The principle of erosion holds that over time, forces of nature will erode even the most calloused of surfaces. Soft layers erode faster than hard layers. But the world and its atmosphere are unpredictable, the barriers to women’s equality can hardly be deemed soft, and social justice does not adhere to any precise law of science.
In the spring of 2004, a determined group of national women’s organizations undertook to tamper with nature to try to force some real political change. Making no assumptions about the inevitability of change, the Coalition for Women’s Equality (CWE) launched a pan-Canadian campaign to call attention to women’s equality issues during the federal election. Funded by Status of Women Canada and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the campaign seemed to tap into the political disenfranchisement and frustration of women and our struggling movement for equality. What resulted was an energetic, if not surprising, surge of support and activity right across the country.
While the polls bounced, the CWE campaign shook. For such a modest and brief campaign, it managed to cause quite a stir.
Influencing the discourse
Numerous studies have indicated that men favour tax cuts and military spending while women tend to support government investment in social programs and environment, yet politicians and pundits prefer to frame voting differences in terms of region, language, incomes or interests. So let us make no mistake, political discourse in Canada is indeed gendered. Many agree that the political gender gap in Canada is growing. Hardly remarkable, if this year’s federal election is any indication: never has it been more apparent that an erosion of mindsets has yet to occur before issues of importance to women become integral components of the overall political discourse.
Internet, agent of change
Given limitations of time and resources, the CWE chose to make its website the hub of its campaign. The CWE information and communications strategies were primarily electronic, making the CWE campaign a key part of the virtual community mobilizing on-line to advance progressive agendas during the election.
Launched on June 2nd, the CWE campaign website rapidly became one of the most popular electoral resources in Canada, receiving nearly 125,000 “hits” in its first two weeks. On the day of the English-language leaders’ debate, the site received 21,000 hits, roughly double the average number of daily hits to a website of a typical non-governmental organization. By the end of the short campaign, the total volume of traffic had climbed to a startling half-million hits. Remarkably, traffic to the site continues at a steady pace long after the ballots were destroyed.
A pan-Canadian media strategy was run through the website, with wildfire effects that had dozens of groups around the country simultaneously issuing similar or identical press releases at several points during the campaign.
In addition, a wealth of links provided supporters with portals to allied organizations, campaigns and electoral resources.
A core amount of original material was made available on-line while supplementary resources were sought and promoted through the CWE site. The CWE produced a series of media documents, party platform analyses, and of course, “Still in Shock”, a long-awaited follow-up to the “Shocking Pink” paper, a popular mobilizing and lobbying tool during the 1993 federal election. “Still in Shock” showcased fourteen key issues affecting diverse women throughout Canada, including poverty, discrimination, pay equity, custody and access, political representation, immigration and refugee issues, violence, technology, Aboriginal women and housing.
“Still in Shock” made its way into all-candidate debates in communities around Canada, into the hands of national party leaders and their esteemed campaign staff, as well as to journalists on the election beat. It may be small, but the booklet has the potential to make a sizeable impact as an historic document symbolizing the steps made toward women’s equality in Canada and the long way yet to go.
More to do
The member organizations of the CWE are presently engaged in discussions as a coalition, as well as with sister groups, about how to honour and build upon the momentum created by the campaign.
Whatever comes next is coming fast. Why? Two urgent reasons: (1) the renewed energy among equality-seeking women’s groups and supporters is ripe and primed; and (2) timing is everything, and the precarious nature of the political landscape implores our swift and strategic political action.
Feedback and involvement is welcome. For further information, visit www.canadaelection.net or contact NAWL or any of the CWE member organizations (a full list is available on the website).
They say that the only thing one can count on is change. And when change is so long overdue in terms of women’s equality and full enjoyment of women’s rights in Canada, is it any wonder that we would attempt to hurry it along?
Pam Kapoor was the coordinator of the 2004 CWE election campaign and freelances as a campaigner and communications consultant.