba and an Independent Consultant of the Upper Council of FLASCO.
PHOTO by Marilyn Casselman
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of the Philippines gave the keynote speech Saturday morning. At the outset, it should be noted that Ms. Maza is highly experienced politically. She is the President of the Gabriela Women’s Party in the Philippines and for years she has been a frontline leader in Gabriela, which won a million votes and two seats in Congress in the last general election.
Maza made her first point about deviations in the women’s movement. “…Thinking of gender as a supraclass issue, and the downplaying of the class question…. this is the mistaken belief that all women are equal; that the oppression experienced by women from the bourgeois class is no different from the oppression suffered by peasant women….under no circumstances is the suffering of women from the bourgeois and ruling classes the same as that of women from the working classes.”
Fair enough – if your audience is a bunch of Harper cronies or Republican wives. But what she is avoiding is where she and I part company: patriarchal power and male dominance are the common issues in all women’s lives. Personally and politically. Otherwise, why have a women’s movement at all? If you’re not moving against male power, then you’re just a movement. There are community issues here, but equally important, it’s about “our men,” which I write about in my book. See Page 100 at :
On this topic Maza says it is in the “imperialist scheme to create the diversion that the main enemy of women are men – not the practices, including aggression and war that imperialism imposes in the pursuit of profit and plunder.”
Enemy? You’d have to be more than a man to get on my enemy list. Like a greedy, thieving, hoarding, dominating, aggressive, meddling, in-my-face, onanistic, stupid, sloppy, violent, power tripping, warmongering, brain twisting, oppressive, expletive, etcetera. Then indeed, man, you’d be my enemy. So get in line.
Maza went on to discuss the greatest advances in the women’s movement which she claims took place in the Soviet Union after 1917 and China after 1949 and before both states reverted to capitalism. In her long paean to socialism, she suggested it as the rational alternative to a non-imperialist cum capitalist world:
“When liberated from the oppressive and exploitative system, and with the advent of a system that was non-exploitative and non-oppressive, the conditions were created for women to be equal to men, to improve themselves and to take part in the reconstruction of their country and their lives.”
Of course there was no women’s movement in China or the Soviet Union. Any advancements in women’s status were the result of ideological rules and regulations which could be reversed at any time. The same could apply to one’s existential reality, regardless of gender. Both regimes murdered their citizens by the millions.
Liza Maza wrapped up with a final call to “resist the economic, political, cultural and military aggression of imperialism….it is only when we can get rid of this oppressive and exploitative system … that we women can experience true liberation. This is the importance of us women building an anti-imperialist alliance.”
The goals of this alliance, Maza stated, are to educate, unite, mobilize and “raise the political consciousness of women, realizing that the cause of our oppression is the system of private ownership for profit and that under the sway of imperialism, our oppression is a class question.” That pretty much covers all of the problems of half of humanity – “and men” – over the whole globe and if this is feasible, more power to you.
PHOTO by Marilyn Casselman
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There are women here from around the world. It’s truly an inspiring international gathering of 250 women who are building an anti-imperialist women’s movement.
This afternoon’s workshop - Violence Against Women, was very well attended.
Diana Yaros, one of the founders of Le Mouvement contre le viol et l’inceste, who have been doing fabulous anti-violence work in Montreal for 35 years moderated the workshop and began by asking us to think about what possible resolution we might want to bring forward to Monday’s meeting, where the groundwork for the International Women’s Alliance will begin.
Diana introduced Rita Acosta, her colleague at Le Mouvement who began her presentation, Trapped: Female Immigrants & Refugee Survivors of Sexual Violence by describing work she does with with refugee women who are survivors of sexual violence. At the Mouvement they work on 3 levels – prevention and fighting back, political awareness and legislative change. They see sexual aggression against refugee women perpetuated by men from all categories: armed groups, gangs, police, and unarmed men. Acosta spoke of femicide as genocide against women, where women are targeted simply because they are women. She further denounced collusion from the state when it fails to protect women, labeling this violence against women a state crime. Acosta asked, Who is profiting from this violence? And how do we stop it? We need laws to bring an end to this violence.
Women who escape devastating attacks on their dignity by coming to Canada are often met with suspicion and unfair questioning. They are held in contempt for not denouncing their offender, yet women from Canada are not asked to do the same thing. Bill C11 the proposed amendment to the Immigration Law to accelerate refugee files does not take into account the women’s experience of sexual violence and should be thoroughly reconsidered before it becomes law. Women’s silence about their offenders is not taken into account and could have serious repercussions for women who are in increasingly vulnerable positions.
Next up was Hsiao- Chuan Hsia, a Taiwanese academic and activist from the organizing committee of TASAT the TransAsia Sisters Association. Hsia spoke about violence against Marriage Migrants- women who flee their homelands and are then faced with poor treatment in their host countries- Cambodian women marrying a Korean spouse or Filipina women with Japanese spouses. They are often seen as coming from the ‘enemy country’ as in the case of mainland Chinese who immigrate to Taiwan. Hsia describes the state violence that exists for women who are trapped in violent marriages but cannot divorce due to substantive citizenship issues - immigration laws that obliged women to be in the marriage for many years before they could become citizens. They would be deported if they left the marriage. Some changes have been made to these laws recently but marriage migrants often don’t have the current information, they don’t read the language and are served by social workers who do not give them correct information. Women also stay in these violent marriages for long times for the kids – to give them a place to live. To fight against this state violence, TASAT has put together the ANMORE campaign to share, learn and build an international movement. They aim to bring justice to marriage migrants who have suffered state violence and domestic violence and to scrap discriminatory policies against marriage migrants.
Ada Neth Venezuela Lopez from Gautemala representing the Union Nacional Mujeres Guatemaltecas or UNAMG started her presentation with a short video that spoke to the fact that violence against women was ignored during the Guatemalan Civil war between 1960 and 1996. Sexual violence is a crime that cannot be ignored and that women today must not forget about it or keep silent. Ada Venezuela described how the war had a huge effect on indigenous peoples. Women had been a big part of the resistance movement against the hydro and mining projects, against the system. Irreplaceable loss of human life- more than 700 women died during the war. The migration both of people to the US and also from the rural areas to urban centres was huge. Today’s economy is based on remittances from Guatemalans living abroad.
Venezuela outlined three stages of genocide against the indigenous people – in 1524 during the Spanish invasion, in 1871 during the liberal reform and then during the 36 year war of the last century. During this last war, ‘people’ were defined as the enemy of the state; any ordinary person could be disappeared. Sexual violence is a part of the war machine. Women were kidnapped, raped and assassinated. Guatemala has seen a long history of oppression against women during wartime. In terms of violence against women they do not make the difference between wartime and now. They try to educate and demand justice for women. UNAMG has organized a tribunal that is symbolic but has a huge impact on the survivors of violence during the war. It gives them the opportunity to speak about the sexual violence they experienced. She quoted a woman who said during the tribunal “I am not embarrassed to talk about what happened to me in 1982. They raped me, robbed me, took my baby.” The tribunal teaches people about their history.
UNAMG uses art – theatre, graffiti , poetry to educate. They work with young people and the media to get their message out there – to demand justice and equity for women.
Venezuela ended her presentation with a poem – To Women who Inspire. With that, she got a loud round of applause.
The last presentation was given by France Robertson, coordinator for non- violence at the Quebec Native Women’s Association. France was born in Lac St Jean, QC or Mashteuiatsca. One of main aspects of the association’s work is to break the silence around violence against women. “In our communities there are very few resources to deal with this and it remains a taboo.” said Robertson. If the rates of violence against women in native communities seem alarming, we can look to colonization and its repercussions for reasons. Robertson described how the Indian Act or C31 gives the power to the Canadian gov’t to decide who is native and who is not. “In the eyes of the government I’m a minor and I am 39.” She described the residential schools system in Canada where children were removed from their homes and communities and brought to church run schools far away, where they could not speak in their mother tongue. Children would return home for the summer months when school was out after experiencing their language and culture held in contempt. “This shame has been passed on to our kids.”
Another colonizing aspect or assimilation technique, of the Indian Act was the matter of adoption where native children were removed from their homes by social workers to be adopted by white families in the south. In Quebec, native communities few resources to deal with the high incidence of criminality and domestic violence that are the legacy of these practices. Poverty and poor housing are endemic to the reserves where native peoples live in Canada. This was part of the colonizing process. “Native peoples have our own system of government which disappeared for many communities throughout our colonization. Many decades later, white people coming into our communities are very much a reminder of what happened to us.”
There are 520 cases of reported missing native women in Canada. What is so alarming, says Robertson is how the police and media fail to acknowledge this. “Native families don’t know who to turn to.” Robertson used a horrible example of three young native women who went missing in Quebec in 2006. Around the same time a lion cub disappeared from a zoo. This got a lot of coverage but the women’s stories did not. Police did not want to interfere because the reserves come under federal jurisdiction and these young women were from reserves. The story had a very tragic end when the body of Tiffany Morrison from Kahnawake was found this summer near the Mercier Bridge.
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Tags: Bill C11, C31, France Robertson, Hsiao- Chuan Hsia, Indian Act, International Women’s Alliance, Le Mouvement le mouvemnt contre le viol et l’inceste, Quebec Native Women's Association, resistance violence against women Montreal, Rita Acosta, TransAsia Sisters Association. Ada Neth Venezuela Lopez, Union Nacional Mujeres Guatemaltecas