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99 Federal Steps  to End Violence Against Women - Conclusion

The community is alert to the bullying and violation of women of all races and classes (including an awareness of the differences of vulnerability among women) and is alert to the violent backlash against women's individual and collective progress.

Women's movement groups which are addressing the appalling status of women in relation to men recognize that violence against us is a method used by individual men with an appalling level of collusion from public institutions and the government, and recognise that every advance in the position of women as a group reduces the opportunities for sexist violence against individual women.

In the days of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, the early 1970s, the white middle class movement as it was featured in the media, neither understood nor participated directly in the fight to end sexist violence. Still, even as they lobbied toward legislative change on other important issues, little local anti-violence action centres were being created. Often they were staffed by working class women, numbers of them being women of colour, Native women, disabled women, lesbians and occasionally they were prostitutes. Beside them were progressive young students and women activated by the leftist movements of the sixties. Many revealed their own victimisation and used it as experience that could be used to help other women.

To the credit of those ant-violence activists, after twenty years of low paid or voluntary work, the federal government and all political parties now concern themselves with the ground swell of public protest.

Politicians are troubled that so many women and men desiring gender justice in Canada are alarmed, angry and reactivated in their search for social solutions to sexual terrorism.

One year after the public response to the Montreal Massacre, an all party committee of parliament 'gathered information on  the nature and extent of the problem.' From the many presentations of national and provincial women's groups, it produced a mildly progressive, though aptly titled, report called "The War on Women". The few useful recommendations in that report were ignored or denounced by the Conservative government. Even the title of the report was too much for the Conservative caucus and was diluted from a statement about the pressure under which women live to one about how women might emotionally respond to that pressure. The government's own position paper was called Living Without Fear. .. Everyone's Goal, Every Woman's Right.

But some feminists who presented to the parliamentary subcommittee drew their own conclusion: never before had there been so much agreement among us on so many issues. The theory and experience of groups of Aboriginal women and women of colour complemented, sometimes contradicted, but always enriched the presentations by coalitions of front-line workers. Feminist lawyers added their strength to the articulation of women's demands. White and middle-class presenters recognized the need to unify with less privileged women. Women, tired of retelling the stories of victims, analyzed government directions and policies and pointed to necessary changes. The National Action Committee that had formed to win the recommendations of the last Royal Commission was gathering speed toward the next. (When they were asked by the parliamentary committee, they agreed to support a call for a Royal Commission on Violence Against Women. Later they apologised for a lack of consultation with member groups and the rest of the movement).

Our movement struggles to broaden and deepen our understanding of the similarities of violence done to us, but also of the differences women face. Aboriginal women and women of colour had national organizations pushing the definitions, leading and reinforcing us all with the most radical demands.

Women who had shaped their adult lives by working with victims of sexist violence now held leadership in national organizations and carried that frontline experience with them. Eunadie Johnson and Raminder Dosanjh were executive members of NOIVM. Trudy Don was provincial staff of OAITH. Shirley Masuda was research staff for DAWN. Lee Lakeman was working for CASAC.

In the three years since those few days of briefs, there has been a rich exchange of ideas and information at the national level that has challenged and changed the practice of virtually every group toward a more inclusive women's movement united on many radical demands.

CASAC called for and chaired a wide consultation on the proposals to change the rape law that set a new standard for communication and alliance between women's groups and between the federal government and the women's movement. The nine national groups that were initially consulted by the Justice department supported that call and happily shared the opportunity to affect the government with the sixty delegates.

NAC, after years of pressure from women of colour, members opened its policy making practices with the Barrie Round Table to ensure the voices and influence of women of colour and francophone women. NAC was determined that as an umbrella group it should be affected by the opinions of those most subject to sexist violence and most organised to end it and that we should open our structures and processes to make that likely.

National groups have met at every opportunity and have communicated on this issue as never before. The federal  governments response to the moment was to establish the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women to 'enquire into the nature and extent of problem' and to 'propose a national plan of action'.

Women's groups quickly suggested that the panel should be composed of representatives chosen by and accountable to their national groups. By this time the women's groups were united in their insistence that women must speak for ourselves in the political formations of our own communities and in our own communities of interest. There was a moment of excitement thinking that national delegates of frontline workers might be given the budget and translation to meet and discuss and propose to government. Even the meetings would have made a difference. We might have leapt toward a better future for women in Canada. The government refused. Appointees to the Panel were not delegates but individuals.

They were chosen to look like a crossection of citizens but they were not hired to represent any constituency. Some had been frontline workers but were not hired to be accountable to frontline workers. And so with disability; race and class.

The Aboriginal women had seen the problem early and had acted decisively. With pressure on the Minister Responsible for Women's Issues, Mary Collins, they won the inclusion of an Aboriginal women's circle where the minister had suggested only one aboriginal woman as a member of the Panel. Slowly they took what influence and power was available to follow their own agenda.

The other women's groups tried to win support from those appointed, to be accountable, to fight for positions on the Panel for women of colour and disability activists who would be accountable. But neither the panelists nor the government would agree.

Government struck an advisory committee to the Panel and we again proposed it be composed of our delegates. Women's groups delegates would, in that model, meet and discuss and might jointly persuade the Panel members. Clearly this was a second best option. By not being members of the Panel women's groups would have no control of resources and no opportunity to speak for ourselves and the communities of women we represented. It was a significant loss of control over the issues. Even our compromise was refused by the government. The appointees of the advisory committee were a mix of individuals, delegates, and professionals, and were not invited to influence the Panel's work meaningfully.

Women, urgent for change, protested that Canada needed action not more research. After all, the $10 million budget was larger than that allocated to the work of the combination of all national women's groups. They understood and objected when the Panel was directed by the government to minimize the women's groups' role in designing a plan.

In the end, this disrespect for the collective voice of equality seeking women through frontline groups and our national women's groups and for the effective work already done, led to disaster. The government panel refused to accommodate the aspirations of women with disabilities and women of colour to speak for themselves through the united strength of their own organizations.

The report from the Panel was released in the summer of 1993. Canadians expected its recommendations would accelerate the process of federal reform to achieve women's equality and peace for us all.

But the Panel shifted responsibility away from federal departments by referring to provincial and municipal governments and to "community responsibility". It was easy enough to do by claiming that "we all have to take our part" and "everyone has a role to play". They used their enormous power to tell individual men and women about individual responsibility. But the Panel only exists because the individual members of our society and the groups they have formed have protested so loudly. The Panel acknowledges the importance of women's advocacy groups in launching the public fight to end sexist violence and then fails to recommend the reinforcement of those groups. Indeed it recommends the marginalising of those groups and encourages us to believe that professionals and governments can now be the best authorities on this subject. The government built a $10 million shell game.

Long before the Panel, recommendations had already been made for federal government reform. The government had only to consider what was said to it by women's advocates at every major conference it organised on the subject, in parliamentary committees and in all our publications. We have to consider that the Conservatives funded the Panel rather than implement those suggestions.  This paper gathers up and discusses those pre-Panel feminist recommendations and their logical conclusions.

We confined ourselves to those actions that require the power and money of the largest level of government They must now clean up their own house. Of course, we are all at work elsewhere, but in 1993, the women's movement is united in demanding progress at the Pan-Canadian level. In any case, the federal government now and in the years ahead will have to mind the growing consensus among women that systemic and systematic change is an important next liberating step in Canada.

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