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Thirty thousand women marched on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill on October 15, 2000, demanding immediate action from the feds to end poverty and violence against women. Among them was a contingent of 240 French-Ontarian women marching behind the banner of the Table féministe francophone de concertation provinciale de l’Ontario (TFFCPO).
The March offered the Table an opportunity to raise awareness on the key issues of poverty and violence. In association with Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes, they created resource materials on poverty, employment and job-seeking, social security, globalization, mothering, lesbian rights, sexual violence, wife-battering, State violence against women, sponsorship, child custody and municipalities.
The Table also initiated a quilting project, which allowed hundreds of French-Ontarian women to learn, to discuss and to build solidarity in preparation for the March. Quilting squares were received from women throughout the province demanding an end to poverty and violence, freedom of choice, dealing with the pressures on immigrant women by their sponsors, education, hope, and women’s spirituality. The squares were assembled by the Union culturelle des Franco-Ontariennes in three large, vibrant and colourful panels.
A pre-March rally brought together French-Ontario women from Cornwall, Kapuskasing, Timmins, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Marathon, Geraldton, Hawkesbury, Hamilton, Welland, Windsor, Ste-Anne de Prescott, Alexandria, Casselman, Green Valley, St-Isidore, Sault-Ste-Marie, Ste-Catharines, Vanier . . . They came to take stock of national and international demands and to put forth their own demands to government on the bases of equality, universality, respect for diversity and Francophone rights.
* on the povertization of women: right to guaranteed income, implementing child care services, improving the labour conditions of currently paid or unpaid home care workers, access to subsidized housing, welfare reform including the abolition of workfare, EI reform, and access to education.
* on violence against women: access to services in French for all women, prevention and public education programs, children’s prevention, services to immigrant women, access to justice, reforming the judiciary to improve women’s safety, and amending divorce legislation taking into account women’s needs and rights.
* on the specific needs of immigrant women: educating service providers and the public about their specific needs, ensuring access to culturally-appropriate services, supporting Francophone immigrant community organizations, improving the labour conditions of houseworkers, ending head tax and administrative fees, ending spousal sponsorship and minimal revenue rules for sponsorship, and improving access to legal aid in family and immigration law cases.
* on national and international solidarity: abolishing the debt of the world’s 53 poorest countries, eliminating the trafficking in women and children, environmental protection including refusing to send Toronto’s garbage to Kirkland Lake, creating a women’s international organization (like the UN) and saying no to FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), decriminalizing sex trade related activities, and raising awareness about discrimination on the basis of sex orientation.
Participants who spoke at the rally supported these demands and the urgent need for state intervention. First-person testimonies included accounts of the dependency created by the sponsorship of immigrant women and of the incredible extent of violence against women: one woman recounted being told by an abuser holding her at gunpoint that she was “too ugly for him to waste a bullet on her.” One woman, then two, then three cried among us . . .
A hundred, a thousand, two thousand reasons to march . . . Seeing 30,000 women on Parliament Hill made me wonder if this wasn’t a rebirth of feminism. But of course, feminism had never died! Rumours of its demise – on the grounds that women now had everything, or that feminism was about a handful of women disconnected from their peers – had been greatly exaggerated! It was clear from listening to women’s demands and hearing their testimonies that equality remains a long way off. But the Women’s World March 2000 was an extraordinary moment of national and international solidarity. And it signaled the beginning of a renewal of feminist action, that in its accessibility and inclusiveness, will finally accomplish the changes we all need.
Ghislaine Sirois is the Provincial Coordinator of Action Ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes.