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Dear Sisters and Brothers:

For over 100 years, International Women’s Day has been marked throughout the world on March 8. In 1909, women marched through the streets of New York, calling for shorter working hours, better pay, and voting rights. The next year, delegates at the Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen unanimously agreed to establish an international Women’s Day, to honour the movement for women’s rights and call for universal suffrage. 

We might hope that after all this time this movement would no longer be necessary. This is certainly what right-wing governments want us to believe. But most Canadians aren’t fooled. Since Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took power in 2006, women’s equality has been under attack. Many of us have seen the long lists of all the ways the Harper Conservatives have threatened the equality of women and other marginalized groups, all the organizations that have lost funding, and all the oppressive bills introduced into the House of Commons.

It’s hard to keep track of, so here’s a few lowlights from 2012:

  • The elimination of the long gun registry: Despite the fact that firearm regulation has dramatically reduced gun deaths in Canada and despite pleas from two-thirds of Canadians, the Conservative government quickly passedlegislation to eliminate the long-gun registry. All of the data was destroyed with the exception of Quebec’s. The Quebec government managed to get a court ruling preventing Harper from destroying their data.
  • Attacks on women’s right to choose: Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth introduced a private member’s bill, Motion 312, to re-examine the definition of “human being” in the Criminal Code, with the intent of moving towards re-criminalizing abortion.
  • Inaction on the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women: Despite requests to launch a National Public Inquiry into the matter, the Conservative government is still failing to act on the issue of the over 500 Aboriginal women who have disappeared or been murdered across Canada.
  • More cuts to women’s programs: Since Harper took power in 2006, the conservative government has been eliminating funding for groups that promote women’s rights. A major cut in 2012 was the Elimination of the 16-year old Women’s Health Contribution program, which funded six women’s health research programs in the country.
  • Omnibus” Federal budget legislation:This legislation has made cuts to public pensions that will have a major impact on senior citizen women. The cuts to public services will eliminate good unionized jobs for working women and will reduce access to important public services that many women rely on. Learn more about the impact of the federal budget on women.

Given this relentless attack on women’s equality, it’s easy to feel jaded or even defeated. It’s also easy to stay focused on our losses. However, it’s important not to lose sight of how women are resisting the right-wing agenda. Women are not just lying down and letting their rights get trampled on. Women are not victims – they are resistors and survivors who are standing up for themselves in the face on ongoing oppression.

This International Women’s Day, let’s take time to highlight women’s fight for justice and equality. Here are some notable examples:

1. Sisters In Spirit: Despite funding cuts, this initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada saw a record number of vigils across the country on October 4 to highlight the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal Women and the need for a public inquiry. The CUPE Alberta Aboriginal Council ran a ‘Have you seen our sisters’ post-card campaign to support the cause.

2. NDP Hosted its first Women’s Forum: OnOctober 18, Women,activists and leaders from across the country, gathered in Ottawa at a forum hosted by NDP Women’s critic Niki Ashton, to discuss the need for action to promote women’s rights and achieve women’s equality. The forum created space for diverse women to connect ideas and plan a way forward to achieve equality.

3. The Defeat of Motion 312: Many women, unions, and pro-choice groups such as the Radical Handmaids,fought back against the anti-choice Motion 312. Demonstrations were held across the country, and ultimately the bill was defeated in the House of Commons.

4. Idle No More movement: This grass-roots movement was started by four women in Saskatchewan to oppose federal legislation, including the omnibus budget legislation, which violates treaty rights and weakens environmental laws. The movement has also drawn attention to the courageous actions of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who began a hunger strike on December 11, 2012, and has been calling for a meeting with Harper to discuss First Nations’ concerns. Momentum for the movement continues to grow rapidly, with protests and blockades taking place throughout the country. The movement has even spread beyond Canada’s borders.

5. Women resisting pipeline development: Nobel Prize winner Jody Williams led a delegation of women on a trip from the oil sands in Alberta to the coast of British Colombia to get a woman’s perspective on energy and pipeline development. The tour was organized by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an Ottawa-based women’s advocacy group. CUPE members and locals have a critical role to play in supporting progressive movements like these and in advocating for the human rights of all women. You can support the struggle for women and social justice through financial donations, volunteering your time, and going out to demonstrations and events. We urge you to get involved in any way you can and to participate in your community or local’s International Women’s Day events.  Stay strong and keep on resisting!

In solidarity,

Paul Moist
National President

Charles Fleury
National Secretary-Treasurer