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As I write, from the basement of our Vancouver centre, this old house stretches to accommodate the summer load of almost two dozen women and children hiding from abusive fathers and husbands. Our equipment strains to handle the work of some seventy women volunteering to improve their community with crisis line services, public education, marchs and demonstrations. All expenses and salaries and house costs must be squeezed from an annual budget of less than $500,000.
In 1973 it was possible to believe that ignorance on the part of politicians was our main problem. Surely, we said, if they knew how women were being treated, things would change. If they knew how many women were attacked they would help. Violence against women creates the same effect as did the post slavery escalation of lynching of the American blacks, a powerful message to get back "into our place". We used to believe that once Canadian politicians knew this they would stand up for the 52% of citizens who are women. They would surely stand with the feminist civil rights workers.
For a while we thought they had only to learn how supportive the public was. That the vast majority of women and many men of goodwill understood and supported feminist solutions.There are still a few people who don't realise the extent of the problem but not many. We have only to remember the articulate angry young women in the streets after the Montreal Massacre or to see the thousands of women who Take Back The Night every year. Certainly no national politicians can be excused for ignorance of the nature or extent or function of violence against women. Upwards of 20 million dollars of public money has been spent in the last three years researching the question in the name of the Canadian government.
But in the face of that research and all that public protest the Conservative federal government pursued its mean spirited agenda knowing that public policy decisions were making the situation worse for women individually and collectively. And no political party has announced a platform of meaningful reform.
My attitude and work has changed. And my anger has been honed. I believe we can and must agree on the recommendations presented here or find better ones. Certainly we can accept nothing less. Politicians must change the conditions of women or face electoral defeat and public disgrace. This paper was produced with a couple of months work and a couple of thousand dollars. Very quickly and without much money. It's the sum of the expressed opinions of many women and their groups and not the wisdom of any one woman. It would have been much better if many grassroots activists could have met in an accessible space, from all parts of the country from all race and class backgrounds, with translation, to forge a common version of her story and of a plan for the future. But the government prefers to undermine the influence of frontline workers. We confined ourselves to what could be usefully done by the federal government. We think it is important to speak to the specific situation in Canada with our unique opportunities and vulnerabilities. We hoped that this document might help readers compare and consider the neo-conservative agenda and the feminist agenda. We hoped that it might blow away some smoke from the mirror and help Canadians choose a path and build a government and a society willing to advance the rights of women to live in peace, security and equality. For its usefulness you must credit the diversity and splendor of the Canadian Women's Movement. For its problems and weaknesses I hope you will forgive and instruct me.
We are a Pan Canadian group of sexual assault centres who have come together to implement the legal, social and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent, and ultimately eradicate, rape and sexual assault. As feminists we recognize that violence against women is one of the strongest indicators of prevailing societal attitudes towards women. The intent of the Canadian Association is to act as a force for social change regarding violence against women at the individual, the institutional and the political level.
Together we will provide a mechanism for communication, education and mobilization to alleviate the political and geographical isolation of centres in Canada. We will also support and encourage efforts to create a society in which all members of that society have the rights of social, economic and political equality.
As the only pan Canadian organisation of sexual assault centres in Canada, CASAC has political alliances with other national groups whose work promotes women’s equality and anti-violence. In addition to being CASAC members, many of our centres belong to the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), Canada’s largest feminist coalition. As a national group we are members of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), a coalition of 40 equality-seeking non-governmental groups whose work is to promote Canadian women’s equality at home and in the International arena. CASAC is also a member group of the Pan Canadian March committee, organising Canadian women to the World March of Women 2000, an international action initiated by the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ).