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Only Twenty Years ago: Many of us remember life with no rape crisis centres, no transition houses and no women's centres. Twenty years ago when women were attacked, some women survived, but each was on her own to seek what help she could find among family and friends.
Wives beaten and raped by husbands had no legal or social recourse. Family members wanted to keep abuse quiet. Police openly dissuaded women from reporting, told them to stop provoking male rage and identified easily and boldly with the male abusers. Most crown prosecutors were ineffectual in aiding women either by securing convictions of their abusers or by preventing further attacks from occurring. Doctors did not know how to examine women for internal damage, how to collect forensic evidence and dearly wanted to evade their responsibilities as witnesses in court. Psychiatrists normally promoted compliance from women with theories and practices built on woman blaming. They claimed that incest victims were imagining the torture or causing it. Numbers of women who complained were institutionalized, given shock treatment and controlled with drug 'therapy'. Valium became the most prescribed drug in the world.
Social workers filled reform schools and
mental 'health' facilities with those daughters of the poor who refused
confinement in the 'traditional' roles for women. They promoted the
institutionalization and warehousing of disabled women and children.
Social workers, teachers, judges ignored and sometimes buried and
covered up complaints that the children were being physically and
sexually attacked by their teachers and care givers. Government designed
and maintained contracts with the Christian Churches to operate the
residential school approach to the 'education' of First Nations
children. Many of the trapped children and young adults were assaulted
brutally often sexually, at the hands of missionaries and priests. In
the seventies, the government turned deaf ears to the women petitioning
for changes to the Indian Act (the famous section 12.1.1B.) which robbed
them of Status when they married out. Battered women who needed rent
money to leave an abuser and applied for welfare were disqualified by
government officials who said they did not want to assist in 'breaking
up the family.' Government policy was to uphold the family, apparently
at all cost. Immigrant wives were deported for reporting the attacks of
their sponsor husbands.
"...the women's liberation movement of the sixties encouraged and inspired women to share life experiences with each other and for the first time, we as women came to know and understand the extent of our victimization. Through the process of consciousness-raising we began to analyze our condition in political and global terms, rather than as individual personal experiences."- Rosemary Brown, 1990
"Perception of the existence of
battered women as a social phenomenon rather than a series of
individuals contributed to the growth of a new solidarity among women.
Without the women's movement and the lobbying and protest groups that
nourished it, the problem of battered women would still be considered a
private, individual problem, as it had been for centuries."
In virtually every community, opponents used existing barriers or erected new ones to prevent centres from opening, to prevent groups from gaining access to public buildings, information and money. Politicians accused women of threatening the family, of being scoundrels and wastrels of every sort and therefore, not to be trusted with money. They declared these were problems of the city not of their town or community. If they were in the city they called them "American problems" or "problems of the slums" or of some other part of the world. They accused feminists of being unrealistic. Our financial demands, they said, would "bankrupt local governments". Shelters they said were institutions and therefore should not be allowed in ordinary neighbourhoods. Men, they said would "beat the doors down" and cause neighbourhood unrest or worse still in their rage at our making public and political, what was their private family matter, would shoot us all.
Local police chiefs pretended the lives of their policemen were endangered by feminist insistence that they attend situations in which men were violating women. Local clergy propagandized that feminists organized women only to get sexual access to them. They claimed our truth was emotional, anti-male propaganda. Administrators of social welfare programs and education facilities worried we would bend the minds of the poor suggestible women.' Social workers cautioned that women would "take advantage" of feminist shelter operators, that we would be exhausted by women returning to the shelters over and over again They called that a "recidivism rate." just as they named the repeating behaviour of criminals. We were "working against the basic theories of good social work". We were too emotionally involved and our political bias would ruin our efforts. The problem, according to them was "violence in the culture". Our houses and centres would offer only band-aid solutions to a much bigger problem. When these arguments failed they condemned women for being "our own worst enemy" by not reporting the male attacks to the proper authorities.
But women came to the centres, provided each other with safety and sanity, traded stories, assisted each other and filled facilities to capacity. Then, as now, each time local feminists established a new centre, women called. In the course of the last two decades, requests for help have increased each year in almost every centre. Women in rape crisis centres, transition houses and women's centres collected the stories and revealed their truth to each survivor and to the world. For those stories expose the brute force of each abusing man. Preserved and taken together, they illuminate a world where political forces sustain the brutality. While not all men chose to violate women physically, thousands do. The stories told of how men are armed to do so and how women are disarmed and made vulnerable by legal social and economic structures. Women tell us they call because they know they can talk to women, because they will be believed, because women's groups are not the government or social workers or the police and because they expect we stick up for women. They call for help, for public speakers, to give money and to help each other fight sexist violence against women and children. When confronted with statistics never before gathered, social scientsts claimed they are inflated, gathered with poor research and exaggerated in order to create either a career or a power base for personal aggrandizement. Nevertheless, "women's libber's" persisted in asking the important questions and recording the answers. Who did this to you? How did he over power you? Where did it happen? What did he say? How did he get away with it? What could make you safe now? How could this have been prevented? What can we do to help? Do you know it has happened to other women? Do you know what she/they did? Would you like to meet her? Feminists gave aid as we do still to individual survivors as a logical, humane and effective route to social change.
Our political decision to believe women has given us access to the truth about the social condition of women's lives. By rising to the need to hide one woman, we realise ways to hide many. By gathering many, we have reduced the need to hide. By acting boldly and publicly we identify ourselves to women who need contact and help. By fighting welfare agencies, police, crown counsel offices on behalf of individual women, we identify the need for policy changes for many women. By using our contacts with many women we win some of those changes.
These are functions that have not and so
far cannot be replaced by social workers, therapists, teachers or
police. Of course one woman complaining should have been enough to
precipitate change in policy and procedure but it wasn't and isn't.
Until it is, there will be reason for us to organise ourselves into
groups willing to stand up for each other shouting our joint reality and
our determination for a different future. Until then the functions
performed by feminist services are essential and irreplaceable.
Feminist anti-violence organizations were created to overcome social and political obstacles interfering with the efforts of women trying to survive, escape, protest and prevent male attacks. From the beginning, workers understood that male violence against women is both a force which interferes with and prevents women living as men's equals, and a consequence of the inequality between women and men.
The establishment of womens shelters and centres and the public voice raised by them began to have some influence. The knowledge of the existence of a women's centre has, more than once, discouraged men from beating or raping a woman. Sometimes the existence of a centre controlled by women could be used as a threat and deterrent to men. Men could be made conscious that there was a chance for her to leave, the hope of someone to speak out publicly with her, a friend or ally who would not be scared off or 'charmed' by husbands, and a worker available who wouldn't mind challenging the powerful by intervening on her behalf. Sometimes centre workers have intervened in ways which have saved the lives of women and their children. Without doubt, local women's centres have changed the profile of and attitudes toward women suffering attacks and have created options where there were none.
Along with survivors, advocates criticised, coaxed, and prodded public opinion, and they made it clear all women suffer the threat of violence, and that there was no adaptive behaviour on the part of individual women which could prevent the behaviour of individual men. To deal with simple ignorance and misunderstanding, local centres proposed training programs for professionals, recommended protocols for hospitals and police, suggested curriculum changes for schools and insisted that women be consulted in the social planning processes of city hall. Repeatedly they found that the institutions had to be pressured by public opinion if the changes were to be adopted systemically and systematically.
Feminists have mobilised large segments of the community to address this entrenched problem of political inaction. We can point to the unprecedented outcry throughout the country reported on radio, television and in letters to the editor in the wake of the Montreal Massacre. That outcry would have been less likely without the community level work going on all the time. Even the smallest transition house or rape crisis centre does an average of three public speaking engagements a week. They meet with other community members and groups, speaking about the specifics of the violence, about the relationship to women's equality and about the changes we must all organise to bring about social change. They hold public rallies, speak-outs, and media campaigns.
With other women's groups they've formed grassroots coalitions to press for safe and equitable communities. In the course of that coming together, centres were criticised by disabled women and encouraged to make themselves more accessible and this resulted in local centres supporting the development of disabled women's networks and organisations Aboriginal women and women of colour likewise, began to demand inclusion in the decision making of existing women's groups.
Although they had been workers and volunteers from the beginning these more marginalised women found racism also affected the women's movement and they were too seldom in leadership or authority. They fought for and won some positions of authority within the front line groups. They experimented with separate structures and services for example by opening shelters for immigrant women in the major cities They designed centres to eradicate the particulars of their oppression so that they could speed race integration in the larger movement while developing independent styles and directions specific to their points of view.
Meanwhile some agencies and professionals have begun to respond more cooperatively to local women's needs and demands. Nurses, teachers and their organizations have made enormous strides. It was the collective outcry of the women's movement that generated the original programs for men trying to end their violence and has mobilised the few men promoting change. And nowadays there are few government officials so foolish as to pronounce, as they once did, that there is no problem for women in their community. Each centre in the first wave of organizing in the 1970s faced the uphill battle of convincing local city or county councils to fund their basic operation. Many opened with funding from job creation programs such as L.I.P. (Local Initiative Projects) grants which had few strings attached but were very short term. To get more stable funds, groups were forced through a series of time-wasting hoops, such as "documenting the need" and proving that there would be no "duplication of services". Since there had been nothing of the sort to duplicate and since new services were full as soon as open, women understood that they were being asked to prove that other agencies, professionals and government departments could not do the necessary work and could be convinced to tolerate women doing it in their communities, themselves. Once over those walls, workers in shelters and anti-rape centres found themselves in the bureaucratic maze. Governments already had established ways of licensing and funding community agencies which they applied without adaptation to these pioneers. There was no willingness to encourage or even accept the difference between a transition house and, say, charity for the destitute. Collectivity was "a problem", public profile as women only resources "a problem". The refusal to professionalise was "a problem", in fact, inventiveness was "a problem". The few bureaucrats who became convinced of the usefulness of the new approach, were hampered by the cost sharing deals between various levels of government. To secure funds women had to convince each of three levels of bureaucrats, each level imposing different criteria.
Over the years, some women found federal funds in the pots called Women's Programs of the Secretary of State and the Family Violence Prevention initiative of Health and Welfare Canada. Those were never very large nor regularly replenished pots; nor have these departments ever developed a policy of intentionally adding to the organizing strength of all these centres as part of the Women's Liberation response to sexist violence. But even these are now being emptied by politicians who refuse to allocate funds to them. Women's Program, of Secretary of State, is cutting funds to women's groups by another 20% and in fact there is a serious threat that all funding to feminist initatives will disappear. "The fund used to spend $1 a year on each woman in the country, now it is even less." - Judy Rebick,1993
The public resistance to the cuts of the Secretary of State's Women's Program should have notified the Conservatives that the public is increasingly sophisticated in its understanding of these matters. Women occupied Secretary of State offices all across the country until the government reversed its decree. But this it did only until funding from the provinces was forthcoming. The public is still learning that dumping the funding of Women's Centres on the provinces at the same time as the federal government has restricted cost sharing with those provinces assures that the women in the poorer provinces will have fewer services and less advocacy available to them.
Forcing frontline anti-violence groups into total dependence on provincial budgets is a major blow not only to their budgets but to their structure and functions. It threatens to compromise their continued contribution to the progress of all women in Canada.
Since provinces are responsible for service delivery and not for citizenship rights, the new arrangement promotes the delusion that "one-to-one counselling" is the main and perhaps only work. Centres are having to satisfy provincial criteria like fee-for- service, a mechanism that funds the treatment/counselling of individual women on a piecework model. It is as if the only change necessary is in the mind or behaviour of the women attacked. Often, this is the only work paid for by provincial government contracts.
In some provinces, shelters are reimbursed only for the 'beds' used each night as though they were warehouse spaces. There is still no reliable funding for programs planning, self help groups or action groups, staffing, education, advocacy for women as a group, lobbying or even for house repairs. Nowhere is money paid for creative initiatives to change the system.
Instead, with the other hand, provincial bureaucracies punish feminist centres for positive drive; the commitment to women's equality makes them suspect, "too political". In practice, centres, are being encouraged to accept current conditions of life for women, in essence, to mould their centres into a new under-funded, "caring" bureaucracy that helps each woman adjust to the unbearable.
But centre workers insist on political action because doing so improves every facet of the job of rescuing women and children. It particularly improves counselling of abused women. It even increases the number of women, calling, because a public reputation as a centre hill of 'ordinary' women advocates, attracts women in need. In 1982 the B.C. Coalition of Sexual Assault Centres contract was terminated by the new Socred government. All five rape crisis centres were directly affected. The excuse given by the government was that centres were 'not professional' and 'Shoved politics down women's throats' and claimed that the Socred government would protect the victims, not from their attackers, but from feminists. The women of the coalition publicly described the, governments demand to have,and the centres refusal to give, access to all public speaking plans, to women's counselling records for government evaluation. and research. The calls to the centres from women needing help increased dramatically. In Vancouver the centre not only survived the cut off of government funds but increased its services. Some funding was reinstated ten years later by the NDP government.
The public will not tolerate a refusal to women's groups. But the public doesn't always see or comprehend the significance of the government efforts to limit centre independence and therefore the power-changing actions of the centres.
"Mainstreaming" is one restraint. This current buzz idea implies that the issues raised by feminists in the seventies are now the common concern of all the "stake holders' in the hierarchy. Women's groups are told they "don't own the issue- they just have the old pioneering expertise and now they should yield to the wonderful opportunity of sharing the work with the establishment. This argument first came to my attention during the Conservative government conference Working Together: 1989 National Forum on Family Violence in Ottawa. Participants were subjected to speeches from an Avon corporation spokesman and the Executive director of the YWCA about the mutual benefit in their partnership. The joint presentation, staged by the federal government was meant to promote the idea that women's groups should look to corporations for funding rather than to the federal government. Many women muttered from the back of the room that what Avon could usefully do was to pay the women who worked for them. Properly.
Since then we are told, as a condition of funding to secure "partnerships" with universities, police departments, corporations or professional associations for any project we wish to launch or even for admission into the funding programs of government. Women are encouraged to believe that underfunded local women's groups can expect to be equal partners with multimillion dollar institutions. Since the government is aware that the public is unwilling to spend more on big institutions but is willing to fund an end to violent subjugation of women, and since the conservative government is unwilling to fund women's groups but is willing to fund the institutions, feminists are left having to pretend that coordination and cooperation with conservative institutions will change the status of women. In effect the one partnership which does exist is the enforced partnership with mainstream institutions and professionals who are getting large portions of the funds allocated by the federal goverment to end violence against women.
And sometimes the funds which used to pay the expenses of the centres are threatened unless workers and boards agree to comply with new "coordination" orders. Some new sexual assault centre contracts require that the centre have an advisory board with seats reserved for police and crown counsel. Some have limited funding to existing feminist rape crisis centres and instead have funded Victim Assistance Program, which are under the direct control of the criminal justice system. Others will only fund church or charity employed counsellors who pose no threat to the patriarchy. And in other cases, efforts are directed to reducing feminist centres into Victim Assistance Programs by modifying their annual contracts in ways that limit their political activity, control their work and their membership structures.
Once counselling is isolated from advocacy, public education and organising then professional or para professional models and standards are imposed on counselling. The design of the relationship between the women working in the centre moves toward a class and race hierarchy. And the relationship between the women offering help and the women asking for help also changes to one of credentialed advisor and helpless victim. How can this be progress when the original model was of two or five or twenty women engaged in mutual aid and in changing the world for themselves and each other. When women are counted and observed in research projects rather than helped to organise and escape their situation, both money and time arebeing wasted and women's groups are left discouraged and ineffective.
Women's groups and centres forced into "mainstreaming" risk losing funding when they support workers or victims critical of the police, courts and the churches.
Does anyone think you can get the same
struggle for change on women's rights from a university, professional.
association, police department, crown counsel office or a church as from
a feminist rape crisis centre?
In the sixties, these accusations were used to undermine individual woman trying to escape violence.In the seventies and eighties, as groups, houses and centres formed, they were used to undermine the credibility and progress of each community. Now in the nineties, they are used to discourage the development of national women's associations and a strong independent women's movement.
The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC) was the first pan-Canadian organization formed to end male violence against women. In 1975, Ottawa and Hull centres hosted twenty delegates from independent rape crisis centres across the country. Since then, centres have been multiplying their efforts with cooperation and joint action. Together they have evaluated and influenced changes in the laws, psychiatric practices and social work protocols. They have developed theories and practices for work with women who have survived male attacks, as well as community-wide self-defence strategies and public education programs. They established the model for twenty-four hour services, and for mutual aid support groups. They introduced the rape evidence kits to hospitals, taught crown prosecutors to prepare witnesses, found translators and interpreters. They publicized the problems with the courts and they continue to create and promote reforms. And all this has been done without an office without national staff or even without a telephone budget.
The rape crisis centres and the transition houses together gave basic statistics and analysis of rape, incest, battering, sexual harassment and sexual assault to the public.
In 1977, transition house workers began to gather. Since then they have repeatedly asked the federal government to fund them to meet annually as one delegate from each house; not once have they been funded to do so.
Across the country women's centres are forming a national association. With an executive in place and plans to meet it requires only the funding.
It is certain that services and advocacy across the country would grow and improve quickly if organisers were in better contact with each other and had the benefit of each other's thinking. All of this work is still at a creative stage; women need to hear about each effort and success. Yet the federal government refuses all the basic operating expenses for any of these national associations.
It is also certain that groups of women are more powerful than women isolated. The refusal to assist women to group nationally can be seen as the attempt to forestall the gathering of demanding, united women at Parliament's door.
Besides the coalitions of frontline groups, there are other national women's groups which are important to the struggle for change at the national level. Even groups that had access to such funding have been cut by 20% in the 1993 budget.
The Conservative government has understood that women have been using the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to challenge some of the laws and legal practices contributing to women's vulnerability to attack and lack of redress in the legal system.
LEAF (Women's Legal Education Action Fund) has intervened in several cases involving violence against women and has used its understanding of the Charter to advise women's groups in our deliberations about law reform.
Several times LEAF has refused to express only the opinion of lawyers and has expected its members to act in concert with the front line groups. When women's groups met to consider changes to the Rape Shield legislation, Sheila McIntyre, Anne Derrick and Joanne St. Louis worked tirelessly to inform women of the legal significance in government proposals and to code the wishes of grass roots activists into legal language to put before the government.
This tendency to collective action had great promise for us all just as that power was building, however the government cancelled the Court Challenges Program, the only source of expenses to questioning a law or legal judgement witt the civil rights promise of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. No poor woman nor women's group can challenge unfair law without such enabling programs.
The Conservatives are also engaging in the destructive practice of funding short-term projects but not the national groups that generate them. For example DAWN Canada. DisAbled Women's Network, Canada has a substantial effort under way to work around the issue of violence against women with disabilities, funded through the family Violence Prevention Initiative. They are discussing with disabled women the connections between living with disabilities, the sexual abuse of disabled women and the inclination to suicide. However, in the same year, the organisation had basic operational funds so restricted by the same government that it was forced to close its national office like other groups, disabled women must be able to participate in the overall struggle for women's equality at the same time as they organise against sexist violence.
NAC, NOIVM (National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women), the Congress of Black Women, the Native Women's Association of Canada, Pauktuutit and DAWN Canada all have short term projects under way about sexist violence. While these groups are not primarily set up to reduce violence against women, they can make critical contributions to the facts, flunking and strategies. Not only are the projects to be celebrated but the groups that develop them should be sustained in any government plan.
The current attitude to national women's groups must change, a change that doesn' t require an increase in government spending only a reallocation of monies. It requires that every government change, alter its intent toward women's groups from one of defending the current status quo to one of cooperating to improve it. It requires that we, as a country, give priority to improving the status of the women who live here.
The federal government has several
departments that should be responding to the condition of women. All are
threatened. The Secretary of State Women's Program the main funding body
continues to suffer severe budget cuts. The Health and Welfare Family
Violence Prevention Initiative is coming to the end of its mandate and
is threatened as a source of affirmative action funding. The Status of
Women office is threatened with extinction as is the Advisory Council on
the Status of Women. All of these departments have strayed from the
original, purposes that were presented to the Canadian public. The only
sources of funds will be those that pretend that violence against women
can be solved by law and order or by mental health professionals. That
was never what women's groups would have recommended. But the
neo-conservative agenda requires that government departments and
government funding be totally diverted from dealing with the status of
women or totally eliminated.
In each case, the contribution made to women's progress has been a direct consequence of the influence (over process as well as sources of information) given to women and their movement advocates. (The Canadian Panel for example held only one open public event in all its hearings in the urban centres, meetings were organised through existing women's groups who brought forward women they were working with or had worked with.).
For its part, the Canadian Advisory Committee on the Status of Women has produced and distributed a number of enlightening documents; Wife Battering- The Vicious Circle (1980), the Report on Family Violence:Wife Battering (1982) and Battered not Beaten. Preventing Wife Abuse in Canada (1987), Sexual Assault in Canada (1981). It is important to point out that these reports were to a large extent compilations of our front line work. They were not reports of the work of the government or professionals and simply could not have been produced without the very work that governments have largely refused to support. Without us there would have been precious little for these government funded documents to say.
The judgements expressed in various government reports, while sometimes insightful and sometimes supportive of feminist initiatives, are only those judgements which passed through the screen of the existing power structures and which the government cared to make public. They were not necessarily those that we who do the successful work would have chosen to publish if we could meet on our own terms and speak for ourselves.
Several Ontario transition house workers contacted each other to cope with grief about the murder of women they had met in shelters. With discipline their pain was transformed into a comprehensive study called Women We Honour. They found that no one had researched the deaths of women in Ontario and therefore had not found the fact that women are at greatest risk of murder from their husbands.
Over this twenty years, women's groups both local and national have generally refused to participate in research devoid of action. Instead of counting those in need of rescue from abusive men, for instance, we simply set up rescue teams and then counted who came forward for help. Instead of debating what would be useful to women in need we tried to meet the needs that women presented and then recorded our results and adapted our theories accordingly. There has been a constant interaction between our theory and practice. But perhaps more importantly this process has allowed us to be always examining: and discussing the potential impact of any reform we proposed, on ourselves and the women calling us.
Take Statistics Canada's decision to phone fifteen thousand women in 1993 and ask whether or not they had been attacked, how often and whether their attacker was someone they know. The Survey is paid for by the Family Violence Prevention Initiatives of Health and Welfare Canada. We would never have designed such a project. At best it can confirm what is already known. At worse it can put women at risk if they are overheard answering the questions. Perhaps the results will be used to back up government positions. But, it will do nothing to aid those women or to group those women in need. lt doesn't ask enough about the power of the men, or about what might have helped them against men. It doesn't ask which government policy needs to change. lt will by-pass women with disabilities, women in remote areas, and avoid asking the race relations questions so vital to the understanding of women's plight Feminists were told not to worry about the women being contacted because the research program does, of course, give women a number to call if comforting/counselling is needed.
No group of oppressed people wants to be researched and studied from above in the horror of their conditions. We all want respectful assistance and cooperation to change the situation by which we are held down. Like other groups of oppressed people, women tend to give details of their distress to those who join them in finding ways to change the situation.
Anyone exploring these issues and open mindedly seeking solutions comes to see that violence against women and children is part of the oppression of women and that the Canadians most informed and full of ideas for the future are the women suffering sexist violence and who have organised themselves against it imaginatively and effectively for twenty years. This is Canada's source of expertise.
Women's groups are also becoming less willing to supply the official data of women's inequality while having their methods, analysis and vision ignored in recommendations for change. And along with the individual women under attack, women's groups are joining forces to be heard and to press for change.
Since the federal government has been unwilling to foster such unity, national women's groups have used the few opportunities presented by the governments own agenda to make headway. One such moment came at the National Symposium on Women, The Law and the Administration of Justice held in 1991. Of course women's groups represented a minority of those invited to critique the criminal justice system and how it works against women. Shelagh Day, vice-president of NAC, transformed an intimidating plenary of suited judges and politicians by announcing a hallway meeting of the equality-seeking Women's groups.
Subsequently the meetings were boxed into hours after the conference sessions since there was no formal recognition of the need of women to group or of the potential benefit to the conference if women would meet. Those caucus meetings gave new meaning to our understanding of unity. Women of colour fought for and won an agreement that all the womens groups would address racism as a material reality in the lives of women. Working class organisers, asked for and got cooperation with mending the original agreements to reflect the experience of and address the needs of poor women. At the end of -the conference, women' groups in united voice took control at a final plenary and presented several pages of minimal changes necessary to enact the legal rights of women. They built recommendations on everything from the compounding influence of racism to the wrongheadedness of family law, to the government practice of undermining constitution law by fighting every Charter based challenge.
The federal government has been replying to those demands ever since. If needed changes had only been registered by individual delegates in workshops it is unlikely the government would have felt it necessary to do so. And, perhaps just as importantly, each feminist delegate would have been deprived of the knowledge of women working from other perspectives and agreeing with her recommendations.
Caucuses designed to increase the wisdom and power of the voices, of individual women's groups have been called at every government conference and consultation since. Often the representatives are able to consolidate agreement and collective resolve behind their demands.
CASAC delegates approached Kim Campbell at that conference asking for immediate attention to the need for a new Rape Shield law. Their demand was incorporated into those of the caucus and the encouraging experience of the caucus prepared them for the next opportunity.
When the justice Minister asked for suggestions regarding C-49, the law she hoped to table in December of that same year, CASAC called for a movement-wide consultation. All the available information and life-experience might be brought to bear on the question of sexual assault law. Self-organised groups of battered women as well as domestic workers, lawyers as well as prostitutes, lesbians as well as women with disabilities were invited to advise to government.
That gathering was so successful for the groups that when Justice Minister Blais in April 1992 announced plans to table anti- stalking legislation, women's groups immediately called for a similar consultative process. When he invited only a few groups to meet for "an information exchange" rather than a consultation, the women's groups protested. They wanted to see the plan, to know that the government intended to use what had already been learned in changing the rape law, to know that the new law would help all women and they wanted reassurance that any new law would be enforced since existing laws are not. But in any case they refused to speak for the women who had been left out. They demanded meaningful consultation with the fall list of women's groups created during the Bill C-49 consultation.
1. In 1993, the women
of Canada insist there be independent, women controlled, rape crisis
centres and transition houses and women's centres in every community in