Feminist organizing can hold the key to social progress.
The American Political Science Review (APSR) recently released a study that examined over four decades of data about violence against women from 70 countries. The study found that the prevalence of violence against women depended on a number of factors, especially cultural norms that endorse male dominance. Patterns of male dominance included economic disadvantages for women, female economic dependency, social attitudes about violence and rape, and male authority within the family.
The conclusion of the study is a testament to the decades of hard work from feminist organizers. Not just in the context of violence against women, but in the context of social change in general, it was found that the critical factor accounting for policy change was the mobilization of autonomous feminists and feminist organizations, both at a local and international level.
Mobilizing for policy change has been especially relevant within the women’s labour movement in Canada. The Second World War gave women employment opportunities for jobs which women had previously been barred. After the war, women’s presence in the workforce continued to increase, despite the onslaught of campaigns from the government, members of society and organizations that tried to restrict women’s employment. This increase occurred because women mobilized, challenged gender roles and fought legal battles for their rights.
However, challenges in the labour movement are not a thing of the past. Ontario’s Pay Equity Act, for example, which included pay equity by proxy, has at this point actually widened the salary gap between men and women. Originally intended to decrease the gap by raising payroll by 1% each year with the support of government funding, organizations have recently been left on their own to foot the bill. As well, the legislation was changed so that across the board percentage increases can be added onto the equity target, which means that target goals will take fifty plus years to reach a level of equality.
The local YWCA in Peterborough is one example of an organization that continues to challenge pay equity legislation. The YWCA is also a resource for women who are in need of support. Other support centers for women in Peterborough include the Elizabeth Fry Society, which advocates and provides services for criminalized and imprisoned women, and the New Canadian Center, which offers services to immigrants and refugees.
Part of furthering the women’s labour movement is networking with other women and women’s organizations on a global scale. This is one of the reasons why local non-profit organization Horizons of Friendship is helping to bring Sandra Ramos to Trent University on Saturday, November 3.
From 11am-12pm, Ramos will give a presentation about gender inequality and labour rights issues, and what Canadians can do to build solutions. Trent University’s Gender and Women’s Studies Department is co-hosting the event, which will include engagement from local youth and community groups. Ramos founded the Maria Elena Cuadra (MEC) organization in Nicaragua. MEC is the Movement for Working and Unemployed Women in Nicaragua that promotes the education and training of women and challenges violence against women and gender inequality. This is the kind of feminist organizing that has brought about real societal change and progress. MEC has carried out numerous labour rights campaigns, has provided training for women workers, and has mobilized and lobbied for a focus on gender equality within political legislation. In January of this year, the organization’s campaigning was fundamental in securing the passage of the Law Against Violence Against Women, which is the first legislation of its kind in Nicaragua.
Horizons of Friendship addresses issues of injustice and the causes of poverty in Central America and Mexico with grassroots organizing from Canadians and communities in the South. By partnering with organizations like Horizons of Friendship, MEC is helping to facilitate an international dialogue about labour rights and women’s movements. There is a strong need to keep these partnerships and this dialogue going. While we should not deny the gains women’s movements have made, the APSR study is evidence of the inequality milestones that still need to be conquered.